XV marks the spot

The Subaru XV 1.6i-S comes with torque vectoring and X-Mode, an electronic assistance programme for offroad driving.
The Subaru XV 1.6i-S comes with torque vectoring and X-Mode, an electronic assistance programme for offroad driving.ST PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR
The Subaru XV 1.6i-S comes with torque vectoring and X-Mode, an electronic assistance programme for offroad driving.
The Subaru XV 1.6i-S comes with torque vectoring and X-Mode, an electronic assistance programme for offroad driving.ST PHOTOS: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Subaru's new compact crossover grows in size and bearing, with improved refinement and driveability all round

CVTs or continuously variable transmissions are known to be more efficient, but probably not for all the conventional, technical reasons.

Methinks they are more efficient because they are irritating when driven hard. For most versions, a loud and unavoidable whine arises whenever you need urgent acceleration.

This certainly holds true for the new XV from Subaru, one of the pioneers of CVT gearboxes. When driven gingerly, the XV absolutely shines. It is quiet, smooth and reasonably responsive.

But once you rev past 3,000rpm, the crossover's veneer of civility drops away. In its place is a coarse and hoarse recourse that leaves your ears ringing and your nerves in tatters.

Like Pavlov's dog, you soon learn to associate urgency with unpleasantness. And you adapt to a more measured driving style - a style which keeps revs at no more than 2,500rpm, a style which the car's own cruise control has mastered.

This way, you are happy, the car is happy and the Earth is happy. The only ones unhappy are probably the oil companies.

This is not an attempt to cast aspersions on CVTs. Some versions are rather good, such as what Toyota has applied to its Altis and what Audi once applied to its compact models.

  • SPECS / SUBARU XV 1.6i-S


    Price: $100,800 with COE

    Engine: 1,599cc 16-valve flat-4

    Transmission: Continuously variable transmission

    Power: 114bhp at 6,200rpm

    Torque: 150Nm at 3,600rpm

    0-100kmh: 13.9 seconds

    Top speed: 175kmh

    Fuel consumption: 6.6 litres/100km

    Agent: Motor Image

And some cars which do not use CVT technology are equally uninspiring at high revs (such as the Mazda CX-5).

Thankfully, the latest XV does not always require high engine speeds to perform decently. Peak torque of 150Nm is unchanged from what was available to its predecessor, but arrives at lower revs.

This makes the car driveable in an urban landscape such as ours. And once it gets to cruising speeds on the highway, the XV shines.

The car is slightly bigger than the last XV, with more space inside. More importantly, it is noticeably more refined than before, with improved insulation and better finishing all round. The difference is so vast that the previous model comes across as a tad crusty.

Like what we see on the Subaru Impreza, the XV's chassis is an excellent piece of automotive engineering, affording ride and handling qualities any premium European make would be proud of.

The way the car moves (and stops) is nothing short of brilliant, and makes you almost forget about the whiney tendencies of its CVT.

The XV's fine balance and poise is without a doubt partly attributable to its horizontally opposed engine layout and symmetrical all-wheel- drive system. This configuration is something Subaru has stuck to all these years and it is the better for it.

The new XV comes with torque vectoring and X-Mode, an electronic assistance programme for offroad driving. Should you encounter a flash flood or oil spillage, activating X-Mode would be a good idea.

The new XV appears more planted than the previous model. Design-wise, there are minor changes here and there, but enough to make you think it is a new model.

The car outshines its rivals in crucial areas. In areas such as its hi-fi, air-conditioner, parking assistance and other amenities though, the test unit is better equipped than its predecessor, but not as well equipped as its rivals.

But it is really the way the car feels that seals the deal. It is a couple of notches above its predecessor - as well as others - in terms of all-round quality. The only thing that remains unchanged is its CVT. So, if you think you can change your heavy-footed driving habits, you will be happy in this generally better XV.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'XV marks the spot'. Print Edition | Subscribe