Sometimes I wonder about Subaru’s model range. Along with the Forester AWD (All Wheel Drive) wagon, the Impreza AWD wagon, the Levorg AWD wagon, the Outback AWD wagon, and along comes yet another AWD wagon, the updated 2017 XV. They are different sizes (apparently) but they don’t look that different. Subaru says the XV is a Compact SUV, the Forester a midsize SUV and the Outback a large SUV (!?).

Not sure about that, but this week Drive Life got behind the wheel of the latest XV to see if it could distance itself from its brethren.

The Range

Simple pickings here – there are two models, the Sport or the Premium (tested). Both are fitted with the same 115Kw 2.0-litre boxer motor and CVT transmission, with a 7-speed stepped mode. Other than different alloy wheels (17” vs 18”), the only differences in the models is the extra features you get for your money.

As standard, the XV comes with AWD, a limited slip diff, electric park brake, Hill Start Assist, a reversing camera, 7 airbags, auto engine stop/start system, tyre pressure monitoring, X-Mode for light off-road driving, Subaru’s Eyesight system which includes Lead Vehicle Start Alert, Pre-collision Braking, Pre-collision Brake Assist, Brake Light Recognition, Lane Keep Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Sway Warning. There’s also electric folding mirrors, rear privacy glass, DRLs, front fog lights, dual-zone climate AC, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel,  paddle shifters, 3 displays (4.2” driver’s, and two central displays – 6.2” and 8”), keyless entry and start, auto wipers, a leather steering wheel and gear shift gaiter, cloth seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability and Siri functionality.

That’s a reasonable amount of features for the base price of $34,990.

The Premium model adds Blind Spot Protection, Lane Change Assist, auto high beams, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Reverse Automatic Braking, an electric sunroof, leather seats, heated front seats, self-levelling auto LED headlights, Steering Response Headlights, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, alloy pedals, 8-way power driver’s seat, and SatNav with three years of updates and traffic alerts.

For $5K more, the Premium model seems to be the model to go for.

First Impressions

When I went to pick up the XV, the first thing that caught my eye was the colour. It’s called Cool Grey, and looks blue in certain types of light. First impression? I wasn’t sure who came up with this colour, but being as nice as possible, it doesn’t do it for me. I wrote in my notes, ‘my car is insipid grey’.

In saying that, during my couple of weeks with the car I got a huge gulf in views on the colour – people either absolutely loved it (the minority) or simply did not like it at all. So it seems an XV, in this colour at least, is a very personal choice.

Apparently, the latest release of the Subaru XV, “makes even mud look good”. I took our test car to some mud to try and cover up the Cool Grey paint, but was mostly unsuccessful. Normally when we’re testing cars, people we are driving past may look at them because the design stands out, like the Toyota C-HR; for the XV, people looked at it, but I expect it was because that colour is, well, eye-catching.

Other thoughts were on the height of the XV; with ground clearance of 220mm, it sits fairly high. This may suit some people who have trouble getting down into and up out of ‘normal’ cars.

Design-wise, it’s very much in the Subaru family look of things; the front is a little strange, and not many (me included) liked the rear design. It looks like it’s been punched up the backside, especially when it sits so high at the rear.

Side-on it’s very CX-3ish, but does have some sort of identity at least – that high ground clearance giving it a point of difference. Those black plastic guards around the wheel arches continue around the entire car, giving it a bit of a heavy look. Hopefully with a different colour they won’t stand out as much. At least they do offer some protection if you decide to do a little off-roading.

The wheels too are a bit strange, with a sort of reverse kick-back thing going. I understand it must be bloody hard to keep coming up with new wheel designs, but these ones are a bit odd. I got more comments on the wheels than I expected, and anyone who commented didn’t think they looked too good.

The Inside

According to Subaru, the XV has a “funky interior”. Not quite who penned that, but I struggle to see said funkiness. Still, it’s a nice place, and the leaving the electric tilt/slide sunroof blind open helps get that natural light into the interior.

It was great to see orange stitching on the doors, centre console, dash, seats and gearshift gaiter. I’ve never seen contrasting stitching make a car look worse. The seats are comfy enough, if it a bit on the firm side. During the cold days with the XV, the 2-stage seat heaters came in very handy.

The XV has Subaru’s normal steering wheel, and that’s just fine. Subaru seem to manage to get lots of controls onto their steering wheel, and it works. The wheel itself has a great feel, and is just the right size. I appreciated that the track change buttons are a left/right control, and volume up/down is an up/down button. After just dropping off a Nissan Pathfinder with these reversed, it was nice to get into a car where they work as they should.

There’s alloy pedals in the Premium model, and they suit it, adding a sporty touch to the car. There’s also some fake carbon fibre on the doors, I guess attempting to make the car even sportier still.

In typical Subaru fashion, there are three displays in the XV – the 4.2” driver’s display, another bigger central display high up in the console, and then the main 6.3” display. The driver’s display can be set to show a multitude of things, and happily for me show you a speed sign of the speed limit of the road you are on right now. I love this feature. It shows you your speed in a digital readout (again always welcome) but a shame you can’t keep that speed display up all the time – when you start cycling through the other options, it disappears. Your set speed using the adaptive cruise is also shown, which is the way it should be.

The main display is crisp and clear, and simple to use. Interesting though that there are only three apps showing in the APPS section – Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and the soon-to-be-defunct (in New Zealand) Pandora music streaming service. Hopefully in future we’ll see some more apps in there.

The Drive

Not too long ago, Drive Life drove the Subaru Impreza and found it to be a reasonable car, at a fantastic price. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping from the XV, other than it would be better. Not that the Impreza is bad, but that 2-litre boxer motor and CVT auto don’t perform as you would expect a 2-litre car to perform.

So to the XV. Is it any different than the Impreza? Not really. Sure, in general day-to-day driving it does the job well; the CVT feels ok on light throttle settings and it’s an ok-drive all round.

But I am always left wanting more power and a better transmission. Once you start pushing the car along, that CVT shows its true colours, with lots of whirring and not much forward progress. If you use enough accelerator, it changes into a ‘stepped’ 7-speed mode, and it is better; but there’s no better driving experience than a normal auto.

Will most people care about the CVT? Likely not. But then you have that boxer motor. For a 2-litre car, it could (and should) go much better. With just 115Kw and maximum torque at 4,000rpm, you are going to be revving this car out to get it to move quickly when needed.

That’s the worst of it over, and if you are a driver are happy just plodding around town and never pushing your car harder, then the XV may just do it for you.

One pleasant surprise was the handling; I thought with such high ground clearance, the XV would be rolling over in the corners, falling over itself. But no – this is a competent handling car, with not much body roll at all. The AWD helps lots here I am sure; you can really push this car along without too much tyre squeal or understeer.

There’s not much feedback through the steering, but the XV will generally go where you point it.

Brakes are a strong point, with the initial bite pulling the car up quickly.

The suspension is eerily quiet, and the ride is excellent – belying the handling capabilities.

Again I would have thought with such a good ride, it would be roly-poly, but it’s not. The ride really is a strong point of the XV.

The engine is mostly very quiet – almost imperceptible at a warm idle, and super-quiet on the motorway. If you start to accelerate harder up a hill or loaded up, it will let itself be known though, but never noisy. It’s shame that is seems like every new model of Subaru with their boxer engine seems to lose a little more of that characteristic throaty throb that car enthusiasts like – the XV has no throbbing, and sounds like any inline 4-cylinder car. Please Subaru, make it sound cool again.

The Competition

I started to think the top-spec XV was a bit overpriced, and it is compared to the Impreza, but not bad value in our comparison table.

Brand/Model Engine Power/Torque Fuel L/100km Price – High to Low
Ford Escape Titanium AWD 2.0-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol 178Kw345Nm 8.6 $53,490
Kia Sportage GT Line AWD 2.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol 135Kw/237Nm 8.5 $51,990
Honda HR-V Sport + AWD 1.8-litre 4-cylinder petrol 105Kw/172Nm 6.9 $43,900
Mitsubishi ASX VRX FWD 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol 112Kw/200Nm 7.6 $40,590
Nissan Juke AWD 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol 140Kw/240Nm 7.4 $39,990
Subaru XV AWD Horizontally-opposed Boxer 4-cylinder, petrol engine 115Kw/196Nm 7.0 $39,990
Holden Cruze SRI FWD 1.6-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder petrol 132Kw/230Nm 7.9 $39,990
Toyota C-HR AWD 1.2-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol 85Kw/185Nm 6.5 $39,990
Mazda CX-3 GSX AWD 2.0-litre 4-cylinder petrol 109Kw/192Nm 6.7 $37,295
Peugeot 2008 GT Line FWD 1.2-litre 3-cylinder turbocharged petrol 81Kw/205Nm 4.8 $36,990
Renault Captur Dynamique FWD 1.2-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol 88Kw/190Nm 5.4 $35,990
Suzuki S-Cross Prestige FWD 1.6-litre 4-cylinder turbocharged petrol 103Kw/220Nm 5.9 $33,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Handling/ride/grip compromise
  • Standard equipment levels
  • Ground clearance
  • Most ergonomics
  • Brakes
  • Headlights
  • Cruise control beeping
  • Performance for a 2-litre
  • CVT not my favourite
  • Value for money against the Impreza
  • Some design aspects
  • Apps availability
  • That colour…

What do we think of it?

I’m really torn with the 2017 XV. As a daily driver, it does just fine, if you don’t mind a CVT. But I’m constantly thinking, why wouldn’t you save ten grand and buy an Impreza? Sure, the XV has more features than the Impreza, but still, that look…

There’s probably a pile of the previous model XV owners who would happily transition to the new XV, and good on them.

But the lack of oomph for a 2-litre car, the CVT and the never-ending battle comparing it to the Impreza would make it a struggle for me to add it to my list of cars I would look at if I was in the market for a compact AWD wagon/SUV. Your mileage may vary on this one.

Rating: 3.0 chevrons

Vehicle Type Compact AWD SUV
Starting Price $34,990
Tested as Price $39,990
Engine Horizontally-opposed Boxer 4-cylinder, petrol engine
Transmission CVT
Kerb Weight, Kg 1484
Length x Width x Height, mm 4465x1800x1615
Cargo Capacity, litres 310/765
Fuel Tank, litres 63
Fuel Economy Manufacturer’s rating, combined: 7.0L/100Km

Real World: 8.8L/100Km

ANCAP Safety Ratings 5-Star
Warranty 3-years, unlimited kilometres


Previous articleProject Invincible – McLaren Applied Technologies
Next articlePress Release: Land Rover Discovery Tows 110-Tonne Road Train Across Australian Outback
Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


  1. What puzzles me with some car reviewers is their tendency to get so hung up and side lined by the colour of the sample car they test. Colour preference is subjective and anyway Subaru have a range of nine colours to select from. I would like to suggest that anyone considering a Subaru XV spend some time on YouTube to get a more even handed impression of this vehicle. In my “subjective” view this review is shallow.

  2. HI Mike. Thanks for the comment – we appreciate any and all of them.
    Re the colour, if you read that piece in the article again you’ll see that a number of people commented on it during my test, so it wasn’t just me. Initially I had the same thought as you – colour is subjective; but when even strangers walking past comment on a colour, that’s saying something and worth mentioning.
    Re your comment about my review being shallow, I’ve spoken to other motoring journalists around the country who have tested the exact same car, and their thoughts on it were the same – buy an Impreza, save a lot of money.
    It’s not that the XV is bad, but for the money the Impreza is far better value and only has a different body.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.