Cars 2019 Subaru XV GT Edition front exterior

Published on March 16th, 2021 | by Subhash Nair


Would A Subaru XV Hybrid Beat A BMW X1 In Malaysia?

Before you chastise me for uttering ‘Subaru XV’ and ‘BMW X1’ in the same breath, please hear me out.

The Subaru XV was never Malaysia’s favourite non-national crossover. With higher running costs and a smaller boot than its primary Japanese competitors, it could never be pitched as a value-packed option.

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition exterior rear shot

Yet, it still proved to be a success and is probably the most popular Subaru vehicle ever sold in Malaysia. Quick action by Motor Image Malaysia put the XV up against just the HR-V in the mid-2010s. They managed to sell quite a few units before other crossovers and SUVs around the RM110,000 to RM130,000 mark showed up on the scene. 

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition descending 3

But in 2021, the Subaru XV is an extremely hard sell. This was one of my personal favourite cars of 2018 (it did lose out to the million-Ringgit Lexus LC 500, understandably). It was so appealing to me that I asked to test drive it twice (after our initial group test drive to Melaka). Today, the biggest problems it faces wear Proton badges. The X50 is a direct rival that’s a little smaller and less comfortable, but better equipped, faster and more affordable too. The X70 is larger, and also has it beat in every other respect. In the face of such good value, I really don’t think Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system and boxer engine can continue to change as many minds as it used to.

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition exterior rear ascending 2

And here’s the thing. I drove the XV GT Edition right after driving the X50. I still would personally take a Subaru XV home over the X50 – but this is largely an emotional decision and not a rational one. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t make a logical argument for the XV over these new Geely-based Proton SUVs. 

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition steering wheel

Then halfway through my Subaru XV GT Edition test drive, something happened. I went to Bukit Jelutong to pick something up. When I arrived, I parked next to a white BMW X1. When I was leaving, a dark blue BMW X1 was parked next to the XV instead. Then it hit me…

With a little reconfiguring, the Subaru XV has what it takes to eat away at BMW X1 sales. Here’s my thesis.

BMW make exceptional premium cars – as long as we’re talking 3 Series and up. As far as I can tell, the cars that they make on the UKL platforms are pretty mediocre. They are PRACTICAL, but only compared to direct rivals from Mercedes-Benz. They have exciting engines, but only compared to the mass market alternatives. Cars like the BMW X1 are just not comfortable or quiet enough to pass as good family crossovers, and they’re not fun enough to pass as good BMWs either. That is a point I made in my review of the BMW X1 sDrive20i, and I stick by it.

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition descending 1

So, where does the XV fit in? Well, in its current form, it’s really not going to be eating into BMW X1 sales at all. It just doesn’t have an exciting enough powertrain and Subaru’s brand value isn’t quite up there in BMW territory. The XV also has a much smaller boot than the BMW X1. 

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition Boot

Here’s the thing though. The Subaru XV has been around since 2018, and this XV GT Edition came about in 2019. A facelift should be due by next year at the latest. Here are the things I think Subaru need to do, and why they need to do it.

BHP_Euro5 Diesel_2021

Give it the best possible powertrain they can

The 2.0L engine in the XV delivers enough power, but it’s not exciting. If the Levorg’s 1.6-litre turbo was available, that would be perfect. However, it’s more likely that only a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine or a 2.0-litre hybrid will make the cut. Fine, take the hybrid, work on getting incentives for a lower price point. The engine needs to at least pack more punch than it currently does.

Equip it with EyeSight, lose the spare tyre, fit rear air cond blowers

In 2021, not even providing advanced driver assistant systems (ADAS) as an option is not going to rub customers right. The Myvi has ADAS. Even the Axia – the most affordable hatchback in Malaysia has ADAS as an option. The facelifted Subaru XV needs to have EyeSight. 

As uncomfortable and cramped as the BMW X1 is, that vehicle has an exceptionally large boot. And as comfortable and spacious as the Subaru XV is, it has a laughably small boot. But take a closer look and part of the reason why this is true lies with the spare tyre. I think Subaru could afford to lose the spare tyre, equip the vehicle with run-flats (or throw in a puncture repair kit). Hoping that Subaru engineers can revise the boot floor to take advantage of this extra space is a little foolish, but I think it would be worth it. Local content! Better incentives, there might be a way!

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition spare tyre

Also, rear air-cond vents are a must. 

Keep the price point below RM150,000

This is the tough part. At RM150,000, you’re already looking at larger SUVs from Japan, including Subaru’s own Forester. The XV stops making sense. But if Motor Image could find a way to get the pricing right with a hybrid powertrain, ADAS, and a larger boot, guess what happens: the Subaru XV becomes an actual alternative to the BMW X1.

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition exterior rear ascending

Here’s why.

See, the Proton X50 is great and all, but the Proton brand just doesn’t have much prestige attached to it. It may beat the BMW X1 in MANY aspects, but being seen in a BMW is enough of a reason for a lot of people to want an X1. Just half an hour in Bukit Jelutong proved this point to me. 

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition side profile

The Subaru brand, on the other hand, has a LOT of value. Maybe not ‘prestige’, but there’s definitely desirability there. This is a brand that puts engineering first, just like BMW. No other manufacturer in the world produces boxer engines besides Subaru and Porsche. No other brand in the world insists on symmetrical all-wheel-drive systems in all their vehicles (not counting the BRZ). This brand CAN pull BMW buyers, especially if we’re talking about BMW’s lower-tier products like the X1. The XV is inherently more comfortable and spacious. It will never be as spritely or fun to drive as the BMW X1 or Proton X50 as a CVT is the only option regardless of engine type. But it doesn’t have to be that fun, it just has to be a little more punchy than it is now. 

2019 Subaru XV GT Edition dashboard cabin

Furthermore, the market has changed drastically since 2018. Proton and Perodua are now taking on the compact crossover market completely for themselves at the sub-RM100,000 mark. BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo are offering premium compact crossovers at the sub-RM250,000 mark. It’s time for Subaru to climb up the ladder and take the fight up to the Germans rather than try to compete against national brands that have a huge tax advantage. 

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Written work on @subhashtag on instagram. Autophiles Malaysia on Youtube.

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