New car review

Subaru XV e-Boxer test drive

Does a mild hybrid powertrain bring a new spark to the XV line-up?

Since its introduction in 2011, the compact XV crossover has gone on to become Subaru’s most popular model. Its position was strengthened further with a brand new model in 2018, which brought a revised look and comprehensive safety improvements.

But now the XV has a fresh new challenge, along with its larger Forester sibling, and that is to usher in electrification into the Subaru brand with the XV e-Boxer and Forester e-Boxer – wiping away distant memories of the firm’s past in world rallying and performance.

While the manufacturer is not jumping fully into the world of EVs, the e-Boxer powertrain is a lightweight hybrid setup that shows the brand is starting to move towards electrification.

The e-Boxer is not a new concept, having been available on Subarus for quite a while Japan. But this is its first use in Europe – combining a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery in a bid to make the XV more efficient, but also better to drive. So, can it deliver?

As of September 2019, the Subaru XV currently holds an overall Expert Rating of 63% according to our unique Expert Rating aggregator system. This places it firmly in the bottom half of all the compact SUV/crossovers we have analysed, so Subaru will be hoping that the XV e-Boxer gives a boost to the car’s appeal.

What’s new about the Subaru XV e-Boxer?

Given the XV was given a major overhaul last year, there wasn’t a need to make other changes to the XV – meaning the new underpinnings are the key difference on the XV e-Boxer.

Subaru describes the e-Boxer powertrain as a ‘mild hybrid’, although it doesn’t really fit that description, as well as ‘self-charging’, jumping on Toyota’s hybrid marketing spin. Mild hybrid models are available from many manufacturers these days, and the conventional description of a mild hybrid setup is one where the car uses a small amount of electrical power to assist the petrol or diesel engine, but it can’t run on electricity alone.

The e-Boxer is a bit different, however. It has an electric motor and battery just like a regular hybrid model, only much smaller, so it can run on electric-only power for very short periods of time and only under very light acceleration. So it’s more of a light hybrid than a ‘mild’ hybrid.

How does it look?

Since its original debut in 2011 the XV has always been a good-looking car, not being too bold but also not going unnoticed. The refresh last year also helped somewhat – ushering in revised bumpers and new LED lighting.

  • Subaru XV e-Boxer review 2019 –  front view | The Car Expert
  • Subaru XV e-Boxer review 2019 –  rear view | The Car Expert

We’re not so keen on the textured plastic cladding, though it’s refreshing that the XV isn’t faux rugged (like many of its rivals) rather the XV’s SUV-style looks are actually met with genuine all-terrain ability. With 22cm of ground clearance and beefy wheel arches, it certainly fulfils the rugged styling many buyers are craving for.

What’s the spec like?

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Prices for the XV e-Boxer kick-off at £28,995, which does look a bit pricey next to rivals, though you have to factor in the impressive array of standard equipment you get for the money.

Two trims are offered; SE and SE Premium. The former comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, keyless entry, a reversing camera and an eight-inch touchscreen to name but a few features.

Unlike other manufacturers, who charge for their safety features, Subaru bundles them all in from the offset. This means that as part of the ‘EyeSight’ package, you get adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert and lane-change assist. This all adds up to a five-star Euro NCAP rating.

Choosing SE Premium brings satellite navigation, electric leather seats and a sunroof, though at £2,000 extra, the base model looks better value.

The XV e-Boxer is also available in a new colour – Lagoon Blue Pearl – which certainly looked rather fetching on our test car.

What’s the Subaru XV e-Boxer like inside?

Subaru interiors have undoubtedly improved in recent years – not being as agricultural-feeling as they once were, and rather more luxurious instead.

Subaru XV e-Boxer review –  interior and dashboard | The Car Expert

There’s now plenty of soft-touch plastics, as well as leather on our top-spec SE Premium test car, while the eight-inch touchscreen is great to use – being both responsive and intuitive. The quality still falls short in places, but with a Subaru, there is always the impression it was built to stand the test of time, and that’s probably something worth choosing over a few luxuries.

Adding to this is Subaru’s ‘Eyesight’ safety system – offering a suite of safety assists, which should help buyers and families to feel at ease. The XV certainly fulfils the family brief, too, with a practical and versatile cabin, though its 345-litre boot is quite small compared to much more affordable cars.

What’s under the bonnet?

Sitting alongside the existing XV 1.6-litre petrol model, this new e-Boxer hybrid setup combines a 2.0-litre petrol unit together with an electric motor and a battery pack enabling around one mile of very gentle driving in pure-electric mode. Total output is 150hp and 194Nm of torque.

You might be wondering what the point is with a range like that? Well, a mild hybrid setup is all about using electrification to enhance the petrol engine – improving efficiency by 10% and allowing for slightly more torque – so even though the XV has limited all-electric propulsion, it really acts more like a regular mild hybrid vehicle.

Despite the electric boost, the performance figures are not particularly inspiring. 0-60mph takes 10.5 seconds and the XV s-Boxer will reach a top speed of 120mph. Though it doesn’t make a huge deal of difference to efficiency, with a claimed fuel economy figure of 35.7mpg, and CO2 emissions of 149g/km.

Subaru’s trademark all-wheel-drive remains, too, while many buyers will be pleased that the standard car’s 1,270kg towing limit remains.

What’s the Subaru XV e-Boxer like to drive?

Subaru has, for many years, had all-wheel-drive ability as one of its key focuses, and that remains unchanged despite adopting electrification. A dedicated ‘X-mode’ enables traction on a variety of surfaces and gives the XV remarkable ability on rough terrain.

Back onto the tarmac and it’s perfectly fine in normal steady driving, whereby the XV’s comfortable ride comes into its own – the broken Latvian roads closely resembling those in the UK. It also remains composed and doesn’t lean in the same way expected from many higher riding models.

  • Subaru XV e-Boxer road test 2019 –  01 | The Car Expert
  • Subaru XV e-Boxer road test 2019 –  02 | The Car Expert

However, the benefits of electrification are quite hard to see. While undoubtedly offering more torque, it only seems to develop any sense of urgency at around 4,000rpm, at which point the CVT transmission begins to sound unpleasantly loud. It’s also difficult to keep the XV in ‘EV’ mode, while the switch from electric to petrol power could be more seamless.

Verdict

Adding electrification to the XV range has undoubtedly enhanced this crossover. It’s a great first step for Subaru as it looks to introduce more similar systems to its range shortly, and also as it builds up to the launch of its first EV in the next couple of years.

Retaining the XV’s rugged charm and go-anywhere ability will definitely make this form of electrification appeal to Subaru buyers, who are notorious for their brand loyalty.

However, while the Subaru XV e-Boxer is far from class-leading – with the CVT gearbox being our main issue – it continues to be an interesting and unique alternative to the norm.

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Key specifications

Model as tested: Subaru XV e-Boxer SE Premium Lineartronic
Price: £30,995
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol engine with electrification
Gearbox: continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT)
Power: 150 hp
Torque: 194 Nm
Top speed: 120 mph
0-60mph: 10.5 seconds
Fuel economy (combined): 35.7 mpg
CO2 emissions: 149 g/km

Ted Welford
Ted Welford
Articles by Ted Welford are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Has the petrol tank been reduced in capacity to accommodate the battery/motor – I think this is the case with the e-Forester. This would be annoying as the range of the car would be reduced, but it costs more!

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