Subaru XV: Smooth Crossover

By Lee Pang Seng
SUBARU is perhaps the most underrated car brand from Japan, not for the lack of driving fun or technology, but for its lack of presence, especially in Malaysia. The Subaru name rang a bell or two when it was involved in the World Rally Championship (WRC) with its Impreza WRX cars, enjoying relatively good success.

Then when it withdrew from the event in the late 2000s, the Subaru name no longer meant anything. This Japanese car brand has been in our market long enough for those in the senior years to recall them in the subcompact hatchback below 1000cc back in the mid-70s. Also, its boxer engine – twin horizontally opposed or flat-four – was successfully employed for all its models, making Subaru unique in that respect.

Mediocre support saw it change hands of distributorship a few times, and currently it is under Motor Image Malaysia. During those early days, a two-door pickup was also brought in and it would have been an attractive lifestyle vehicle were it not for RTD rules on such vehicles being eligible for registration only as ‘business’ or ‘trade’ vehicles.

It is this dearth of support and the many changes of hands in distributorship that has dented its image here significantly. The brand confidence wasn’t there as no one could be certain if the distributor would be around for long. And the models made available weren’t always attractively priced either.

It did appeal to a very niche market during its WRC years among the well-to-do and quite a few Impreza WRX STI cars found buyers, likewise the Forester. Attempts to promote the smaller displacement non-turbo models failed miserably. At the higher end, the Legacy was too pricey, especially against attractively priced locally assembled models from Japan and Europe.

Motor Image is not undeterred, however, and has moved on to promote the Subaru XV Crossover and more recently the latest Forester and BRZ (Subaru’s version of the Toyota 86 as it is now part of the Toyota automotive group). Recently, it has committed the assembly of the XV Crossover at the Tan Chong assembly plant for regional distribution, with some measure of success. The Thai market, for one, is taking a good share of the production as the XV is well accepted there.

In the Malaysian scenario, the XV Crossover has a major hurdle to climb in gaining market confidence with the Subaru name. Added to that, there are also the major rivals, both established (the Honda CR-V) and new ones like the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Kia/Naza Sportage, to contend with. It’s a tough and highly competitive market out there.

At RM147,138 on the road without insurance, the XV 2.0i Crossover is quite well priced and it is not without its allure. It is athletically sized with a streamlined profile and a body size that is tightly formed and not bloated. The rather unique design 17-inch alloy wheels add nicely to its individual flair. Likewise, the roof racks blend with its outdoorsy image, while retaining the Subaru family look.

With a fairly long 2635mm wheelbase, the interior is cosy and roomy enough for five people, although it did seem a little spartan against its rivals. It is not for the lack of features but just that the layout is simple but tidy. There is a central screen that provides GPS and a view of the rear when reverse gear is engaged. There is also handphone connectivity with which you can make hands-free calls and a simple to use cruise control system.

There is another information panel at the top of the dashboard with a cowl that provides the time and fuel distance based on driving conditions and accelerator use. We were a little disappointed to note that the auto up-down window winding facility is only made available for the driver’s door, although when you think about it, that is where it is most appreciated. Having the facility for the other doors is a bit of a luxury.

The luggage area is big enough and should accommodate four golf bags easily. There is the retractable top cover to keep out prying eyes, while the rear seatrests are split 60:40 to enhance space for taking on board big or hobby items like bicycles or similar paraphernalia.

The 2.0-litre boxer engine has four valves per cylinder and double overhead camshafts per cylinder bank. It is undersquare with a 90mm stroke against an 84mm bore to displace 1995cc. The power is rated at 110kW (150PS) at 6200rpm and 196Nm at 4200rpm. The transmission is a Lineartronic CVT (continuously variable transmission) with electronically controlled ‘gears’.

Tipping the scales at 1430kg, the power-to-weight ratio is not bad. With the CVT, the engine output is smoothly distributed to the four wheels on acceleration. The Symmetrical AWD (All Wheel Drive) with active torque split is another engineering item that Subaru has employed consistently for all its models since the 1970s. Engine output is apportioned according to the traction need of the respective tyre so that grip and stability are better enjoyed.

We put the XV through a few of our favourite corners and found its grip good. Turn in was accurate enough and we could feel the better grip through the turns, with mild understeer at higher speeds. The flat-four engine also lowers the vehicle’s centre of gravity, enhancing the car’s stability during dynamic drives.

While the Lineartronic CVT has that characteristic lag when picking up speed (against automatic transmission), the XV Crossover has enough oomph to overtake quickly enough and sprint away from the lights. We also like the quiet manner in which it cruises on the highway, not only because of the better damping and insulation, but also because the engine runs below 2000rpm at legal highway speeds (1700rpm at 110km/h) with the CVT.

Our exuberance in quick corner driving came to a halt when we found that the right front tyre – the XV Crossover came with Continental 225/55 tyres - had a deep cut on the sidewall. We subsequently learnt that this vehicle was loaned out several times before us with the same ‘cut’ tyre. As this Subaru was most likely driven robustly during the earlier impression drives, we chose to take it easy as we were not confident with the integrity of the tyre at this stage.

It was probably an oversight on Motor Image’s part when preparing the vehicle for media drives, but it did prevent us from cross-checking its dynamic qualities and learning more about its winding road behaviour. By the way, the XV Crossover has MacPherson struts in front and double wishbones at the rear. The front stabiliser bar is also a thicker unit to provide flatter cornering through less body roll.

Its ride is good as bumps are taken well with hardly a jarring effect. However, when you drive the XV over a bumpy stretch at low speeds, the suspension system appeared to protest with clunking noises, not that you are jolted or tossed around. It just made clunky noises, an experience that we have also encountered in other makes of vehicles.

We find the relatively compact dimensions of the XV Crossover easy to gauge when parallel parking, especially in tight spots. The high driving position helped, along with the better view all round, the rear view image on the centre screen, and the reverse warning system.

The Subaru XV Crossover is a comfortable and quiet vehicle to drive and it has its share of equipment and features to keep most happy. It should fit the bill nicely for those who want to have a change from the run of the mill. Moreover, Motor Image should be around for a good long while as it appears fully committed to promoting the Subaru range of vehicles here and in the region.

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