Review: the sun rises on the 2021 Subaru XV Premium
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Subaru XV Premium
- Good safety technology
- Engaging steering and chassis
- More off-road ability than most crossovers
- Continuously variable transmission
- Not as nice to drive as the hybrid
- Hyperactive reverse auto-braking
It’s sobering when the most significant thing you can find to talk about with an updated model is the colour.
But here we go. The 2021 Subaru XV is now available in can’t-miss-it Plasma Yellow Pearl, which is available across the range.
The new model also sports a new front bumper and new alloy wheels. All versions now have auto door locking and the pushbutton SI Drive mode, as seen on the other Subarus for yonks.
The flagship XV Premium (as tested here) also gains front and side-view cameras, an additional deep snow/mud function for the X-Mode and an auto-dipping side mirror. And that’s it.
Incremental stuff, but perhaps the takeaway is that the XV is now very comfortable in its role. It was a bit weird to start with in its previous incarnation as an “Impreza XV”. With a fair degree of marketing smart-talk behind it, Subaru New Zealand always insisted the XV was an SUV and a completely standalone model, but it was and still is basically an Impreza with extra ride height and some plastic bits.
Times have changed in the last few years though, and now SUVs are the norm, while hardly anybody buys normal hatchbacks like the Impreza. So the XV (Subaru dropped the “Impreza” with this current shape) now stands tall as the mainstream choice, while the low-riding Impreza is a bit niche. Like I said, the XV is now very comfortable in its role and nerds banging on about its relationship to Impreza is now irrelevant. Sorry about that.
It doesn’t even matter that the XV has a descending hatchback roofline on top of SUV ride height. While that used to look a bit strange, coupe-SUVs are now quite a thing. So the little Subaru hardly raises an eyebrow any more.
Get beyond the semantics and the XV is simply a great little crossover-SUV thingy. The boxer engine produces modest power and the continuously variable transmission (or Subaru Lineartronic Transmission, SLT) groans a bit around town, but the steering and chassis are way better than your average compact-SUV and it’s actually a feel-good machine once you learn to extract the best out of the powertrain.
You can also sharpen up the powertrain by pressing the SI Drive button, which is basically a sport mode. It makes the throttle more sensitive and gives the SLT a few more revs to play with at any given road speed. But it’s by no means essential and it’s not to be confused with the XV’s “other” selectable drive setting, X-Mode (which maps the powertrain more for off-tarmac driving).
Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assistance system is no longer the most cutting-edge on the market, but it’s still one of the smoothest. And it’s one area where SLT works really well, because the adaptive cruise can modulate speed nicely in stop-start traffic with a “gearless” transmission.
The Premium goes all-out on the safety kit. Compared with the entry XV it gains blind-spot detection, lane change assist, high-beam assist, rear cross-traffic alert, side view monitor (you can see the left-hand side of the vehicle at kerb level for parking and/or off-roading), reverse automatic braking and that extra front-view camera.
It’s all good stuff, although I’d happily delete-option the reverse braking. It’s by far the most hyperactive execution of the technology I’ve experienced, to the point where it won’t let me back down my driveway without slamming on the brakes at least once; it seems to get confused by the change from a concrete wall to a wooden fence that sticks out a teeny bit more, about half-way down.
The XV Premium is quite a lot of car for $42,490, especially if you have a yearning to head slightly off the beaten track. It’s way more capable than you’d expect for a vehicle of this type: the AWD system is great (don’t forget the extra-slushy setting for the Premium’s X-Mode) and there’s a generous 220mm of ground clearance.
And yes, the Premium is worth the, ahem, $5000 premium over the standard XV, especially because of all that safety equipment.
But a more interesting question is whether you should go for the Premium over the same-price XV hybrid. With the latter you’re getting a similar specification to the entry model (so you’re losing the high-end safety goodies again), but you are gaining the electrified powertrain – which improves fuel economy by a little bit but more importantly, is a much nicer drive. The battery assistance fills out the gaps in the lower end of the rev range nicely in town driving and seems to take the strain off the SLT in pretty much any kind of driving.
You can also have the hybrid in Lagoon Blue Pearl, a colour exclusive to the electrified model. In your face, Plasma Yellow Pearl.
SUBARU XV PREMIUM
ENGINE: 2.0 petrol boxer four
GEARBOX: Continuously variable Subaru Lineartronic Transmission (SLT), AWD