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Subaru XV 2018 Road Test

Designed, developed and engineered to have a far broader appeal than the original XV, the new small Subaru SUV is all-new from the ground up - not that you can tell. In fact, it's only when parked beside the old model it's possible to spot the changes. 

Despite not a single body panel shared, it's only side-by-side you'll notice that the 2018 Subaru XV is 15mm longer, 20mm wider, with a wheelbase that's been stretched by 30mm, it's a similar story beneath the skin as the XV sits on the same all-new platform that underpins the Impreza.

It's thanks to the latest Subaru architecture that the XV is among the safest family cars - with a five star rating - ever tested by Euro NCAP, that and the addition of the car maker's EyeSight driver assistance tech. Under the bonnet, buyers get the choice of either a 114PS 1.6-litre or a more powerful 156PS 2.0-litre – both are petrol, a diesel will not even be offered as the tide turns against the fuel in Europe.

Curiously, a six-speed manual transmission is also absent, despite being offered in other markets. Instead both engines come with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). All models also get standard all-wheel drive which is, Subaru says, fast becoming a unique selling point for small crossovers as most of its rivals are now sold with front-wheel drive. Featuring torque vectoring tech and the X-Mode system lifted from the Forester SUV, the second-gen XV now uses electronics to boost low-speed off-road capability.

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Inside the XV, it's another case of quiet evolution over the previous car's cabin. In fact, you'd have to be an owner of the old model to really appreciate the leap forward in quality and design. Both the eight -inch infotainment system and the wide 4.3-inch info panel above it are clearer and easier to read and have been updated to work with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Up front it's easier now to find a comfortable driving position while in the rear, occupants have both more leg and head room. Boot space, meanwhile, is decent (for the class) at 385-litres but slightly thwarted by a high boot lip. Comfort, refinement and improving the way the XV drives is what engineers developing the small crossover strived for and, thanks to the stiffer, more rigid platform and body, the XV is a big improvement over the old car.

The steering, for example, is more responsive and there's less body-roll through corners. The small XV is also engaging and resists the urge to push-on into understeer on slow bends. Ride quality too, is better than the old car, although the 2.0-litre riding on the 18-inch wheels (the 1.6 gets small 17-inch alloys) is still on the firm side but it's no deal breaker.

Where the XV is let down is with its powertrain. Despite producing a healthy 156PS, the 2.0-litre needs to be worked to extract its performance (0-62mph in 10.4 seconds) compared to a diesel that has more pulling power lower in the rev range. In the past, we would have side-lined the XV for its CVT transmission, but the latest development of the CVT 'box is no longer the obstacle to driving pleasure as it once was. 

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It's smooth and does the best to help extract the most out of the slightly breathless 2.0-litre that can also get a little too vocal at high revs for our liking - long gone is the characterful off-beat soundtrack. Helping with overtakes, drivers can also use the wheel-mounted gearshift paddles to keep the engine on the 'boil'.

We also tried the compact 114PS 1.6-litre that takes a tedious 13.9 seconds to reach 62mph. On country roads it has to be worked very hard making the 2.0-litre the better match, especially since the 1.6 can only averages at an advertised 44.1mpg compared to the larger engine's official 40.9mpg.

As part of our drive, we also were given the chance to drive the XV off-road in wintery conditions where the small Subaru excelled. With exactly the same ground clearance as a Forester, thanks to the permanent all-wheel drive and X-Mode electronics the small XV is confidence inspiring and difficult to get stuck, offering more than enough traction in thick snow (on winter tyres) for even the most remote countryside dwellers.

With pricing kicking off at £24,995 for the entry-level XV 1.6i SE, Subaru will have its work cut out in an increasingly crowded segment against all-new rivals like the Skoda Karoq that offers more performance from its 150PS 1.5-litre turbo petrol, similar tech and spec for more than £2000 less. Despite the price premium the Subaru remains a likeable, capable car worthy for consideration. 

The Subaru XV is on sale late January 2018.

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