The capable hybrid - Subaru XV Sport E-Boxer
Subaru’s hybrid models are finally here. Well, nearly, the stock arrives later in the year, but have these electrified Soobies been worth the wait?
Subaru has been in the hybrid game for a few years, but short supply has restricted these from venturing to far-flung markets like ours, demand from the northern hemisphere soaking up the production. And that’s kind of still the case, for though the XV and Forester hybrids will be available here for the first time, their arrival proper is not until later in the year, and supply is best described as limited.
During the recent local launch, somewhat thwarted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Subaru of NZ’s MD, Wal Dumper, said, “While they are hybrids, they are also Subarus, which are all about capability. And so we’ve got a capable hybrid which fits in with the rest of our AWD range. We believe it’s been worth the wait.”
And to that effect the hybrids aren’t front drivers running skinny rubber, while they retain their AWD layout and boxer engine.
It’s an in-house Subaru development, the usual 2.0-litre flat four makes 110kW and 196Nm and, like the conventional XV, is paired with the CVT. Connected to the transmission is a 12.3kW electric motor with 66Nm which draws life from a 13.5kW/118V lithium-ion battery sited under the boot floor, the power pack covered by an eight-year, 160,000km warranty.
The XV still has its active torque split AWD, and the X-Mode off-road setting, the motor assist feature working to deliver more torque from a standstill to help conquer rough terrain. It’s a conventional hybrid in that it doesn’t need to be plugged in to recharge the battery. Apparently this is something not everyone understands. Dumper said they’ve been trying to secure the hybrid models for a while and in the interim, Subaru has conducted a lot of market research. “The interesting thing was the misconceptions around hybrids. Most people in the focus group thought a hybrid needed to be plugged in. They didn’t really get it. There’s still a lot of education that’s needed around hybrids. We’ve got what they call a regenerative hybrid, some call it self charging.”
Other nuggets from the research said people were happy to hear it was not a plug-in due to a lack of charging infrastructure in NZ. We’d suggest this again shows a lack of knowledge; plug-ins you charge at home, and you don’t have to worry about the range due to the petrol engine. One of the perceptions was that the Subaru hybrid was going to be unusually styled, like a high-riding Prius or something. But their main concern apparently was around the performance and capability of the vehicle. Dumper says they wanted the hybrid to be a Subaru, and still capable of doing Subaru things.
And what about the concerns around pricing, knowing hybrids command a premium? Dumper says they were happy to pay $5k within the price of the conventional car as long as they weren’t losing out on that Subaru capability.
And coincidentally, the XV Sport e-Boxer hybrid is $42,490, the conventional Sport costing $37,490, so five grand the premium is exactly then. The Forester e-Boxer hybrid will cost $47,490 for the Sport, the Premium at $54,990, both also with a $5k premium.
Dumper says getting the allocation has been the challenge as Subaru can sell every hybrid it makes in Europe and the US. And it will be some time before buyers see their cars here, with the Forester due for arrival in September and the XV in November. “We needed a new way to market the car because of the limited allocation,” said Dumper. “We can presell the hybrids as the world has changed and people are okay with buying things on the Internet.”
Those interested have been registering their intent on the Subaru website. “Allocation is tight, and based on the interest we’ve had, we won’t have enough.” At present that number is small, between 10 and 20 a month and so buyers can reserve one with a firm deposit. It’s a first in, first served deal.But don’t think Subaru is moving to some agency-type model like Toyota and Honda. Dumper says this is the best way for them to manage the expectation with the uncertainty around supply. “Dealers will have demonstrators and people will buy the car in the usual way.”
There is just one version of the XV e-Boxer available here, again due to limited production. There are very few visual differences, the flush-mounted roof rails, the badges and this blue paint job is hybrid-specific. There are a few more safety bits too but otherwise it has similar spec to the usual Sport.
So a bit more about the hybrid then. There are no selectable drive modes, the system sorts itself, switching between electric drive, motor assist where the electrics are helping the engine, ICE power alone and charge mode. The latter uses a combination of regenerative braking when slowing or coasting while the ISG (integrated starter generator) can also charge the battery when the engine is running. So, just to make it clear, you won’t need to plug this hybrid in people; it does it all for you.
Like most hybrids, any fuel economy benefits will best be seen in urban driving, Subaru saying the hybrid is 14 per cent more economical in the urban test cycle, and seven per cent better overall compared with the conventional XV. The Forester is said to be 19 per cent better in the city, but it has a 2.0-litre engine whereas the conventional model has a 2.5. Anyway the XV e is rated at 6.5L/100km overall, and the XV Sport at 7.0L/100km while our figure for the hybrid on test was 7.5L/100km.
The EV mode isn’t as active as we’d hoped; you have to be ambling along at about 30km/h, so it only really works in slow-moving traffic. You have to pretend the throttle is made of glass, finely blown glass at that, as anytime you step on it, the engine fires.
Subaru likes to call it a ‘mild hybrid’, which could confuse the knowledgeable who equate the term with 48V tech. But this e-Boxer is mild in nature with extended idle/stop, engine-off driving, and seamless restarts thanks to the ISG. And those engine-off periods are extended if you’re stopped doing nothing, going nowhere in traffic, whereas the conventional car would restart sooner, especially if you’ve got the A/C on. Anytime you’re coasting down hill you’ll likely be in EV mode, and you can maintain momentum at 50km/h on a slight decline, but you have to be trying. Ultimately it works best when you’re crawling in traffic, and we spent hardly any time in a jam the week we had it, with everyone working from home.
Where a Prius might be able to move off the mark under volts alone for a second or three, this really doesn’t; the engine comes on almost instantly, unless you’re inching along in a traffic queue. The instantaneous fuel use was reading 5.5L/100km at an easy 50km/h on the flat, the engine churning at 1200rpm. There is an advantage in low-end torque over the conventional XV, the amount of pull at 2000rpm improved. And it goes even better in X-Mode as the electric system dumps its torque in from the get go. Why that mode isn’t the default one, to really press home that electric torque advantage, is a mystery. Once you’re up over 50km/h, the electric torque has been tapped, and so the XV e-Boxer is a step slower to 100km/h than the regular XV (10.5 vs 9.8sec), as it also weighs 107kg more at 1552kg.
Out and about it still has that affable XV ride quality, being well damped for NZ highways and gravel trails, and it steers accurately with likeable assistance. Sometimes you can notice that battery mass on the rear end when pressing on and the brake pedal is more sensitive with its regenerative nature. It’s not quite linear in its action; push past 25 per cent and the braking force ramps up quickly. It otherwise drives like the XV, save for the added weight blunting performance.
Whether it’s worth its $5k premium is something you’ll need to ponder. You’d have to be an urbanite, often stuck in traffic to net the best fuel savings/emissions reductions, yet also wanting its AWD capability for the weekends. It’s also a hybrid that can tow.
We’ll leave the last word to Dumper; “You have to remember they are a mild hybrid, we’re not bullshitting anybody, we accept that, but it’s still a Subaru.”
Model Subaru XV Sport e-Boxer Hybrid Price $42,490
Engine 1995cc, flat 4, DI, 110kW/196Nm
Transmission CVT, all-wheel drive
Vitals 10.51sec 0-100km/h, 6.5L/100km, 147g/km, 1522kg