Impreza quality at a better price

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What will surely also elevate the XV's status is that it gives a better driving experience. Photo: Subaru

A couple of minutes into presenting the new XV, Subaru's local boss idly commented that it was actually a totally different car from the Impreza.

The cheeky smile that flashed across Wal Dumper's face as he forwarded this thought suggested this was his ‘‘yeah, right'' moment, inserted to stay true to company credo.

Everyone knows that beyond the elevated ride height, and fact that one's a wagon and the other a sedan, there is far more to associate than to separate: common platform and drivetrain and a lot of shared specification.

That's great news, by the way. What's even better and, in some ways, even more important is that the XV heads down the same path as the Impreza in respect to where it positions.

No more spanning three derivatives from $37,990 to $44,990. Subaru NZ accepts it now needs to lower its prices to raise its sights. So now, just two derivatives: Sport and Premium. The first is $3000 cheaper than the old base car, the other $5000 lower. The latest Impreza all over again.

SNZ reckons this should get the XV back up to the sales speed it enjoyed until 2013, when the market was suddenly saturated with a diversity of soft crossovers, some of which are now best-selling types.

What will surely also elevate the XV's status is that it gives a better driving experience. The stiffer global underpinning that Japan's smallest and most independent car brand plans to implant into every model - save perhaps the BRZ that it shares with Toyota - promises all sorts of benefits, from enhanced safety to bigger cabins, but the first plus is that the big dynamic and refinement positives that stood out when I drove the Impreza at the start of the year also shone through in equal abundance with the XV.

A surprise? Well, yes. After all, the crossover stands much taller, ground clearance being just 5mm short of that of the largest Toyota Landcruiser. And yet, though clearly better sorted for taking tough trails - because it also gets the soft surface-attuned X-Mode function previously restricted to the more overtly outdoorsy Outback and Forester - it's not soft or squidgy on the seal. More like a sports wagon than an SUV.

Not only does Subaru say the centre of gravity is lower than in previous models, but it also attests to it having 50% less body roll. Cornering is also enhanced by a brake-based active torque vectoring system. The 70% improvement in torsional stiffness also has to be a positive and, of course, underlying everything is the base assurance of all-wheel drive.

The XV also crosschecks against Impreza by coming with a 2.0-litre boxer engine and the Lineartronic transmission that has seven ratio steps to mimic - as best a CVT can - an orthodox auto. As per the sedan, the powertrain is smart but not earth-shattering. Subaru readily agrees this chassis could take more power - a shame they are in no hurry to deliver it.

Look inside and more good news. Attention is immediately drawn to the significantly improved centre console user interface, which includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the more lasting impression is that an environment that looked cheap in the old car is now utterly premium, with more soft-touch materials and no hard plastics.

As per the Impreza, it is wider and feels roomier and airier. The driving position is excellent and while the rear seat squab is a bit flat, leg and head room is very good.

An increase in total boot space, too - maximum luggage capacity with the rear seats folded has increased to 1240 litres (the boot opening is also wider and more accessible, and the length of the boot has been extended).

The Sport comes as standard with torque vectoring by braking, eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 17-inch wheels and the Eyesight twin-camera active system, which enables collision alert, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and a new lane-assist feature that gently guides the car back on line if the driver strays out of the lane.

The Premium has 18-inch wheels, automatic headlights, sat-nav (although the Sport already has that through phone projection), sunroof, leather-accented trim, adaptive LED headlights and a more extensive suite of active safety features: the so-called Vision Assist package includes blind-spot warning, high- beam assist, lane-change assist, rear cross- traffic alert and reverse automatic braking, which acts to keep you from backing into things.

Impreza quality at a better price
At a Glance

Subaru XV

Price: $34,990 Sport, $39,990 Premium
Engines: 1995cc naturally aspirated
petrol four-cylinder,
maximum power 115kW@6000rpm,
maximum torque 196Nm@4000rpm
Transmission: Seven-step Lineartronic CVT,
all-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc
brakes, ABS, VSC, ATV
Safety rating: Five-star Ancap
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 225/60 R17 Sport,
255/55 R18 Premium tyres
Fuel and economy: 7 litres per 100km, tank capacity
63 litres
Emissions: CO2 159g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4465mm, width 1800mm, height