‘Don’t make unnecessary journeys.’ The immortal words of Teresa Mannion were repeated ad nauseum last week as Ireland found itself in the grip of the ‘Beast from the East’ and most of the country remained housebound as we dutifully obeyed the red weather alert warning.
What if you did have a necessary journey though? Last week saw many of Ireland’s 4X4 owners finally vindicated. While they may have been scoffed at for paying through the nose for a system they don’t use all that often – it’s a fantastic thing to have when you do need it.
This I learned first-hand at the wheel of the new Subaru XV Crossover. The four wheel drive system is quite simply excellent, and one of the most capable (albeit also well-tested) systems I have ever used. Three foot of snow covered the road, paths and pavements of the cul de sac I was unfortunately boxed into for a day and a half, both by the snow and line of front wheel drives adorning each side of the kerbs and going nowhere soon.
But what was the first car off the mark as soon as the most severe weather warnings were lifted? Whose track marks blazed a trail and drew the course which, in an encouraging display of community spirit, saw the whole neighbourhood club together and dig out a route that was safe for everybody to escape by. Even those without X-mode.
The symmetrical four wheel drive system delivers power to all four wheels, and combined with a good ground clearance and the low centre of gravity of the boxer engine, offered excellent traction in some very difficult conditions. It’s not a diesel either, which is another thing that makes it feel like a well-timed machine. The XV is available only in petrol at the moment, with a choice between a 1.6 or 2.0l unit, both paired with a ‘Lineartronic’ CVT automatic transmission. Our test car was the latter and performed reasonably well over a mix of different driving situations before the storm, though it never seemed to get anywhere near the claimed fuel economy of 6.9l per 100km. The power uptake was for the most part smooth and immediate, although it did tend to get a little bit noisy when pushed. After the heroics that were to come in the days ahead, none of that seemed to matter anymore.
That will remain my overarching memory of the XV Crossover, a Bruce Willis type character that saved the day while others fell like flies around it. But what for the car when we’re not in the midst of a crisis?
Subaru is a brand that seems to have slipped off the radar here a bit in recent years. Most commonly associated with the sporty Impreza and all the teenage memories of gold rims and ironing board spoilers that might provoke, they have also held on to a niche share of the country market with their rugged range of SUVs. Famed for their bulletproof reliability and capable off-roading abilities, their appeal in the farming community is obvious.
But recently the brand has been working on widening that appeal and joining the ranks of the more mainstream contenders on the SUV market. This latest XV is a fine example of one such makeover. It doesn’t look radically different from the last one on first glance but it’s been sharpened up in just enough places to befit a 181 reg plate. The cool grey khaki paint, roof rails and 18 inch alloy wheels on our test car made it quite a handsome thing to behold. Despite the subtle exterior tweaks, it is a whole new car from the ground up.
The cabin has been redesigned to compete with the best of them in terms of soft touch materials on the dashboard, and some shiny carbon effect inserts and funky orange seat stitching give it a unique kind of sporty elegance. It’s modern and fuss free, and comes equipped with some impressive high-tech features, although the delivery could be better in places. For example, heated seats are standard across the range but the controls themselves have a bit of a nineties vibe with their old-school three level switches. Never the less, the effects were instantaneous and very welcome for the week that was in it.
Things improve greatly as you move further up the centre console, which is dominated by an eight inch colour touchscreen display fully equipped with all the latest smartphone integration including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Japanese infotainment systems can sometimes be lacking in terms of graphics but this is one of the better ones in that category. The picture is clear and crisp and the controls easy to navigate without too much thinking when you’re on the move. Above it is what feels like a slightly superfluous second screen which displays things like the time, temperature and driving mode. While it is quite interesting to see the powertrain in action, you can’t help thinking it might have been more at home (and less distracting) as a function on the (third) LCD screen on the instrument cluster.
The rest of the cabin has managed to avoid such overkill. It’s spacious and practical, with enough room in the back to fit two adults quite comfortably. However, priority seems to have been given to backseat legroom over boot space which measures in at 385 litres, or just five litres more than what you’ll get in a Volkswagen Golf. Bear in mind that technically this car sits in the compact crossover segment with the likes of the Toyota C-HR (377l) and Mazda CX-3 (350l) rather than larger SUV types like the Hyundai Tucson (513l) and Volkswagen Tiguan (610l). Those looking for a heavy duty load lugger would be better off looking at the larger Forester SUV. If you’re not carrying any backseat passengers you can increase the load area of the XV to a very useful 835 litres by dropping the backseats.
The XV comes in a choice of two trim levels and the entry level SE comes very generously equipped. Standard features include 17 inch alloy wheels, a touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a reversing camera. It also comes with push button start and an impressive level of safety kit. All models come with a driver-assisting system called Eyesight which includes an automatic cruise control function where the car will track and match the speed of the vehicle in front of you on the motorway. There’s also blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert, automatic emergency braking and the very useful X-mode which will up the 4X4 capabilities in a tricky driving situations.
You can upgrade to SE premium if you wish which will add a few nice bells and whistles like leather upholstery, a sun roof, satellite navigation and electric adjustment in the driver seat for a premium of €3,000.
With a starting price of €33,495, it does look expensive next to some more mainstream rivals, but rest assured, this is the real deal. In fact, the week spent with the XV Crossover felt a bit like discovering a hidden gem in the middle of a block of compacted snow. If you’re someone who wants an SUV not for the fashion statement, but genuine off-roading capability – the XV is a vehicle you can count on to keep you mobile whatever the weather. It has stayed true to its roots as a rough, tough, driving machine, except now without any sacrifice on style or modern technology.