REYKJAVIK, Iceland – Subaru is forecasting relatively strong demand for its first-ever hybrid in the U.S., the XV Crosstrek Hybrid CUV.

The automaker says U.S. sales of the hybrid should tally roughly 850 per month, or about 17% of total monthly XV volume.

Subaru sold 4,886 of the gas-engine-only compact CUVs in the U.S. in October, WardsAuto data shows.

In comparison, just 3.6% of the 9,323 Toyota Highlanders sold last month were hybrids. The Lexus RX 450h accounted for 15.8% of total Lexus RX CUV sales in October.

Instead of touting the XV Crosstrek Hybrid’s green credentials, Subaru is promoting the vehicle’s similarity to the rest of its lineup.

“It can do everything a normal Subaru can do,” Subaru of America’s Todd Hill, car line manager, says of the hybrid’s off-road capability, thanks to the inclusion of the automaker’s almost-standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.

Hill, speaking here at a media drive for the new CUV, says Subaru will market the model as the “only affordable hybrid with off-road capability.”

Subaru engineers wanted to give the hybrid sharper handling than the non-hybrid model, so the CUV has increased tire-wall rigidity, a quicker steering ratio, a bigger rear sway bar and more-rigid aluminum wheels.

The ’14 XV Crosstrek Hybrid begins at $25,995, $4,000 more than the standard model with a 5-speed manual transmission. Prices do not include an $825 destination and handling charge.

Conventional-powertrain Crosstreks with a continuously variable transmission range from $22,995 to $24,495, depending on how they are equipped.

The brand can brag about having the most affordable off-road hybrid because other automakers generally advise against taking their hybrid CUVs off-road.

Other hybrid CUVs in the U.S. with AWD are larger and include the ’14 RX 450h, which starts at $47,810, not including a $910 destination and handling charge, and the $40,170 ’13 Highlander AWD, not including $860 for destination and handling.

The 3-row ’14 AWD Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid can do light off-roading but begins at $36,710, plus an $860 handling charge.

Nissan is planning a hybrid version of its midsize Rogue CUV in 2015, but has not discussed the model’s pricing or off-road capabilities.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid dimensionally is identical to the non-hybrid XV, which lives in WardsAuto’s Small CUV segment. The XV is one of the bigger models in that group, at 175.2 ins. (4,450 mm) long. The Nissan Juke, for instance, is 162.0 ins. (4,115 mm) long.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid has the same amount of ground clearance as the regular version, 8.7 ins. (221 mm) at the front crossmember, as well as the same angles of approach and departure, 18.0 degrees and 27.7 degrees, respectively.

Only the ramp breakover angle is reduced, to 20.2 degrees from 21.1 degrees in the non-hybrid, due to the underbody panels added to the Crosstrek Hybrid for improved aerodynamics.

The coefficient of drag has been reduced to 0.33 from 0.35 in the non-hybrid XV, thanks to the panels, as well as other additions including a lower-drag alloy wheel design and Subaru’s first use of an Active Shutter Grille.

The grille lowers drag 3% at highway speeds, Hill says. It typically opens at speeds below 25 mph (40 km/h) but will remain closed if the temperature falls below 37° F (2.8° C).

The hybrid uses a nickel-metal-hydride battery, not lithium-ion as many newer hybrids do. Subaru officials here cite the higher cost of Li-ions as the reason for going with NiMH chemistry.

The battery pack, divided into 21 modules with four cells per module, is fitted into the spare-tire well of the CUV. XV Crosstrek Hybrids get a can of fix-a-flat in lieu of the fullsize spare of non-hybrids, which also helps keep the vehicle’s weight down.

“The floor pan was redesigned because (the space needed for the pack) is little bit bigger and deeper” than the space the spare tire occupies, Hill tells WardsAuto.

Hill and Takashi Hirose, manager-HEV Research & Experiment Dept. for Subaru parent Fuji Heavy Industries, say the location of the battery should prevent any damage during off-roading.

To ensure the safety of the pack, Hirose says a running Crosstrek Hybrid was soaked in salt water and the CUV was crashed at 50 mph (80 km/h), which is “beyond the normal standard.”

The NiMH pack is paired with Subaru’s 2.0L 4-cyl. boxer engine from the non-hybrid XV, making 148 hp and 145 lb.-ft. (197 Nm) of torque.

For the hybrid application, Subaru engineers upped the engine’s compression ratio to 10.8:1 from 10.5:1.

Other powertrain-related changes include the addition of reduced-friction piston rings, a new exhaust port shape and liquid-filled engine mounts, the latter to lessen noise, vibration and harshness, something non-hybrid XV Crosstrek owners have complained about.

A 10-kW (13.4-hp) electric motor integrated into the hybrid’s CVT, at the end of its primary pulley, supports travel in electric mode at low speeds, up to about 13 mph (21 km/h), and assists the engine during mid-speed driving on flat ground.

Total system output is 160 hp and 163 lb.-ft. (221 Nm) of torque.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is 304 lbs. (138 kg) heavier than the non-hybrid, largely due to the 200-lb. (91-kg) battery pack and the extra NVH materials.

Fuel economy is pegged at 29/33/31 mpg (8.1/7.1/7.6 L/100 km) city/highway/combined for XV Crosstrek hybrids, up from 25/33/28 mpg (9.4/7.1/8.4 L/100 km) in gas-engine-only models with a CVT.

Subaru expects more male than female hybrid buyers, and more single buyers than married people.

Average household income of XV Crosstrek Hybrid buyers is seen at $87,000, up $15,000 from buyers of the non-hybrid.

The CUV is available in two grades, Hybrid and Hybrid Touring. The $4,000 Touring package adds a leather-trimmed interior, navigation with a 6.1-in. (155-mm) touchscreen and a power moonroof.

Subaru sees two-thirds of buyers opting for the Touring grade, and the CUV’s exclusive Plasma Green Pearl paint as the most popular color.

The light-green shade is one of four colors available on the hybrid, besides silver, white and medium blue.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid goes on sale at Subaru’s 600-plus U.S. dealers in late November. The brand expects demand to be strongest along the East and West coasts, typically the best markets for hybrids.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com