Owner Review: The Subaru XV STI - Love at first sight?

Owner Review · Jul 28, 2020 08:00 PM

** This article is the personal experience of a 2016 Subaru XV STI edition owner and does not necessarily reflect the views of WapCar.

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It has been four years since I came to be the proud owner of a gorgeous 2016 Subaru XV STI edition in signature tangerine orange pearl, and whenever I get questions from people asking if I would stick with the XV if I could decide all over again, my answer is always a firm, resounding, YES. Perhaps it was love at first sight; perhaps it was more of a dream realised to some extent. Well, whatever it was, I am happy to have made this choice.

So, why the XV?

Like most kids, growing up, I had an entire line-up of ‘dream cars’ which I wished to own when the ever-elusive “someday” would finally roll around. Among these were the Subaru WRX STi and the infamous Nissan GT-R, and just like that, the seed was planted.

Soon after securing my first job, it was finally time to buy my first car. Up till this point, I had been blessed with driving the plethora of vehicles that came into my family, ranging from large 4WDs to elegant sedans – but my heart was set.

Without hesitation, I chose the only Subaru I could afford (on my measly first-job salary) – the Subaru XV. This car checked all boxes for things I considered important: symmetrical all-wheel-drive (AWD), a relatively stiff chassis, sexy exterior, comparatively ‘primitive’ electronics (bear with me, more on this later) and a nice bit of ground clearance at 220mm.

The Subaru XV runs on 17-inch rims wrapped in 225/55/17 tyres

The Subaru XV runs on 17-inch rims wrapped in 225/55/R17 tyres

The Subaru XV is powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder horizontally opposed, naturally-aspirated engine and equipped with Subaru’s proprietary Lineartronic CVT. Put together, all these factors translate into a versatile Compact Utility Vehicle (though the JPJ owners record classifies it as a jeep) which is not only an easy drive on those long, boring commutes, but also responsive enough to be fun when you want it to be. Coupled with some very slight adjustments to the camber, the Subaru XV’s AWD system and low-sitting Boxer engine make it corner like a dream despite the ride height, even in wet conditions. There is, expectedly, noticeable body roll, but this is easily remedied, if desired.

Every driver needs a trusty co-driver; here is mine.

Every driver needs a trusty co-driver; here is mine.

Looking sporty right out of the box, the Subaru XV STI edition shipped with front, side and rear STI diffusers, leather seats, red stitching for floor mats and seats, daytime running lights, an STI strut bar, an STI rear wing and side mirror turn-signal indicators.

Perhaps the biggest factor for my decision was the ease of modification which comes by design with Subarus – engine bays are typically laid out neatly in a minimally-layered fashion, meaning that home-mechanics and enthusiasts alike could tweak most components without needing many specialist tools. This is also where the so-termed ‘relatively primitive’ electronics comes in: the first-gen model of Subaru XV came equipped only with ABS, traction control and hill-start assist; definitely not considered high-tech, yet a blessing for the people who cannot resist the urge to fiddle with parts and add-ons, as it made the car less sensitive to basic modifications and would leave more parts receptive to upgrades.

Considering all factors, this simply meant that the Subaru XV provided an excellent base platform for minor modding – being in and of itself a lively drive when stock, but also robust enough to handle gentle mods.

The Subaru XV tail-lights

The tail-lights are slightly old-fashioned and boring, but there can easily be swapped out or upgraded

Having now owned the Subaru XV for about four years, the driving experience has been a rewarding one. I have taken the car across various states and terrains, and so far, it performs just as smoothly on highways as it does on light off-road conditions (think yellow-mud covered slopes and gravel); promising near-effortless driving despite road conditions.

Unfortunately, however, I personally feel the CVT gearbox could be one of the Subaru XV’s greatest weaknesses, alongside its poor sound insulation (though sound insulation has been addressed in the XV2). Not only susceptible to overheating, but the nature of Subaru’s CVT also causes the XV to appear slightly sluggish when accelerating from a complete standstill. Perhaps there is some redeeming grace, however, in that the XV comes equipped with a manual mode and paddle shifters which enable you to ‘shift gears’ more aggressively when necessary, though this is not recommended as a daily driving style due to the general sensitivity of the transmission.

A simple OBD reader screen helps display parameters missing from the very simply centre display

A simple OBD reader screen helps display parameters missing from the very simply centre display

Fuel consumption on the XV is not great, but can be considered relatively good for a car this size and weight, particularly for interstate driving. City driving usually gets me about 10.5 litres per 100KM whilst highway driving clocks in at an admirable 7.5 litres per 100KM.

Great Car; Not-So-Great Dealerships

Having decided on the Subaru XV, I visited the only Subaru dealership known to me back then. Unfortunately, I was treated less than graciously by the staff there and denied a test drive, not once but on two separate occasions. It is sad to say that till today, I have had this very same experience repeated when bringing friends to try newer Subaru models – the dealerships would have us believe that Subaru is ombrophobic. Annoyed, yet unfazed, I decided to purchase my car from a dealership in East Malaysia and take delivery in the Klang Valley. Thankfully, things went smoothly thereafter, and soon, I found myself happily cruising around in my newfound love.

The halogen-reflector headlights are definitely old-fashioned

The halogen-reflector headlights are definitely old-fashioned

As time went by, however, I found renewed hope in certain Subaru dealerships and now frequent only select centres for servicing and maintenance. My personal kudos and appreciation to Ipoh Auto City, Kota Damansara for being receptive, helpful, and honest in their interaction with me thus far.

Maintenance

Overall, the Subaru has proven itself to be a car best owned by car enthusiasts, particularly in terms of maintenance. Having clocked just under 80,000 KM in the XV, I have found, both through personal experience and also interaction with other owners, that in general, the scheduled maintenance at the dealerships alone were insufficient in terms of keeping the car happy, and some general knowledge on cars is necessary for diagnosing issues before they ‘metastasise’.

While not necessarily difficult to care for, the Subaru XV can be slightly finicky in terms of maintenance, usually requiring some amount of supplementary work to keep things running smoothly, in addition to minor upgrades to compensate for certain overly sensitive stock parts. For instance, the cooling system for the transmission is sorely lacking at best. Other common complaints include premature bearing and driveshaft joint wear, axle whine, valve body failure and leaking radiator heads.

Therefore, regular flushes, bleeds, cleaning and preventative modifications, such as transmission coolers and aluminium radiators, are highly recommended. Thankfully, being a common brand in the modding scene, many name-brand parts are readymade for the XV, which definitely helps in terms of availability, choice and pricing. Additionally, various parts are shared or adaptable across different Subaru models, making us rather spoiled for choice.

Generally, however, the Subaru XV has itself proven reliable, but definitely not as fuss-free as perhaps a Toyota or Honda. It’s just a matter of performing the appropriate maintenance and additions to cater to your usage and driving needs, which for me, meant upgrading the cooling and brake systems due to running the car on full-load capacity regularly.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Pros

  • appealing exterior aesthetics, especially with the STI edition
  • great handling
  • comfortable stock suspension
  • light offroad-ready
  • ease of modification
  • paddle-shifters allow for easy engine braking and agile shifting
  • roof rails for easy mounting of additional storage space, bike racks or tents
  • comes with both reverse sensors and also reverse camera
  • tinted side-mirrors for less glare

Cons

  • CVT gearbox
  • stock parts may have low longevity
  • lack of proper transmission cooling
  • small boot space (not suitable for family trips or usage, as rear seats need to be folded down for adequate boot space)
  • poor sound-insulation (both wind and road noise are apparent at regular driving speeds)
  • stock Kenwood infotainment prone to short lifespan
  • halogen reflector headlamps
  • basic cruise-control means frequent resets due to traffic conditions
  • the spare tyre is not full-sized

Leather interior makes for easy cleaning and maintenance

Leather interior makes for easy cleaning and maintenance

Ratings

Total Score: 4/5

Performance: 4/5

Quality and Features: 4/5

Handling: 5/5

Space: 3/5

Comfort: 4/5

Fuel Economy: 3/5

Value: 5/5

Conclusion

Overall, the Subaru XV is a well-rounded vehicle which is both eager and able to go nearly anywhere your adventures take you. However, minor upgrades are necessary to give you the best experience with it, including better sound insulation, upgraded lights, thicker sway bars and struts, and perhaps additional storage options. But if treated right, the XV may just give you one of the most memorable driving experiences for its segment.

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