Subaru XV review: Comfortable, roomy, brilliant off-road — but you’ll struggle to overtake a milk float

As far as all-wheel-drive crossover cars go, the Subaru XV scores top marks for off-road driveability and comfort, says Charles Rangeley-Wilson — but he laments the fact that it’s severely lacking in grunt.

The Subaru XV is another strange concoction from the bestiary of the Dadaist Japanese car-makers. The late Robin Williams had a stand-up routine imagining God stoned out of his mind putting a duck’s beak on an egg-laying beaver and taking the mickey out of Charles Darwin. Hmm. So, too, the XV?

If the moniker stands for cross-over vehicle, that would fit, I suppose, the design brief of this platypus of a car. It’s just what is crossed over with what and towards what end that I can’t quite fathom, in spite of the car’s many impressive features.

Like all Subarus, it scores well in the safety tests. Not only in Europe, but in Australia, too. In Japan, it recorded the highest ever off-set frontal impact score and, in the USA, the Institute of Highway Safety gave the XV its Top Safety Pick prize.

Like all Subarus, the XV is great in the mucky stuff. It has enormous ground clearance — almost 9in compared with, say, the Skoda Yeti’s or Honda HRV’s 7in. The car’s proprietary SAWD (symmetrical all-wheel drive) sends power to all four wheels all of the time. This tends to make Scoobys thirstier than many so-called all-wheel-drive rivals, which are only two-wheel drive for much of the time, but it tends to make them better off-road, too.

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This system has built Subaru a global reputation for unpretentious off-road ability. Look at the cars parked at any Australian or New Zealand rural store and every other one will be a Subaru. When I hired a very long-in-the-tooth Scooby-Doo for dirt-road motoring Down Under, I realised again why so many of these cars are still in use with seven figures on the mileometer — they work and they go on working for ever.

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The XV was comfortable, too — amazingly so, in fact. I’m not that tolerant of shonky seats. My lower back tells me within an hour if all isn’t what it should be. Few cars impress in this respect as much as chiropractic Volvos, yet, somehow, Subaru keeps up the competition. I had the XV for a fortnight, drove more than 1,000 miles and experienced not a squeak from my vertebrae.

It’s also roomy and comfortable in the back. I could sit quite easily behind the driver’s seat even with it well back. Which is weird: the bigger Outback I owned for several years (admittedly, an older model) was for Snow White’s companions only in the rear.

This brings me to the odd concomitance of features that is the XV: generous cabin space and off-road ability par excellence for whom? A troupe of cross-dressing Aussie sheep-shearers with only Gucci clutches and electric snippers to keep in the boot? Sumo-wrestlers on holiday, with spare G-strings their only luggage?

The boot was tiny! Tiny as in teeny, tiny, weeny woo. I was on my own for a foray after mayfly-gulping trout down south, but, even so, half my kit was stashed on the rear seats. The boot was filled to bursting by a rod tube, a holdall and a wader bag. I fitted more stuff in the Jaguar F-type. Lord knows what I would have done with any of my luggage-incontinent fishing pals.

The other thing it struggled to do was go at all quickly or overtake. There’s not a road in southern England, including the Roman ones, long enough and straight enough to allow the Subaru XV with the 1.6-litre engine to overtake a milk float with anything like a comfortable safety margin, yet you can rev the willing little boxer to a 6,500rpm red line.

At about 5,000rpm, which the auto gearbox was profoundly unwilling to let you get anywhere near, the car positively took off. However, by then, you were either dead or had abandoned the manoeuvre and fallen asleep.

Subaru is trying to keep up with the Joneses on emissions and economy. Its wonderful, burbling turbo-charged boxer engines were too thirsty and emitted too many carbons for a modern world, so Subaru doesn’t sell them in Europe any longer. Nor their rugged and grunty diesel incarnations. The emasculated units that replace them, if this 1.6 is anything to go by, may struggle to impress the Subaru faithful.

The details: Subaru XV 1.6i SE 5 DR Lineartronic

  • Price: From £24,140
  • Combined fuel consumption: 40.9mpg
  • Power: 114bhp
  • 0–60mph: 13.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 109mph
  • More info: