Road test: 2017 Subaru XV
LONG before other car makers knew what an SUV was, Subaru had worked out how to make a good one. Its new, second-generation XV is the only compact SUV with all-wheel drive as standard, so it's as capable and confident on a dirt road as it is on the bitumen.
As with the original, it's a jacked-up Impreza hatch, toughened up with Tonka Truck bodywork and a refreshingly loud palette. Prices start at $27,990. Today, we're in the top-spec XV 2.0i-S, at $35,240.
Up front, you get heated, power-adjustable, leather-faced seats with stitching colour-matched to the car's paintwork - very groovy Sunshine Orange on the test car, ensuring it will never be hard to find in a crowded carpark.
Subaru persists in using three screens to display the same infotainment that other car makers manage with one or two, so as a layout the XV's dash is far from user friendly and at times difficult and distracting to operate.
That said, the quality of fit, finish and materials is excellent. In the S, infotainment is comprehensive, adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, voice control that requires patience, Bluetooth, two 12V and three USB sockets. There's no digital radio, though.
Dual zone aircon, sunroof, heated exterior mirrors, Data Dot vehicle ID, tyre pressure monitor and swivelling LED headlights with auto high-beam are also standard. The high-beam's dip timing can be hit and miss but on a dark, winding country road the swivelling lights are great. There's no power tailgate, either.
The XV rides as comfortably and quietly as many larger wagons thanks to well-controlled, compliant, long-travel suspension and sensibly tall tyres on 18-inch wheels.
The driver's seat is properly bolstered and supportive, the driving position can be adjusted to suit anybody and vision is clear around the car. There's plenty of legroom for the firm, supportive rear seats but no adjustable backrest, air vents or 12V outlet.
As the flagship, the XV S gets Subaru's complete safety arsenal, including its third-generation EyeSight camera based gear with cruise control that keeps a safe distance to the car in front, automatic emergency braking and the ability to help you stay in your lane if you get distracted.
Supplementing these are radar/sonar based Vision Assist, which adds automatic braking in reverse if it detects an object or person behind, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot monitor.
It's worth noting, though, that none of these hi-tech safety features are available on the $27,990 base model.
Toyota has everything bar automatic braking in reverse gear as standard on the C-HR, which starts at $26,990. Subaru was one of the first car companies to take crash protection seriously. If you're going to have a big one, a Subaru is a good thing to have it in. It's Japan's Volvo.
The XV shares the Impreza's engine and transmission, with fractionally shorter final drive gearing, but it's still a sedate performer. That said, its rivals are no rockets either, and like them XV is designed to work best in everyday driving with a light right foot.
This it does, in a smooth, refined manner, with the bonus of a modest thirst on regular unleaded.
Its continuously variable transmission can take a while to convert your desire for speed into the real thing, so the shift paddles, which dial up more revs in a hurry, can be useful.
All-wheel drive adds extra grip and security in the wet. The inside wheels are automatically braked in corners to help keep you on track.
The XV's dynamics are arguably best in class, even with the Impreza's body raised by 90mm to deliver 220mm of ground clearance, sufficient to allow confident, easy progress on pretty rugged bush tracks.
Again, the XV's ability here is hard to beat, with its X-Mode off-road set-up delivering adjustable traction control and accelerator sensitivity for steep climbs, loose or slippery surfaces plus effective automatic speed control that takes the terror out of steep descents.
It looks super cool and opens up a whole new world of weekend adventures.
All-wheel drive, great handling and as safe and comfortable as they come.
MAZDA CX-3 Akari from $35,490
Comparable performance and dynamics with less thirst. Has AWD but less off-road ability.
TOYOTA C-HR Koba $35,290
Out-there styling, Toyota reliability and a tractable turbo that runs on premium. Claustrophobic rear seat but a bigger boot.
The basics count and for Greg Scott that meant a CD player and a ride position you didn't have to clamber out of or step down from. That led Greg and his wife Margaret to trade in their Honda Accord for the top-spec XV, having compared it with the Mitsubishi ASX, Kia Sportage and Honda CR-V.
"When you throw your feet out (of the car) you can just slide out,” he says. "There's also no CDs in the other new models, it's all Bluetooth. I'm not a Bluetooth music person so that was another selling point with the Subaru. It's compact to drive and I'm still getting used to the safety bells and whistles. I don't dislike the lane departure but you need to be aware of the beeps. The blind-spot warning lets you know there's someone closing up, even if you don't want to change lanes.”