Subaru XV 2.0i petrol SE Premium manual.
Price: £23,995.
Top speed: 120mph.
0-60mph: 10.5 seconds.
Fuel: 40.9mpg (combined figure).
C02 emissions (g/km): 160.
Verdict: Much improved, stylish, practical, refined, well-built, top safety features, generous equipment, fun to drive.

THE four-wheel-drive market continues to expand with competition growing fiercer, especially in the compact crossover segment where Nissan’s Qashqai is a front-runner along with premium alternatives from Audi and BMW.

However, Subaru is making stronger inroads into this territory with its rugged, no-nonsense XV which oozes family appeal.

Although the XV is comparatively new it has been given a substantial upgrade which includes further refinement and safety features. The refresh makes it more enjoyable to drive and with no price hikes it’s better value, too.

The 1.6-litre petrol version has been dropped from the range, so prices start at £21,995 for the 2.0-litre petrol in SE trim, plus a choice of manual or CVT transmissions.

Actually, it is the 2.0-litre petrol variant that has received the biggest changes and this certainly shows. Revisions to the suspension have improved the ride from being decidedly firm to one of suppleness and comfort.

The XV is now a quieter car, too, with new valve-train components helping to reduce engine noise and vibration while extra soundproofing has also been incorporated across the range. Other changes include the fitting of a new damper system to reduce steering wheel vibration.

The well-constructed interior gets a more modern look with higher quality detailing mainly for controls and switches.

This is a great five-door family car and with its stylish body and great looking alloy wheels it has a sporty appearance. There is plenty of legroom both in the front and rear. There are storage spaces galore and the boot is family-size, offering 380 litres of cargo space which expands to 1,270 litres with the rear seats flat.

Both the 2.0-litre diesel and petrol engines boast Subaru’s classic horizontally-opposed drive train and they perform exceptionally well, coupled with sharp handling and impressive body control. The popular new generation diesel is punchy and flexible with commendable torque or pulling power together with more than 50mpg during everyday driving.

The improved petrol unit has a strong and smooth power delivery and has the advantage of being cheaper to buy than the oil burner.

Off-road, the XV is a class act with its well-proven full-time 4WD system and generous ground clearance enabling it to venture where some other compact SUVs would fear to tread. It’s a splendid vehicle for bad winters.

All the cars are well equipped with the most expensive getting Bluetooth, leather, dual air-con and a top-bracket stereo.

Fluctuation in the yen/sterling exchange rate prompted Subaru to introduce an impressive free and industry leading three-year care package for XV buyers. The incentives include small dent and scratch repairs, alloy wheel repairs, an annual full valet and wheel alignment check. The list is quite extensive.