WHEN youve built your brand on the toughness element of your vehicles, adapting to market trends and offering a soft-roader option is always going to be a challenge. The upside is the chance of attracting new buyers, but at the same time youve got to be careful not to alienate loyal followers.
Spare a thought for Subaru, then, as it rolls out its XV. Its rakish profile and low-slung appearance gives the impression that it should be viewed alongside the likes of Nissans popular Qashqai, Kias Sportage and BMWs X1. But an XV wouldnt be a Subaru if it didnt come with a full-blown all-wheel drive system to keep longtime fans happy.
Its a tough gig, but Subaru is keen to surprise a few people with a car that satisfies both camps. Keen to move on from a past dominated by turbo-powered Imprezas and rallying successes, recent years have seen Subaru attempt to boost its family-friendly line-up of 4x4s and sturdy estate cars. Transforming the once low profile Forester into a rugged SUV has helped matters, and now the XV has been positioned beneath it to steal some of the lifestyle market.
At one level the difference between the two cars is a simple one; the Forester boasts a proper low range gearbox for added versatility and the XV doesnt. But far from being the soft option, the XVs transmission is the genuine article and easily trumps its softer rivals despite the absence of a low range mode.
Sitting on a new platform the XV boasts a greater ground clearance than the competition, which reinforces Subarus assertion that the car wont let you down when youre driving off the road. The short front and rear overhangs help matters, too.
Under the bonnet theres a choice of two petrol engines and a diesel unit. The former -1.6 and 2.0 - offer sufficient performance, yet for many the attraction of the 2.0-litre diesel will prove the strongest. All motors are built in Subarus trademark Boxer style, and the diesel unit benefits the most from this unusual approach as its considerably quieter and less diesel-like in the way it behaves compared to a conventional engine. Its also surprisingly frugal despite the inclusion of all-wheel drive.
The XVs cabin is another pleasant surprise; with its generous levels of occupant space fore and aft its a genuine family holdall. Cabin quality, often a sticking point of past Subarus, is much improved and theres no doubting its durable nature an ideal quality when youre talking about a family-friendly SUV. Simple controls and easy to read displays complete the XVs understated cabin.
If you think the XVs interior is too modest to compete with the bold and brash examples of its rivals, youre forgetting the real reason why the chunky Subaru exists. Anyone whos serious about getting out and about will already be interested in what the car can do, not how shiny it is.
And in this context, the XV is comfortably ahead of the competition. Granted, plusher rivals are happy to focus more on image but this Subaru comes with a brand heritage thats focused more on doing stuff rather than being seen posing on the high street.
To that end the XVs permanent all-wheel drive system allows you to take more liberties than you could with any comparable soft-roader. Factor in Subarus clever traction and stability electronics and the only limiting factor is, predictably, the cars ground clearance. Its also no surprise that the XVs diesel motor, all 150 horsepower of it, is happy to haul you up and down dale all day long without complaint. Thanks to its ample reserves of torque its also capable of trundling around town and piling on the motorway miles with barely a murmur. The slick, six-speed manual gearbox is good, too. Opt for petrol and you can choose between manual and CVT transmissions.
Okay, so not every XV buyer is going to want to scale mountains at the weekends, but theres a lot to be said for the cars go (almost) anywhere abilities, lofty stance, decent ground clearance, accommodating cabin and refined road manners to convince families of its potential as an activity wagon. That its just as adept at towing is a bonus.
And theres more, because Subaru has joined the ranks of fellow manufacturers offering all inclusive aftersales packages for a fixed fee. From scheduled maintenance to dent repair, key replacement and even regular valeting, Subaru bosses believe going the extra mile puts them ahead in the loyalty game.
Only time will tell, but its all part of the firms focus on strengthening ties between the dealer and customer. Subarus network is a tightly knit operation plus buyers tend to be loyal, which makes it important to attract new buyers to the fold.
The XVs combination of looks and ability along with the promise of enhanced aftersales support are compelling factors in what is a fiercely competitive market. In truth, the XV is more of a lifestyle choice than those so-called lifestyle soft-roaders.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Subaru XV 2.0D SE, from £26,295 on the road.
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel unit developing 150bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 120mph, 0-62mph 9.3 seconds.
CO2 Rating: 146g/km.