The new Subaru XV is a curious thing. Despite the styling iniquities visited on the likes of the once-wholesome Forester and Impreza of late, there is still a tremendous groundswell of goodwill towards Subaru out there.
Which makes it all the more difficult to fathom why, far from trying to rekindle the interest of its core customer base by vigorously re-assessing its existing model line-up, the company has decided to fashion a C-SUV and take a punt at a segment that’s already as busy as cheese.
In other words, the new Subaru XV had better be bloody good…
This isn’t in fact, the company’s first XV, merely the first we’ve seen in the UK - the predecessor little more than an Impreza in plastic nappies. This specimen’s bodywork (and nappies) has been worked a little harder and, like a well filled sandwich made from extra-thin bread, carries off the neat trick of combining raised ground clearance and the lowest roofline of any car in the class with acceptable front and rear seat headroom.
Force-feeding a goose may elicit entirely delicious results, but I’m not sure the same applies to an Impreza: handsome enough from the front (though largely indistinguishable from rivals), quite elegant in profile and a sight too Dodge Caliber astern, the XV is unlikely to cause offence as long as paint colour is chosen with care.
What's the 2012 Subaru XV like inside?
On board, the Subaru is admirably spacious throughout and, courtesy of delightfully thin A-pillars, forward visibility is outstanding. However, the XV is bereft of any Yeti-like packaging origami, and it lets itself down with inferior front seats – short in the base and boasting all the lateral support of a mature sherry trifle - and an interior of decidedly variable quality.
Most vexingly, everything you merely look at sports an expensive, slush-moulded, soft-touch finish, whilst everything you actually touch is fabricated in hard, scratchy plastic. Erm… Even the frightful Katie Price understands that, when it comes to cosmetic enhancement, money is best spent in areas to which one’s fingertips naturally gravitate…
Subaru XV: the UK range
Permanent all-wheel drive is delivered by a choice of three powerplants; a 144bhp diesel unit, and 147bhp, 2.0-litre and 112bhp, 1.6-litre petrol engines. Whimsically - and suggesting that even Subaru itself cannot quite buy into the XV’s predictable ‘urban adventure’ marketing tag - all manual transmissions are still accompanied by a standard-fit low-ratio transfer box.
This is unlikely to benefit the 1.6-litre engine overmuch, mind; though willing, it couldn’t pull a sausage out of the Mersey tunnel. The 2.0-litre petrol engine makes a better fist of shifting what is actually a remarkably lightweight iteration of an all-wheel drive SUV (the 2.0 diesel weighing some 200kg less than a comparable Kuga) but, though expensive at around £26,000 for a respectably equipped version, it is the 2.0-litre diesel that is expected to outsell its siblings.
What's the diesel Subaru XV like to drive?
Though frenetic whirring rather than contented gruffling hallmarks this particular boxer’s soundtrack, the engine’s eager enough and, for a diesel, will rev to almost unseemly heights. This, combined with engaging, accurate steering and handsome helpings of mechanical grip, makes the XV surprisingly adept at pressing on.
Thing is, occupants must pay the price for such agility with a ride quality verging on the disciplinary. Lumpy at low speed and relentlessly fidgety in the cruise, the suggestion of over-tough springing and inadequate damping leaves the XV as reluctant to settle as a halibut on a hotplate.
Lob in noisy bump-thump and too little sound insulation, and any urban excursion on our battered boulevards is liable to prove more ordeal than adventure. This, given the ability of WRC undercarriage to iron the lumps out of a field of footballs, is a particularly savage irony.
Pricey, yet unable to best myriad rivals in any SUV-essential department, the Subaru XV will, I fear, merely further exercise the goodwill of Subaru loyalists everywhere.
Its chassis can undoubtedly take a good deal more power, and I suspect a machine thus equipped might prove highly entertaining. My worry is that they’ll lower the ride height and re-badge it ‘Impreza’.