Hybrid heaven: Subaru XV e-Boxer blends dynamic handling and practicality
Subaru has introduced a hybrid e-Boxer powertrain to its already capable XV compact SUV. Paul Connolly checks it out.
What is it?
The XV e-Boxer is the latest version of Subaru's compact SUV - a highly competent, well-appointed and safety-conscious crossover that stands out in a competitive segment that includes the likes of the Nissan Qashqai and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.
It was introduced in 2017, built on the Japanese manufacturer's Subaru Global Platform (SGP) which it also shares with the new Forester model. In fact, the Forester has also received the e-Boxer treatment.
In a nutshell, the addition of hybrid electric power. The e-Boxer uses a 2.0-litre 148bhp petrol engine boosted when required by a small electric motor.
As well as adding to the driving dynamics, more of which later, the electric motor allows the car to be more efficient, to send out reduced emissions, and to permit all-electric driving up to 25mph.
The addition of hybrid power isn't the only new enhancement to the e-Boxer over the more traditionally powered model: a raft of mostly subtle changes that include a new e-Boxer exclusive colour (Lagoon Blue Pearl), additional engine refinements, improved safety systems and better smartphone connectivity to name but some.
What's under the bonnet?
Let's start with the most important bit: the powerplant. Subaru has forgone diesel engines, so until now the XV only came with petrol choices.
The e-Boxer modernises this approach, adding a hybrid option into the mix. To those unfamiliar with Subaru engineering, the company uses so-called flat engines, also called boxers or horizontally opposed (basically, it's to do with the layout of cylinders).
The new model retains Subaru's S-AWD (Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive) approach. It incorporates a direct-injection 2.0-litre horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, featuring 80% new components, paired with an electric motor within the customised Lineartronic transmission.
The e-Boxer system adjusts the power-split ratio between the engine and the electric motor to match the driving conditions. There are three driving modes: Engine driving, EV driving, and Motor Assist driving.
EV will get you away from the start at a spritely rate, up to 25mph, for about 1.6 miles before the petrol kicks in.
At medium speeds, power is combined both from the motor and the engine while at higher speeds the petrol engine powers the vehicle while recharging the battery.
Top speed is 120mph, and the XV will manage the sprint from 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds. Fuel economy isn't the car's strong point (it officially returns 35.7mpg under the tougher WLTP tests) and CO2 emissions are 149g/km.
What's it like to drive?
If you've already driven Subarus, you won't be surprised to know that the answer to that question is: very well indeed.
Sophisticated driving dynamics are something of a Subaru hallmark. And whilst the company is now light-years from the old Subaru beloved of petrol-heads, their current models retain all the historic driving capabilities ... and then some.
On tarmac the car is very composed, quiet and responsive, reflecting Subaru's reputation for producing drivers' cars. It feels well planted on the road, there's little corner roll, and even the regenerative braking feels unobtrusive.
That electric motor also plays a key role in the XV's significant off-road capabilities, something we experienced at first hand at an off-road facility near Riga.
Selecting X-Mode on the console rotary dial unleashes all of the car's all-wheel drive ability. The electric motor delivers extra low-down torque for hill descent control, with the car intelligently sending power to the correct wheels on steep inclines and declines with ease helped by ground clearance of 220mm.
As further proof of its terrain ability, we experienced the XV on a lean test - it can tip to 30 degrees.
My own impression is that the XV is an almost uniquely versatile car, relaxed on tarmac, loving serious off-road challenges and also happily eating up the miles of sand tracks and Latvian forests we drove along.
This is as versatile a car as you could imagine at this price range: equally at home as a company car, or ferrying families around.
How safe is it?
Speaking of precious cargos, the XV, like all modern Subarus, is a very safe car. That's not least because of Subaru's innovative EyeSight safety system which has won international praise (in fact the XV was named safest car in Japan in 2017).
It would be hypocritical to develop something as acclaimed as EyeSight and not make it standard, and thankfully that's not a trap Subaru fell into.
All cars are equipped with EyeSight, which makes driver, passenger and people outside the car safer by deploying a range of preventative safety systems like Pre-Collision Braking Control, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, and more.
It is equipped with Subaru Rear Vehicle Detection (SRVD) System that detects vehicles approaching from the rear. SRVD offers three main functions to improve visibility and help to minimize common causes for accidents: Blind-Spot Detection, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
These systems work: on our test drive we drove and reversed the vehicle straight at objects, with foot away from the brake pedals: it was somewhat un-nerving, but the car safely braked to a halt automatically every time.
Should the worst ever happen (preventive braking works up 37mph), the XV e-Boxer comes as standard with seven airbags including driver and front passenger frontal airbags, side curtain airbags, side pelvis/torso airbags and a driver's knee airbag.
What's the cabin like?
Those unfamiliar with Subaru may well be surprised at the quality of the cabin, which can more than hold its own in this marketplace. It's an inspiring place to be with a quality feel and an overall impression that everything is solidly put together.
The battery is underneath the floor to ensure the boot space remains unchanged and space inside the cabin has been increased thanks to the new chassis platform. The boot isn't cavernous at 345-litres (with box sub trunk) but the rear seats can be folded down for a flat loading area. There's a decent towing capacity of 1,270kg.
To mirror the exterior's rather rugged and sporty look, the cabin has been given a series of contrasts and colour-co-ordinations which set if off rather nicely.
Orange/copper tones, contrasting charcoal grey and blacks, and silver pearl accents add to the quality feel.
As well as EyeSight, the technology has been brought up to date with an 8-inch screen and the latest infotainment system, plus improved connectivity has been added compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Who would want one?
This is a car that deserves a very wide appeal. Its composed tarmac driving, rugged off-road capability, sheer practicality, quality cabin and EyeSight safety system make it an ideal weekday and weekend car, including for active families.