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Can the crossover stand out from the crowd not only off-road but on tarmac too?

Never is it pleasurable to open road-test proceedings on a gloomy note, but this week’s subject arrives with its maker flailing for relevancy.

Subaru’s UK market share was just over a tenth of a per cent in 2016, and somehow that fell last year. Consider that the reason you see so few of these star-spangled Japanese cars is that no single model can drag itself into four-figure sales, although business in the brand’s homeland and the USA is much more healthy.

Our test car was shod in 225-section Bridgestone all-season tyres on 18in wheels. It’s a solid-looking design, mirrored by the sizeable wheel-arch clearance and chunky black cladding.

Here, though, it seems the only way is up.

Identifying a route is the difficulty, and so at a time when the WRX STi, with its rally-soaked heritage, faces a shaky future – one that doesn’t involve UK sales at all – perhaps it’s time to reassess what the definitive Subaru of today actually is. It is a car that almost certainly features a hatchback because, aside from the two-seater BRZ, whose shape was engineered by Toyota for the purposes of the near-identical GT86, every car Subaru now builds does.

Does it have four-wheel drive? Of course it does. Subaru’s Symmetrical All Wheel Drive (SAWD) system first saw action as an optional extra on the Leone Wagon of 1972 – a pioneering development in the world of affordable road cars – and is part of the brand’s genetic code. As to whether it should enjoy a raised ride height, you could argue it either way, but, given current tastes, it wouldn’t do any harm.

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The XV, introduced in 2012 and considerably but discreetly altered for 2018, ticks those boxes. The previous incarnation was criticised by some of this parish for a lack of perceived interior quality and a ride that mirrored a little too diligently the tough, utilitarian persona the model exudes.

However, if this incarnation were to remedy those caveats, it’s a persona Subaru can turn to its advantage because, if there’s something in short supply among the current crossover set, it’s authenticity. After all, few people really aspire to own a crossover, but a dependable, comfortable hatch with genuine off-road ability? To a certain type of person, such a device would hold no small appeal.

Time to find out, then, if Subaru’s mojo-finding mission is at least on the right track.

First drives