First drive: The Subaru XV e-Boxer electrifies the firm’s range

What is it?

Since its introduction in 2011, the compact XV crossover has gone on to become Subaru’s most popular model. Its position was strengthened further in 2018 when it was overhauled with a revised look and comprehensive safety improvements.

But now the XV has a fresh new challenge, along with its larger Forester sibling, and that is to usher in electrification into the Subaru brand – wiping away distant memories of the firm’s past in world rallying and performance.

While the manufacturer is not jumping fully into the world of EVs, the e-Boxer is a mild hybrid setup that shows the brand is heading in the right direction.

(Subaru)

What’s new?

Given the XV was given a major overhaul last year, there wasn’t a need to make other changes to the XV – meaning the new underpinnings are the key difference on the e-Boxer.

E-Boxer is not a new idea, with mild hybrids being on sale for multiple years, and already available in Subarus in Japan. But here is its first use in Europe – combining a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery in a bid to make the XV more efficient, but also better to drive. So, can it deliver?

What’s under the bonnet?

Sitting alongside a smaller 1.6-litre petrol engine, this new hybrid setup combines a 2.0-litre petrol unit together with an electric motor and a battery pack enabling around one mile of power in pure-electric mode. Total output is 148bhp and 194Nm of torque.

You might be wondering what the point is with a range like that? Well, this setup is all about using electrification to enhance the petrol engine — improving efficiency by 10 per cent and allowing for slightly more torque.

That said, performance figures are not particularly inspiring – 0-60mph taking 10.5 seconds and reaching a top speed of 120mph. Though it doesn’t make a huge deal of difference to efficiency – with a claimed fuel economy figure of 35.7mpg, and CO2 emissions of 149g/km.

Subaru’s trademark all-wheel-drive remains, too, while many buyers will be pleased that the standard car’s 1,270kg towing limit remains.

(Subaru)

What’s it like to drive?

Subaru has, for many years, had all-wheel-drive ability as one of its key focuses, and that remains unchanged despite adopting electrification. A dedicated ‘X-mode’ enables traction on a variety of surfaces and gives the XV remarkable ability on rough terrain.

Back onto the tarmac and it’s perfectly fine in normal steady driving, whereby the XV’s comfortable ride comes into its own – the broken Latvian roads closely resembling those in the UK. It also remains composed and doesn’t lean in the same way expected from many higher riding models.

However, the benefits of electrification are quite hard to see. While undoubtedly offering more torque, it only seems to develop any sense of urgency at around 4,000rpm, at which point the CVT transmission begins to sound unpleasantly loud. It’s also difficult to keep the XV in ‘EV’ mode, while the switch from electric to petrol power could be more seamless.

(Subaru)

How does it look?

Since its original debut in 2011 the XV has always been a good-looking car, not being too bold but also not going unnoticed. The refresh last year also helped somewhat – ushering in revised bumpers and new LED lighting.

We’re not so keen on the textured plastic cladding, though it’s refreshing that the XV isn’t faux rugged (like many of its rivals) rather the XV’s SUV-style looks are actually met with genuine all-terrain ability. With 220mm of ground clearance and beefy wheelarches, it certainly fulfills the rugged styling many buyers are craving for.

The e-Boxer is also available in a new colour – Lagoon Blue Pearl – which certainly looked rather fetching on our test car.

(Subaru)

What’s it like inside?

Subaru interiors have undoubtedly improved in recent years – not being as agricultural-feeling as they once were, and rather more luxurious instead.

There’s now plenty of soft-touch plastics, as well as leather on our top-spec SE Premium test car, while the eight-inch touchscreen is great to use – being both responsive and intuitive. The quality still falls short in places, but with a Subaru, there is always the impression it was built to stand the test of time, and that’s probably something worth choosing over a few luxuries.

Adding to this is Subaru’s fantastic ‘Eyesight’ safety system – offering a suite of safety assists, which should help buyers and families to feel at ease. The XV certainly fulfils the family brief, too, with a practical and versatile cabin, though its 345-litre boot is quite small compared to much more affordable cars.

(Subaru)

What’s the spec like?

Prices for the XV e-Boxer kick-off at £28,995, which does look a bit pricey next to rivals, though you have to factor in the impressive array of standard equipment you get for the money.

Two trims are offered – SE and SE Premium. With the former, it comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, keyless entry, a reversing camera and an eight-inch touchscreen to name but a few features.

Unlike other manufacturers, who charge for their safety features, Subaru bundles them all in from the offset. This means that as part of the ‘EyeSight’ package, you get adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert and lane-change assist.

Meanwhile choosing SE Premium brings satellite navigation, electric leather seats and a sunroof, though at £2,000 extra, the base model looks better value.

(Subaru)

Verdict

Adding electrification to the XV range has undoubtedly enhanced this crossover. It’s a great first step for Subaru as it looks to introduce more similar systems to its range shortly, and also as it builds up to the launch of its first EV in the next couple of years.

Retaining the XV’s rugged charm and go-anywhere ability will definitely make this form of electrification appeal to Subaru buyers, who are notorious for their brand loyalty.

However, while the XV is far from class-leading, with the CVT gearbox being our main issue, this Subaru is an interesting and unique alternative to the norm. Now with the e-Boxer, it’s a good showcase for the benefits of electrification.

  • Model as tested: Xv e-Boxer SE Premium Lineartronic
  • Price: £30,995
  • Engine: 2.0-litre petrol engine with electrification
  • Power (bhp): 148
  • Torque (Nm): 194
  • Max speed (mph): 120
  • 0-60mph: 10.5 seconds
  • MPG: 35.7
  • Emissions (g/km): 149g/km
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