Tested: Subaru’s new hybrid SUV
A hybrid runs on electricity and petrol (or, in a few models, diesel), but there are also several distinct sub-species, including series/parallel, plug-in and the curiously-named "mild" hybrid.
Series/parallel hybrids include the new Subaru XV, which we're driving today. This is the most common type, introduced to the mass market in 2001 by Toyota when it launched the original Prius.
As the name implies, its petrol engine and electric motor can operate in series - that is, with the petrol engine spinning a generator that produces electricity (stored in a battery) to power an electric motor which, in turn, drives the wheels - or in parallel, with either or both petrol and electricity supplying the power.
If you're interested in a hybrid primarily for fuel economy the XV probably isn't your car, because by hybrid standards it's not particularly efficient.
Its 12.3kW/66kW electric motor/small capacity lithium-ion battery pack is a passenger for much of the time, so the 2.0-litre petrol engine does most of the work. Subaru claims the hybrid will run in electric mode at low speed for short distances, but in reality that's little more than the first few metres from rest, using the gentlest of caresses on the accelerator.
Compared with the 2.0-litre petrol XV, Subaru's official test numbers show the hybrid's advantage as just 0.1L/100km on the highway (5.9L/100km vs 6.0L/100km) and 1.3L/100km in town (7.5L/100km vs 8.8L/100km).
Around town on test the XV averaged 8-9L/100km. Toyota's C-HR hybrid averaged 3-4L/100km, largely because its much more powerful 53kW/163Nm electric motor/higher capacity battery is often shifting the C-HR through stop/start city traffic without assistance from the 1.8-litre petrol engine. For the same reason, the Toyota's combined CO2 emissions, at 97 grams per kilometre, are 34 per cent less than the Subaru's 147gkm.
The XV hybrid costs $35,580 plus on roads. The XV 2.0i-L petrol is $31,610. Both run on regular unleaded. So it will be many years before you recoup the hybrid's $3970 premium via the pump.
Standard equipment is as per the 2.0i-L, which means it's a long way from loaded. There's no dual-zone aircon, no satnav, a small infotainment touchscreen and one lonely USB connector. You do, however, get a CD player.
Subaru strikes a sublime ride/handling compromise in the XV, and on our goat track country roads it's the pick of the small SUVs. The ride, on lightly sprung, long travel, fully independent suspension, is beautifully smooth, quiet and supple in the manner of the best French cars.
You sit on rather than in the XV, facing a dated, fussy dash with uncoordinated control interfaces and screens. Fit, finish and materials quality is excellent.
There's plenty of legroom in the back seat, though no vents or device connectivity. You get a bigger boot than the petrol XV because the battery takes up less space under the floor than the spare - which you don't get in the hybrid.
XV hybrid's Eyesight camera-based safety tech monitors what's happening in front while radar and sonar keep watch to the rear.
Eyesight can be extremely sensitive. On test, a couple of cockatoos flew in front of the car and triggered the forward collision warning.
An inward facing infrared camera watches you as you drive and you're scolded for your inattention if you take a longish look away from the straight ahead. It works sometimes.
The hybrid payoff is stronger mid-range pulling power than the anaemic petrol XV, though the CVT does take a moment or two to convert it into meaningful forward progress.
Under acceleration, there's a mild turbo-style shove when the electric motor kicks in. That's about the extent of its contribution though. The XV cruises on petrol, with the engine automatically put to sleep when coasting and restarted when you press the accelerator. Regenerative braking - minus the wooden pedal feel in most hybrids - also keeps the battery topped up.
XV isn't a sporty drive but it's arguably the best handling small SUV, in large part due to standard independent suspension and all-wheel drive. It's inherently well-balanced, a characteristic enhanced by the hybrid's lower centre of gravity. The suspension, though relatively soft, exercises measured control over body movement and provides exceptionally secure roadholding, while the steering is light and precise.
And with 220mm of ground clearance, plus X-mode low-speed traction control for loose surfaces, XV should have best-in-class dirt-road credentials. The absence of a spare wheel means it doesn't.
I'm a paid up member of the Subaru cult and I've been waiting for a hybrid for ages. Now I won't have to stoop to buying a Toyota.
Subaru offers all-wheel drive, the boxer engine, great handling, A-grade safety and strong resale values. Now it's got a hybrid option, too.
Subaru's XV is a good thing, but the hybrid fails to deliver significant efficiency and economy benefits as the pay-off for its premium price.
Toyota C-HR Koba, from $36,440
Electricity does more of the heavy lifting in the Toyota, hence its much lower fuel consumption (4.3L/100km) and emissions (97gkm) than the Subaru. Front-wheel drive.
SUBARU XV HYBRID VITALS
Price: $35,580 plus on-roads
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unl'td km; $2397 for 5 years
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid 4-cyl, 110kW/196Nm
Safety: Five stars, 7 airbags, AEB, adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and braking
Spare: No spare, repair kit
Originally published as Tested: Subaru's new hybrid SUV