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THE PAST YEAR or so has been tough for Subaru in the UK. Even for a niche brand, 2011’s sales total of 2634 cars makes pretty grim reading.


There are signs that 2012 should be much better. A few weeks ago the company announced its new aftersales package. Now it has an interesting new model to shout about, too.


The XV is the company’s new crossover. Subaru says it’s a rival for the Audi Q3 and BMW X1, which is a bit optimistic. Anyone shopping for a high-spec Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai ix35 or Skoda Yeti should take note, though.


I drove the XV yesterday, both on and off road. In the mud it’s very capable for a car without a low-ratio transfer gearbox or a hill descent control system. Unlike most rivals, all XV derivatives come with permanent four-wheel drive. Combine that with plenty of ground clearance and it’s happy to play dirty.


Having tried both the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel, I’d definitely pick the diesel. The petrol car accelerates steadily, makes too much noise at high revs and fuel economy is poor. The diesel isn’t whisper quiet but there’s a certain character to its off-beat thrum. It should make a much better fist of towing, too. The diesel has a kerbweight of 1415kg (call it 1490kg with a 75kg driver on board), giving an 85% match figure of 1267kg. The legal towing limit is 1600kg.


The ride is firm over sharp bumps but allows too much float and bounce over dips and crests. The XV corners well, though, with faithful steering and little roll. The cabin has enough space for four adults to travel comfortably. However, the active families the XV is aimed at will soon fill the 380-litre luggage space.


The XV’s biggest problem is its price. The car starts from £21,295, and the cheapest diesel is £24,295. That’s more you’d pay for most mainstream rivals.


Even so, I’m looking forward to towing with an XV soon.