New XV has 220mm of ground clearance and Active Torque Split AWD

New XV has 220mm of ground clearance and 'Active Torque Split' AWD

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Having fallen by more than a quarter during 2017, Subaru's UK sales are finally going back in the right direction, with a 29 per cent surge in February. Most of that is due to the arrival of the new XV. 

IM Group, the British market importer, delivered way fewer than 3,000 Subarus last year; 2,665 to be exact. The aim for 2018 is a modest one: somewhere in excess of 3,000, which is roughly what Hyundai or Kia sold in February. Or half the number of Audis which were registered. As has been pointed out before, this is in stark contrast to how the brand performs in certain smaller markets such as Australia. In the US, an incredible 91,606 cars have been sold so far this year.

So if the UK is small business for Subaru, then at least we should be pleased that these quirky, solid and characterful cars are available at all. Nothing else sounds like a Subaru, and the all-wheel drive which comes as standard on all models aside from the BRZ also marks them out. AWD came in especially useful during the seven days which I recently spent with the new generation XV.

The snow just kept on coming and the XV handled it far better than I had suspected it might. Eventually, it was the car's tyres which stopped it exiting my home's uphill driveway, which is off main roads and therefore ungritted. The car was willing, its low-range four-wheel drive having done an incredible job to get me home (very slowly and cautiously) as the snow really started coming down but the next day, the lack of proper winter tyres meant there just wasn't enough purchase on the bitumen under the ice.

I could have pushed the XV to its limits but better not to have to call the press office and say "sorry, it's now parked in someone's fence". I did see two SUVs which had exited main roads in what must have been dramatic style. Neither was looking terribly showroom fresh, the law of gravity having obviously been stronger than the laws of quattro and xDrive.

Excess weight is often a major factor in why some 4x4s get stuck. No such issues with Subarus. The XV tips the scales at 1,439kg, which at first glance makes it hardly worthy of a chance at being a Slimming World Brand Ambassador. The new shape model has grown in most ways, so that it's now Qashqai-sized (4,465mm long), had a 2.0-litre engine in as-tested form, linked to a CVT and of course a 4x4 system. Standard equipment is high too, as you should expect for the price: GBP29,045. For those who don't want the larger of the two available engines, there is also a 1.6 which is both cheaper and naturally, more fuel efficient.

The 1,995cc unit delivers 156PS and 196Nm so it's not going to be in any danger of setting class-best acceleration times. Zero to 62mph takes 10.4 seconds and the top speed is 120mph, CO2 is 155g/km and the Combined number is 40.9mpg, which was 2mpg better than what the on-test car averaged.

Most of the time the AWD system is best left to its own devices. Give the throttle pedal a firm push and there are no unwelcome surprises: the tyres grip even greasy roads without any slithering courtesy of Active Torque Split. For harder going, such as snow and black ice, you need only press a button between the seats marked 'X-MODE'. This kicks in hill-descent control and modulates both throttle and brake pedals so as to greatly reduce wheelspin.

The characteristic clunks and whirs of an HDC system give the driver both audible reassurance that a tricky climb or descent is being automatically tackled with methodical, safe electronic assistance. X-MODE isn't as good as what you'll find in an off-roader such as a Land Cruiser or Discovery but it's lot better than the part-time AWD in many a rival SUV of similar size to the XV. Subaru even suggests you can climb steps.

The XV, which is sold as the Crosstrek in the US and some other countries, is the latest model to adopt SGP (Subaru Global Platform). This architecture premiered in 2016, which was when the latest Impreza hit the market. Eventually, all Subarus with the exception of the BRZ successor will use it. The firm's largest model yet, the Ascent crossover, goes into production at Subaru of America's Lafayette plant in May, taking the Indiana factory's annual capacity up to a whopping 514,000 vehicles. Subaru Corporation's global manufacturing operations are restricted to Japan and the USA.

Cars for the UK are built at Gunma (Yajima) and there is also some additional build elsewhere in Asia which takes place at Segambut. The Malaysian facility also assembles the Forester and has an annual capacity of 20,000 vehicles, each one put together from CKD kits. The plant is operated by Tan Chong International.

What Subaru really needs in Asia is a factory in China. Last year it sold only 31,000 vehicles there. Considering that each one is subject to a 25 percent import tax that's a good result. The company says it continues to explore various options for local manufacturing in the PRC after several false starts with possible partnerships which didn't work out.

Even without a Chinese manufacturing base, 2018 could be another record one for Subaru Corporation. In January, the company said it wants to sell 1.08m vehicles this year, of which 680,000 would be in the USA, helped by the arrival of the Ascent.

The XV, which is improved in just about every area compared to the first generation model, shows why this brand deserves to be better known and more popular than it is in Britain. If our future winters see as much snow on as many occasions as this recent one has brought (and may yet still bring), Subaru will be well placed to use that to its advantage.