Subaru is one of those eclectic brands that enjoys an almost fanatical following, and yet finds itself outside the motoring mainstream. It’s as highly regarded for its STI-badged performance machines as it is for its utilitarian but effective all-terrainers, while all-wheel drive and boxer engines are inherent to the brand’s appeal. So where exactly does the XV fit in? DEON SCHOEMAN drives it to find out.
There’s a certain quirkiness to the Subaru brand that has been both an asset and a liability. On the positive front, its idiosyncrasies have endowed the marque with an individuality all too rare in the context of mainstream Japanese production models.
But one could also argue that such individuality, created in part by an unwavering commitment to boxer engine designs and all-wheel drive across the majority of its model ranges, has intimidated more buyers than it has attracted. And it’s exactly that specialised approach that, ironically, sets Subaru apart from the mass-market norm.
For petrolheads, Subaru is synonymous with the snorting, belching – and indecently fast – Impreza STI, a car that in its many iterations has assembled an impressive array of international motorsport successes.
Often finished in a trademark electric blue hue, the STI enjoyed its finest hours being whipped around the stages of the World Rally Championship. But it also remains a favourite among the go-faster brigade, and it’s considered a formidable performance car with giant-killing talents.
By comparison, the Forester is the epitome of the pragmatic and practical sports utility vehicle – a functional wagon with a no-frills styling approach that was honest and angular at first, but that has become softer and less aesthetically challenged over successive generations.
Between them, these two divergent models represent the bulk of Subaru’s presence on South Africa’s roads, leaving the likes of the larger Legacy sedan and Outback estate, as well as the sporty BRZ coupé, to occupy specialised niches, with low volumes to match.
Enter the Subaru XV, nominally a compact SUV that, to some extent, occupies a similar space to the Forester. But instead of the Forester’s pragmatism, the XV exudes a sleeker, slicker aesthetic. Its lines are streamlined, its execution more approachable than the sterner Forester.
The arrival of the XV may have raised some eyebrows among Subaru supporters. Hardcore fans could even have considered it a sell-out. But the reality is that the XV is Subaru’s attempt to broaden the appeal of the brand to embrace the so-called lifestyle sector, and in doing so to coax a bigger audience into experiencing the marque’s core values.
The XV, therefore, is not a “soft” Subaru – at least not as far as its maker is concerned. It retains the core technologies that the brand has become famous for. And, if Subaru is to be believed, it may even shine as brightly as the Forester when the going gets tough.
In aesthetic terms, the XV is attractive enough. The profile is sleek, the nose extended, and the rear pert. The shape is easy on the eye, if somewhat generic, and therefore particularly reliant on the trademark grille, with its prominent chrome crossbar and large Subaru logo, to confirm its brand identity.
A large lower air intake in contrasting black, and a rear apron that suggests some scuff resistance, adds some visual aggression, as does the black detailing of the wheel arches, the lower sills and the rear corner lights. Roof rails and an integrated roof spoiler are confirmation of the XV’s compact SUV intentions.
The interior is a highlight, acknowledging just how important cockpit execution really is. Even this so-called entry-level model’s execution is smart and upmarket, and for many, the cloth seats offered here will be preferable, and more comfortable, than the dearer ‘S’-model’s leather.
The view from the driver’s seat is generous, thanks to the raised seating position and ample glass in all directions, but the steeply raked windscreen is more passenger car than off-roader. Well-positioned controls and switchgear ensure intuitive ergonomics, adding to the overall feel-good factor.