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Steve Sharpe drives Subaru’s first entry into the SUV market

THE XV is an special car for Subaru – even the company’s MD in the UK says “the XV is the most important new model for Subaru UK in a generation”.

It’s Subaru’s first foray into the compact crossover market – a market dominated by the likes of Audi’s Q3 and Nissan’s Qashqai amongst others – and the company has high hopes for the car, with the MD expecting it to become one of Subaru UK’s biggest-selling models.”

Subaru is determined to gain some ground lost on other manufacturers. Sales have been in decline in this country over the last few years and the company seems to be most associated with the slightly mad flying machines the Impreza and the WRXi.

So now Subaru are introducing a new range of cars to appeal to a wider audience, including the sporty BRZ and this SUV.

It’s meant to appeal to the typical SUV customer, a driver that wants the comfort and practicality of a family hatchback allied with the capabilities of an all-wheel-drive machine – just as happy in an inner-city multi-storey car park as it is in a muddy field or on a snow-bound country lane.

For a start the XV stands out from the crowd. Whereas many SUVs are going down the smooth and rounded route, the XV is all angles and ridges.

The flanks are flattened and the rear end is sharply cut away. The wheels, too, are individual, being black with a silver trim.

It might not be to everyone’s taste but the styling certainly gives the XV a muscular presence on the road.

Inside the cabin things are pretty spacious – there’s loads of room in the front, less so in the back, but a six-footer will be accommodated pretty well, and those with long legs will be particularly pleased in the front.

There is storage space for small objects at locations around the driver’s seat to store bits and bobs like wallets, smartphones, portable music players, and other personal items, but the boot is a little on the small side.

Quality is a little mixed – the dashboard and console is made up of soft-touch, cushioned plastics on the whole but other areas, such as the doors and the central console – are constructed in hard plastic and seem a little low-budget.

But everything fits well and all the plastics look like they will stand a good drubbing from a family over the years.

The instrument panels are very clear and easy to read and although the digital screen in the centre of the dashboard is a little on the small side compared to some rivals it’s easy to follow.

Some of the dials are a tad difficult to work out at first, including the heating dials and the stereo controls, which are a little counter-intuitive.

It’s a comfortable cabin all in all – the seats are big and supportive and the seating position is high with good visibility, although the wide pillars at the rear can obscure vision.

The new XV line-up in the UK offers customers a choice of three engines – 1.6 and 2.0-litre petrol, and 2.0-litre diesel) and three transmissions (five and six-speed manual, six-speed CVT automatic).

There are be three trim levels on offer – S, SE and SE Lux Premium.

The diesel version is going to be the most popular for UK buyers, with its combination of versatility and economy.

It’s powered by Subaru’s much-acclaimed Boxer engine, which provides powerful performance.

Although the car is big and tall, the 2-litre diesel engine accelerates impressively right from first gear through all the gears.

It runs quietly, smoothly and efficiently at most speeds, and it’s only at the very highest of revs that it begins to protest.

But you can reach 60mph in around the nine-second mark, which isn’t bad for a car of this size.

All versions have four-wheel drive and you get incredible grip on the tarmac, and there’s not too much lean around bends despite the height of the XV.

You can feel the road through the big tyres when you’re driving at low speeds, though, and there’s a degree of noise coming through at motorway speeds, but it never reaches a degree to become annoying.

The gearbox is knotchy but crisp and the steering supplies a good feel for the road.

Although most of the time this XV spends on the road will be on tarmac, the high road clearance and all-wheel-drive should ensure that any time spent on mud or wintry conditions shouldn’t prove too onerous.

It actually proved to be an enjoyable car to drive day in, day out.

The biggest problem faced by the XV is the quality of the opposition. Rivals like the Q3 and the Qashqai, plus models from VW, Skoda and the like, have a firm grip on the market.

But although the XV loses out in some departments, it holds its own strongly in others.

It has an excellent safety statistics and Subaru’s new three-year aftercare is included in the price, offering benefits worth over £7,000.

All XVs come with alloys, air-conditioning, four electric windows and front foglights, but SE trim provides Bluetooth, MP3 input and a leather steering wheel.

You’ll need to go for top-spec models to upgrade to powered leather seats, a sunroof and sat-nav.

The range starts at £21,295 for the 1.6 petrol version, rising to £29,995 for the 2-litre diesel in top spec form.

That puts the XV on a par with the Q3 and more expensive than the Qashqai.

Official economy figures are around 50mpg but my average tended to be 10 miles or so less than that, and the Subaru might not keep its price down the line as well as the Audi or the Nissan

The XV is an important car for Subaru and signals an important period in the brand’s history

The individuality of the XV will appeal to buyers who are looking for something a little different.

It’s an SUV with a few faults but with a lot going for it.

Subaru XV

Engine: 2-litre diesel

Transmission: Six speed manual

0-62: 9.3 secs

Top speed: 122mph

Economy: 50.4mpg

Price: £26,295