It’s fair to say I spend a lot of time in my car – the school run is an 18 mile round trip twice a day, and I regularly drive down to London and the surrounding areas for work meetings, not to mention visiting friends in our old home of Brighton. On that basis, I think I’m in a good position to know how much easier on you (and your butt) a good car can make this kind of travel.
But I’m not easily won over – I need a car with bullet-proof reliability (I did once write off a car on the M6 during rush hour and never want that experience again, thanks very much). I want good fuel economy because I spend a LOT of money each year on diesel; and I need great safety features for my precious cargo in the back seat. Driving long distances solo also means I need entertainment, and a good sat-nav for the journeys where I don’t have a navigator with me.
This autumn, we got to try out a Subaru XV, which is billed as a family car with the rugged power and reliability of a 4×4.
We had the car for a week, and while we didn’t have any off-roading to do, we did do lots of motorway and countryside driving, so it was definitely put through its paces.
So did the XV win me over?
In short, no.
My over-riding feeling sitting in the (not tremendously comfortable) driver’s seat was that I felt like I was driving a tractor. The engine was noisy, and it felt – to use a technical term – chuggy.
Yes, it was powerful, and the 2 litre diesel engine was certainly responsive when I put my foot on the pedal – but it didn’t feel particularly refined. That’s all well and good when you need a powerful car for off-road driving, but it seemed unnecessary driving on the school run. I thought the gear stick felt cheap and ‘clicky’ – although that’s a personal preference, to be fair.
There is a decent navigation system screen (although it’s a bit busy for my tastes, with 20 different sorts of information at any given moment).
The stereo can link up to your mobile phone and play music via Bluetooth – but rather than having a touch screen, the stereo is a small text LED, where you have to scroll through endless menus and press buttons to select options. Connecting a phone to the was more complicated than other similar systems I’ve tried in Kia and Honda cars, for example. There was a LOT of looking at the manual and muttering before everything worked.
There are some good points, too.
For starters, the Subaru XV exterior looks attractive. I know that it’s all supposed to be about engines and economy but personally I like a car to look nice – and I love the XV’s chunky style and rugged bumpers. It looks like a car that means business.
It’s got decent fuel economy – the brochure promises 50mpg but we got around 35mpg in practice, doing a mixture of local and longer distance journeys. The feels powerful on the motorway, in particular. And it’s got a reputation for being well-built and safe – there’s ABS, seven airbags, traction control and five star NCAP rating, along with a five year warranty, which is impressive.
The boot space is generous, and you can fold down the seats very easily. There’s good storage in the front of the car, it’s basic but functional.
Overall, we thought the Subaru XV was okay, but really that’s all I’d say.
I spend a lot of time in my car driving long distances and as well as being safe and not bankrupting myself fuelling the thing, I want just a bit more from a car. I want to feel comfortable; I want a smooth, quiet ride; I want to be able to take calls from my phone and stream music without needing to read a manual and spend 20 minutes clicking buttons.
I think the Subaru XV is probably the car for you if you DO a lot of off-roading, or rural driving where winter conditions need a seriously tough car for the family. Regularly get snowed in? This is the car for you.
But for us, living on the coast, and mostly driving on local roads and motorways? It’s just not quite the right fit.