First drive in the Cotswolds: Subaru XV
Subaru's target is to be the fastest growing car brand in 2018. Given that in 2017 it claimed 0.13pc of the Irish new-car market, that's not quite as ambitious as it seems. Even by doubling its sales, Subaru won't trouble any of the large volume manufacturers any time soon.
It's counting on new models such as the recently launched Impreza and the second generation XV to achieve that market growth.
A compact crossover that competes size-wise with the likes of Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR, the XV faces three immediate challenges in its endeavour to win over Irish customers in this burgeoning sector.
Firstly, price. Ranging from €33,495 to €38,495, the XV is up against premium brands or higher-spec mainstream models.
Secondly, in a segment that still is strongly diesel-oriented, there are only 1.6-litre or 2-litre petrols available.
And thirdly, there's no manual gearbox, just a CVT Lineartronic automatic.
Nonetheless the XV presents some compelling reasons for consideration. Safety being one. Subaru has aspirations to be recognised as the safest car brand in the world, and the XV is off to a good start on that front. Together with the Impreza it was recently recognised as the Safest Small Family Car tested by Euro NCAP in 2017, as well as getting the top score of all tested cars for child protection.
It boasts a host of safety elements, all of which are commendably included as standard. It gains Subaru's driver assist technology, called Eyesight, which includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane sway and departure warning, lane keep assist and lead vehicle start alert.
Built on a new platform - Subaru Global - that will be the basis for all the brand's future models, the frame structure is more than 40pc stiffer than before and with 70pc better body torsional rigidity.
A new stabiliser bar at the rear, and the low centre of gravity afforded by Subaru's signature Boxer engine layout, improve dynamic capabilities.
Subaru allowed us to directly compare new and old models on a slalom course - always a sign that a manufacturer is confident about its new product.
While the old model performed satisfactorily, the new car felt much more stable, was noticeably sharper in turn-in and had significantly less body roll.
In fact, it could teach some regular hatchbacks a thing or two in the handling stakes. Not something you say too often about crossovers.
The 154 PS 2-litre normally aspirated petrol engine delivers adequate if not startling performance, leading us to suspect that although we haven't driven the new 114 PS 1.6 petrol, it would be relatively underpowered. Emissions are nothing to write home about, at 145/155 g/km for the 1.6/ 2.0 respectively.
The CVT transmissions in the XV is one of the better versions, with the stepped ratios giving a credible impression of a regular torque converter set-up.
The XV's real trump card is going off-road, where its symmetrical AWD system comes into its own.
It features X-Mode, a driving aid that includes hill descent. Taken on to an exceedingly muddy and slippery field, the XV genuinely impressed with its ability to keep inexorably moving forward, despite being on standard road tyres.
Two trims - SE and SE Premium - are offered, with the latter adding leather seats, satnav, sunroof and electrically adjustable driver's seat over the standard model for a €3,000 premium.
If you need a family-friendly, off road-capable crossover, the XV is worth consideration. But it has its flaws and remains a little too niche to appeal to mainstream buyers.