Subaru shows hybrid intention

Price: $42,490
Engine: 1995cc, four-cylinder petrol, max power 110kW, max torque 196Nm and 12.3kW/66Nm permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor
Transmission: Seven-stage Lineartronic CVT, all-wheel drive
Brakes and stability systems: Disc brakes, ABS, BA, TCS, VSM, ESC
Safety: Five-star NCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 225/60 R17 tyres
Fuel and economy: 91 octane unleaded petrol, 6.5 litres/100km on standard economy cycle, capacity 48 litres
Emissions: 147g CO2/km
Dimensions: Length 4465mm, width 1800mm, height 1595mm

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Swimming against the current as the world moves to a largely electric vehicle future is becoming ever tougher, and now Subaru has joined those going with the flow, launching hybrid versions of its XV crossover and Forester sports utility in New Zealand. David Thomson explains.

What’s new?
This might be a road test of a particular car, but it takes place against amuch wider backdrop: that of Subaru’s plans to move from its current New Zealand situation —with its first two hybrid models just on sale — to a sales mix that includes at least 40% hybrid or pure electric vehicles in 10 years’ time.

Internationally, Subaru started on its hybrid adventure in 2013, with a petrol-electric version of the firstgeneration XV for the North American and Japanese markets. Afew of these cars have made there way here as used imports.

The approach of that model — using a relatively small battery pack and modest electric motorsystem to supplement the XV’s petrol engine — has continued with the secondgeneration XV hybrid. So, too, has the vehicle’s status as ahybrid ofthe nonplug-in variety.

Going under the e-Boxer moniker, the XV hybrid’s powertrain is the same as that used on the Forester hybrid. The primary motoris a 110kW/ 196Nm version of the XV’s standard115kW four-cylinder petrol engine. Supplementary drive is provided by a 12.3kW/66Nm electric motor, powered by acompact 0.6kWh lithium ion battery pack. 

The electric drive system is located above the rear axle to optimise front-rear weight balance. As with a regular XV, the e-Boxer’s transmission is a sevenstage Lineartronic CVT, delivering power via the usual Subaru symmetrical all-wheel drive system.

The hybrid drive has four modes comprising electric motoralone, petrol engine alone, both motors working together, or a charging mode, in which energy lost during braking or coasting is used to recharge the battery. The car chooses which mode to select in an entirely automated manner.

Casualties of the hybrid set-up are fuel tank capacity (down from 63 to 48 litres) and a conventional spare wheel, which is replaced by an emergency puncture repair kit. Towing capacity also drops from 1400kg to 1270kg.

On the other hand (and unusually for a hybrid) cargo capacity is increased, rising from 310 to 345 litres when the rear seats are in use, and from 765 to 919 litres when they are stowed. Naturally, in opting for a hybrid, most buyers will also expect an economy gain, which I’ll go into later.

Pricing and availability are two interesting aspects of the XV e-Boxer story.

Its $42,490 price tag matches the regular XV Premium, but is $5000 more than the entry level VX Sport, underscoring Subaru New Zealand’s affordability drive. However, due to the Covid-19 disruption, availability is tight; so for those keen must register their interest, and they will then be allocated a place on the supply list.

What comes as standard?
Subaru’s EyeSight active drive assist system is standard across the XV range. This includes radar cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and departure warning, and pre-collision braking, brake assistance and throttle management. Like the Premium, the e-Boxer has auto-dipping headlights, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dipping rear-view mirror, heated exterior mirrors, blind spot detection, lanechanging assistance and rear cross traffic alert and braking. It also features a pedestrian alert system.

The e-BOXER’s list of comfort and convenience features includes remote keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity, smartphone mirroring, voice command and a six-speaker audio. The centre display touchscreen is topped by a further colour screen, which serves primarily as the display for the hybrid drive system, also for the climate control when required.

What’s it like to look at?
The option of an exclusive Lagoon Blue Pearl finish aside, visual differences between the hybrid and other XV models are low-key. There is discreet e-Boxer badging, flushmounted roof rails and subtle changes to the nose and tail.

Those flush roof rails mean the e-Boxer isn’t quite as tall as the petrol model, but it has the same 205mm of ground clearance, meaning the hybrid has the same high-riding hatchback look that marks the current XV out as one of the most visually attractive crossover vehicles in its class.

What’s it like inside?
The XV interior took a significant step forward when the current model was introduced in 2017. Three years on, the e-Boxer’s cabin brings these same qualities to the fore.

As noted earlier, boot space is a little better than onthe non-hybrid models, which is awelcome boost. Despite a fairly flat squab, the rear seat delivers decent space for two adults or three kids.

The front seats lack a little for lateral support but are otherwise comfortable and supportive. Visibility from the driver’s seat is very good, key instruments and controls are sensibly positioned, and Subaru has struck a good balance between reducing button clutter and avoiding overreliance on the centre-mounted touchscreen.

The layering of the hybrid system screen (which lets you know which drive mode the XV is choosing to run in at any given point, and also displays air-coninformationwhen needed) above the touchscreen, and with air conditioning controls below, is well executed.

Wireless connectivity is fuss-free, although just a single charging USB outlet up front seems out of touch with modern needs.

Featuring orange contrast stitching and patterned metallic-style inserts, the test car’s cabin was plushly trimmed for a car of the XV’s price. Interior fit and finish was, like that on the car’s exterior, first rate.

What’s it like to drive?
Drivesouth’s test of the XV e-Boxer encompassed a wide range of driving environments, and mixed weather, including foul night-time winter motoring in cloud and heavy rain.

Whether around town, on the highway, pressing down a winding sealed road, or on slippery and even muddy loose surfaces, the test car was never anything less than fully competent.

The extra ride height, and thus improved visibility provided by its crossover form, was especially welcome in the worst of the weather, as was the surefootedness of its allwheel drive set up. Faithful (though not especially incisive) handling and a comfortable absorbent ride are other key characteristics.

Engaging X-Mode to venture off the beaten track, Subaru NZ’s suggestion that the e-Boxer is the equal for lifestyle adventuring to its pure-petrol sibling made complete sense. As an aside, in these respects the e-Boxer is without peer in its class, as none of its like-priced hybrid rivals come with all-wheel drive.

While as surely as the e-Boxer maintains the positive traits of the XV, so it is beset by the same undesirable trait of a powertrain that is thrashy and underwhelming when worked hard. I had hoped that with the addition of an electric motor, this would be an area where significant progress was made. However, out on the open road it seems that the gains in output are pretty much cancelled out by the hybrid’s extra weight.

The e-Boxer’s economy story is a similarly mixed bag: Subaru’s figures show that the vehicle’s standard cycle fuel efficiency advantage of more than 7% over the regular model is due almost entirely to the hybrid set up’s 14% more efficient credentials around town. On the open road, the electric system does little more economy-wise than equalise for its extra weight.

This economy situation is, admittedly, typical for a mild nonplug-in hybrid. But what jars with the XV e-Boxer is Subaru’s status as an outdoorsy, adventure-oriented brand. Its marketing campaign for new hybrids plays to this concept, urging folk to get out and see New Zealand in a quite clever post-Covid way. Truth is though, that the e-Boxer XV isn’t going to deliver any major efficiency edge over its pure petrol sibling.

The addition of a hybrid to Subaru’s XV’s New Zealand line-up is a welcome development. However, to my mind, that welcome is more deserving for what it signals of the company’s future intent, than what it delivers here and now.