2018 Subaru XV
THE new Subaru XV is doing a fine job of being a duck.
The comparison might sound far from flattering to begin with, but it really is a great compliment.
Remember the old piece of advice people give about staying calm under pressure? Their advice is to act like a duck swimming on a pond. The key to success is to outwardly display a sense of calm and poise for everyone to see, while beneath the surface you are paddling furiously to keep everything moving forward. Like the duck, the new Subaru XV is doing its most important work where you can’t see it.
To look at the XV on the street, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between it and last year’s model.
It still looks like a mountaineer’s backpack on four wheels.
There is just an immediate sense of adventure that you get by looking at the XV that doesn’t come with most of its competitors in the small SUV class.
But the Subaru’s bulked up stance, roof rails and liberal splashings of body armour leave you in no doubt that the XV is ready for some fun off the beaten track.
The aggressive external styling looks pretty much the same, with strong lines running from the headlights to the razor-sharp tail lights at the rear.
Even inside, everything feels familiar. I am driving the top-spec 2.0i-S, which means I have all the bells and whistles – and it is just as impressive as I remember.
The leather seats and steering wheel, electric sunroof above me, and a wave of information delivered to you by the simply outstanding 8-inch touchscreen, and two other digital screens all remain top-notch – with the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto bringing even more functionality to the party.
But the real secret to the new XV’s success is below the surface, all the way to the chassis as a matter of fact. The new XV is riding on the new Subaru Global Platform, and the feel of the car has gone to another level.
I was a big fan of the old XV, but on the new platform it feels even better again. Partnered with the brilliant all-wheel drive system, the XV feels even more in control, bringing greater stability and handling when you start asking it some harder questions.
But the platform is not the only new toy. One small button in the centre console is also sure to get your attention: The suitably titled X-Mode. Click this button, and the XV unleashes its X-factor, bringing upgraded off-road performance.
Simply put, X-Mode just gives you more control – and therefore, greater confidence –by manipulating the engine, brakes and traction control when you are dealing with tricky slopes or rough terrain.
It is a very clever and very useable system, and helps make the XV stand apart in a congested small SUV class by bringing genuine off-road ability to the mix. The XV is also above the pack when it comes to technology and safety.
Chief among these features is the freakishly good EyeSight driver assistance system, that allows the XV to keep watch on what is happening around you – and step in to help you when you are not doing a good enough job.
Aside from being the eyes and brains of the excellent adaptive cruise control system, the EyeSight system even alerts you if you are not paying attention when the car in front of you moves off (a far more polite way of pointing out your error, than having the person behind you leaning on their horn).
Sensors around the car not only keep you safe, but also those around you.
The blindspot monitoring, lane-change assistance, lane-keeping assistance and rear cross traffic alert system are all exceptionally good. The new XV 2.0i-S also comes with reverse automatic braking. This is a new safety feature where the car will literally bring itself to a stop if it detects an object behind it.
Sadly, recent tragic events have highlighted just how clever and important this technology is. Happily, I can also vouch for the fact that it works.
Attempting to reverse park up a grassy hill at a golf club carpark, the XV jammed on the brakes when it thought I was not paying enough attention. For the record, and in my defence, I absolutely did see the enormous shrub that the car suspected I was about to plough into. Although slightly insulted, it was kind of nice to know it was looking out for me anyway.
The XV remains a joy to live with. Excellent mileage and cracking technology make life easier at every turn.
The proximity key allows you to lock, unlock and start the XV with one finger. The electronic park brake in the centre console similarly lets you put down the anchors with the simple tap of a switch.
Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, voice activated commands – there is not much the XV won’t do.
For nearly 100 years, utes have been among the most popular segments in the Australian motoring marketplace, and with good reason. But I am starting to think it might be time to reassess the definition of the word.
Utes were born literally as “utility vehicles”. Legend has it a farmer’s wife wrote a letter to Ford asking them to design a car that would take them to church on a Sunday, and deliver their pigs to market on a Monday.
They wanted a car that could do everything.
At the risk of offending the purists, for modern drivers, the XV delivers that brief perfectly.
You could probably carry pigs in the back of the XV if you wanted to try. I didn’t, but I did cart two primary school-aged children around in the back of it for a couple of weeks, and there is not that much difference really.
But think about it. What does the modern driver want from a car that can do everything? It has to be comfortable enough to handle longer journeys. Check. It needs to be quick, sharp and agile to make it entertaining and enjoyable to drive. Check.
It needs to be tough and reliable enough to cope with some off-road exploring, and revel in the chance to get some mud on it tyres. Check. It has to be small enough and economical enough to fill the role of the daily-driver to handle the commute to the city. Check.
It needs to be big enough to handle the workload of modern life – passengers and bags on the school run, groceries and shopping, and the flexibility of increasing cargo space for bulkier items. Check.
It needs to be rough and ready enough for weekend sport, but scrub up well enough to look the part pulling up to a swanky hotel, fancy restaurant or even – as dear, old Myrtle suggested in 1932 – church on a Sunday. Check that, too.
It needs to be safe, convenient, practical, intelligent, technologically advanced.
Check, check, check, check, check.
Subaru may have set out to redesign their small SUV, but instead they may have redefined the great Australian ute. It is the definition of the modern utility vehicle because it does so many things well. The XV can be whatever you need it to be.
If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and sounds like a duck, then it must be a duck.
The XV looks like a Subaru, rides like a Subaru, performs like a Subaru and impresses like a Subaru.
That must mean the XV is a Subaru.
It is, and that just means it is very, very good.