Subaru goes hybrid: Our verdict on the electrified XV e-Boxer
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2020 Subaru XV Sport e-Boxer Hybrid
• No-fuss hybrid driving
• Smooth petrol-electric powertrain
• Good chassis by any standard
• Minimal running on EV power alone
• Drive modes not selectable
• It’s an extra $5000
Nobody is claiming that the new “e-Boxer Hybrid” XV and Forester models are a revolution. But they do aim to bring electrification to the brand, while maintaining the dynamic character and off-tarmac AWD ability that makes the marque what it is. A no-compromise clean-up.
So don’t go looking for styling changes; there aren’t any, save modest badges on the front guards and tailgate. If you do want to advertise your green credentials, go blue: the striking Lagoon Blue Pearl colour of the XV on test is exclusive to the e-Boxer Hybrid version.
Despite these models’ newfound hybrid status, don’t go looking for major changes to the core mechanical package either: the XV Sport retains Subaru’s 2.0-litre boxer petrol engine, just with a “Motor Assist” petrol-electric system in the mix.
Also don’t go looking for a plug. These are electrified, but not Electric Vehicles.
Both are still AWD, with an impressive 220mm of ground clearance for our XV and still with a pushbutton X-Mode to configure the powertrain for off-tarmac driving.The larger Forester uses exactly the same powertrain — which is a point of difference in the line-up, because the standard Forester models have a 2.5-litre powerplant.
That’s why we’ve chosen the XV Sport for our first proper e-Boxer evaluation. You get greater on-paper fuel economy gains with the Forester, but with the XV you really are comparing apples with greener apples.
So what’ll she do? Fuel-economy-wise of course, which is question one when it comes to hybrid power. To answer, we started with a week of urban commuting. It was careful driving, because that’s the point of the technology; but it was still also real-world, keeping pace with the traffic, rather than slow-motion eco-motoring in pursuit of a headline figure.
Subaru reckons the XV e-Boxer has four drive modes, but in practical terms it just has one — because none are selectable by the driver. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because you can just let the Motor Assist system decide whether to drive on battery alone, petrol engine alone, with both working together or in charging mode — which essentially means that energy normally lost during braking or coasting is recovered and used to power up the battery.
If the centre-console graphic display is to be believed, the e-Boxer charges its lithium-ion battery quickly and often. Following a bit of point-and-squirt between traffic lights, it returns to a near-full reading rapidly once you settle down on the throttle.
It’s not technically a “mild hybrid”, but the e-Boxer is certainly a mild application of this technology. Even with a fully charged battery, you’ll only get a few seconds of pure-EV driving if there’s any need for acceleration (although on a flat road it’ll “sail”, engine off, quite nicely at 40-50km/h ).
The plus side is that the Motor Assist system slips seamlessly from mode to mode and the driving experience is better for it: the petrol engine’s torque delivery has been calibrated around the battery and it all works together to pull you off the line in a fashion that feels effortless next to the standard XV.
According to Australian Design Rules (ADR) fuel economy testing, the XV e-Boxer is 14 per cent more economical than the conventional model in the Urban cycle. We actually did a lot better than that: our city average of 6.8L/100km over a week is a 23 per cent improvement on the standard XV’s Urban ADR economy of 8.8L.
That still isn’t a “wow” number but it’s a significant improvement. Following our commute-test we also used the XV on a familiar open-road loop and got a similar figure: 6.6L/100km, which fits with what we know about hybrid models from other brands: the technology is at its best in city driving.
Weirdly, the XV e-Boxer still only goes about as far on a tank as the standard model because it carries 48L of fuel, compared with 63L. But that’s about the only practical opportunity cost of the Hybrid: it has the same size cabin and the same size boot (345L) as the conventional XV Sport. It’s heavier by nearly 100kg, but gruntier too and the extra bulk is at the back so it improves the weight distribution and handling.
It’s fair to say that if you want the XV Sport e-Boxer, you’ll already know that you really want a hybrid car.
As with so many electrified models, the argument doesn’t work on a solely rational/financial level: you’d have to drive more than 100,000km to even start justifying the extra $5000 spend over the conventional XV (although the Hybrid does have some extra kit, like a Vision Assist system with extra camera functionality, rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist).
It’s as much about knowing that you’re cutting your urban emissions by nearly a quarter; to many business owners, having a car with a hybrid badge is also great PR. If you’re of that frame of mind, the XV Sport e-Boxer gives away nothing to the standard model and it’s arguably a better drive.
It still looks like decent value next to other hybrid compact SUVs. The petrol-electric Toyota C-HR is the obvious rival: the top Limited model gives you change from $40k and offers spectacular Urban economy (3.8L/100km), but it also has much less power (72kW from its 1.8-litre engine or 90kW combined output).
The Kia Niro Hybrid costs between $40-45k and is also less powerful. There’s no direct ADR comparative fuel economy figure because it’s not sold in Australia.
But neither the C-HR or Niro are AWD. The XV Sport e-Boxer Hybrid is, because that’s Subaru NZ’s thing — no matter what model you’re talking about.
What comes next?
In January, Subaru outlined its eco-car plans for the future. The company will continue to evolve core technology like the boxer petrol engine, including hybrids, and has said that 40 per cent of its global sales will be electrified by 2030.
The company is also working on a pure-electric SUV on the e-TGNA platform co-developed with Toyota (which owns 20 per cent of Subaru), to be launched within that same timeframe.
A concept car that points to the styling direction of the new SUV, which may be named Evoltis, was revealed earlier this year.