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Subaru XV review

Can this boy racer brand take on Britain’s bestsellers in the SUV stakes?


If you’re looking for a long-term investment, the Subaru XV is all you would hope for. But it’s a model less likely to suit those who change their car more frequently.

Review overview

Driving experience
Value for money


If you’re looking for a long-term investment, the Subaru XV is all you would hope for. But it’s a model less likely to suit those who change their car more frequently.

60-second summary

What is it?
The 2018 Subaru XV is the Japanese brand’s latest attempt to up sales in Blighty.

Key features
Excellent handling, technology, safety

Our view
A whole redesign and new global platform means the new XV is a complete step-change for the model. The Subaru XV rocks a lower profile than rivals, offering improved stability and handling.

Coupled with a commendable effort integrating technology, it’s less cookie cutter and this definitely adds to the XV’s appeal. On price, it’s arguably less competitive since its £24,995 on-road price tag is at the top end of many rivals’ highest spec.

That said, the Subaru XV’s standard spec falls just short of more luxury marques in the same segment.

Similar cars
Skoda KaroqMazda CX-5Toyota C-HR and many others

Full review


Subaru is a brand hell-bent on reinventing itself in the UK. For last 20 years, the Japanese brand has been associated with motorsport and massive gold rims. This has had limited market appeal, overshadowed the rest of the range and led to a 26% drop in UK sales from 2016 to 2017.

The brand has three products in its SUV line-up; a fact which shouldn’t surprise anyone given the growth of this new ‘family standard’ segment, but does, simply because it means Subaru is more than Marque Impreza. The 2017 XV plays little brother to the larger Outback and Forester models.

There’s tough competition from almost every manufacturer, including less expected makers Aston Martin, Jaguar and Ferrari. If they can do roomy, rugged and responsive enough for mobile wardrobes, creches or weekly grocery missions, Subaru has this one in the bag, given its predisposition for all-wheel-drive.

Style-wise, the 2014 Subaru XV’s classic body design is like a little black dress; it’s never been in fashion, so it’ll never really be out of fashion. That suits its revered reputation for reliability. Durable and date-less on the outside, the interior, however, hasn’t been so fortunate. The basic 2014 cabin has dated so badly, it’s surprising that it hasn’t graced the headlines of Hello magazine.

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The 2017 XV is more a welcome cooling breeze on a hot humid day than a simple breath of fresh air. The longer bonnet covers the brand-quintessential boxer engine, carrying a lower profile, thus improving stability. There have been engineering tweaks to reduce noise and vibrations and the basic ‘what-you-see-is-all-there-is’ interior has been replaced with a higher quality feel and finish, complete with future-proof gadgetry. Changes to the chassis materials have made it some 40% safer than its predecessor, too.

Subaru XV exterior - The Car Expert
The new Subaru XV is a big step up over its predecessor

Buying and owning the Subaru XV

Two engine choices are a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol unit pushing 114hp, or a 2.0-litre version pushing 156hp. Though there’s no option for a manual gearbox—bound to lessen the appeal for some drivers, completely irrelevant for others—the automatic transmission features a manual mode on the 2.0-litre engine, giving the driver more control when more traction is needed.

Unlike many rivals, the XV is a four-wheel-drive vehicle at all times and genuinely very capable in mud, snow and poor weather conditions. Since this adds weight and friction at the times you don’t need it, the trade-off is increased fuel consumption. The running costs for the XV could work out significantly higher when compared with the Honda HR-V’s combined fuel consumption of 49-71, the XV’s 44mpg comes off worse.

Up there with similar vehicles from Volvo and Audi, the Subaru XV has a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating, with an 89% rating for child safety—the highest in its category. Much of this comes from the EyeSight suite, which combines two front-facing cameras, with 110m visibility of the road ahead in good weather conditions. Configured to tell the difference between other vehicles, bikes, pedestrians and lane markets, a Japanese study has shown a 61% difference in accidents over a four-year period, between those with EyeSight and those without.

That said, there’s no radar, adopted by other manufacturers, for redundancy. This means the EyeSight technology will disable in low light conditions or when the cameras are obscured, since they can’t ‘see’ in these conditions.

Nonetheless, the suite integrates progressive technologies such as auto adaptive cruise control — which notably is still not available on the Nissan Qashqai as yet — autonomous emergency braking (known as Pre-Collision Braking in this case), lane keep assist and “Pre-collision throttle management”, where the car will alert the driver if ‘drive’ or ‘reverse’ are mistakenly selected and movement could cause a collision.

Inside the Subaru XV

Subaru XV dashboard
Glossy and reflective surfaces can obscure displays on sunny days

There are two trim levels, SE and SE Premium. Featuring keyless entry, stop/start technology, electronic handbrake, LED headlights and shark fin antenna, the standard package is practical and ergnomically ideal.

Climate control and audio volume are physical dials. The eight-inch touchscreen integrates Android Auto and Apple CarPlay mirroring applications and DAB digital radio. Though the interior is much improved and of better quality, the finish on the digital display is high-gloss and drivers considering the premium trim level—which adds satnav, leather seats, sunroof and an eight-way adjustable driver’s seat—may find the reflective finish of the screen obscures the navigation display on sunny days.

For families and other groups who enjoy the great outdoors, the added width and length to the vehicle have enabled a five-litre increase in boot capacity to 385 litres, respectable when compared with the HR-V’s 377.

Driving the Subaru XV

Subaru XV on the road (The Car Expert)
The Subaru XV is smooth and stable on the road, and impressive off it.

A series of dynamic handling activities up against the 2014 version of the VX show just how much work has been done on the stability. The drive is remarkably cocoon-like. The high seating position offers great visibility and handling is so smooth and stable, corners and unkempt UK roads are no toil.

On this first drive, there wasn’t any motorway driving so we weren’t in a position to give the cruise control a good run out, but using Subaru’s safety equipment, we got a flavour for the responsiveness of the autonomous safety technology. It responded as it should. When drivers comment that they’d struggle to ‘trust the machine’, the XV most definitely outperforms some of its better-known (and more expensive) competitors on this front.

During the off-road manoeuvres, inputs to correct the car’s trajectory were minor and the traction in X-Mode—a button which toggles all of the handling kit to combine and optimise— was impressive, flawless and inspired driver confidence.


It was difficult to fault the new XV as a package. Sitting in it, it was comfy, reliable and went exactly where you wanted it to. Though fields of mud and old airfields aren’t the usual haunts of any vehicle, the car didn’t give any impressions that it would do anything but what you expected. The classic look wasn’t offensive or too bland and the interior has gotten a well-deserved makeover, bringing it right up to date and offering a swath of desirable technologies.

The sticking point will be price. If you’re looking for a long-term investment, the XV is all you would hope for, but it’s a model less likely to suit those looking to change their motor more frequently.

Subaru XV 2018 rear (The Car Expert)
As a package, it’s difficult to find fault with the Subaru XV

Cat Dow
Experienced across online, print and video, I also cover general automotive news and wider subjects, such as environmental, travel and sustainability news, reviews and features for a number of national titles and well-recognised specialist publications.


  1. At last, a review that actually gets what the XV is about. Having driven Hondas for 4 decades, we have just parted with our CR-v ( corrosion had started to bite), 20 years old and owned for the past 12 years. Honda no longer make a 4×4 of the same size, so we have dipped our toes into the Subaru water with an XV 2 litre premium in bright red. It has not disappointed, and does everything the old CR-v could do, but with more control when cornering.A solid, comfortable and safe-feeling car that has adequate power to get you out of trouble, but not enough to get you into it!
    Sadly this looks like we will not return to Honda, but this is the car they should make, but don’t. Their loss, Subaru’s gain.
    Forget the so-called ‘high’ price ( unless you change your car ever couple of years, of course). This car will probably outlive me, and therefore is good long-term value. Try it…..

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