First things first: The Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid is not much more fuel-efficient than the model it is based on.

But if one must have a hybrid, and needs off-road capability, the new Subaru, expected to average 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km), up from 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) in the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek, is a pretty darn good choice.

And at $30,000 well-equipped, it costs thousands less than other all-wheel-drive hybrids available in the States, and most of those are not suitable for off-roading.

On sale now at U.S. Subaru dealers, the small CUV is the ascendant Japanese brand’s first gasoline-electric model. Subaru popped out the spare tire in the XV Crosstrek’s underfloor cargo area and placed a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack in the space.

The 100.8V pack is paired with the standard XV Crosstrek’s 148-hp 2.0L boxer 4-cyl. and a 10-kW (13.4-hp) electric motor, the latter integrated into the hybrid’s continuously variable transmission, to comprise the vehicle’s propulsion system.

Total system horsepower is 160, while torque goes to 163 lb.-ft. (221 Nm) from 145 lb.-ft. (197 Nm) with just the engine.

While these numbers are low relative to the output of other, although bigger, AWD hybrid CUVs, power is sufficient for everyday driving. And, as WardsAuto learned during an adventure with Subaru last month, for traversing the post-apocalyptic-like landscape of the Icelandic wilderness.

Subaru had media driving on the country’s famous volcanic terrain, which was covered with snow and ice. Coupled with freezing temperatures and wind gusts up to 90 mph (145 km/h), this was more challenging driving than your average weekend trip to Costco to stock up on paper towels.

But the CUVs made it through relatively unscathed, save for some punctured sidewalls and a front license plate bent by yours truly, after sizing up a ditch and realizing a pedal-to-the-metal would be the only way to get across. Engineers smiled and cheered when they learned the check-engine light was in fact not triggered.

Indeed, that drive was suited more to make the point of Subaru’s marketing department: that the XV Crosstrek Hybrid, with the same ground clearance and approach and departure angles of the non-hybrid, is no namby-pamby greenmobile.

In Iceland’s harsh environment, though, fuel economy suffered. The best mustered there was 22.5 mpg (10.5 L/100 km). More common was fuel economy in the 19-mpg range (12.4 L/100 km), well off the EPA-estimated average.

Fortunately, an XV Crosstrek Hybrid arrived at WardsAuto’s office in late November, and the CUV showed itself to be delightful to drive in normal life, and more stingy on gas.

On Southeast Michigan’s mostly flat roads, and at a relatively balmy 40° F (4° C), the Crosstrek Hybrid tops out at the 31-mpg average, thanks to long stretches of expressway driving.

While hybrid mode was not active at highway speeds, Subaru’s efforts to boost aerodynamics were beneficial. They include a full underbody cover and an Active Shutter Grille that closes above 25 mph (40 km/h).

The CUV can run on EV power alone below 25 mph, although this is seen just once over a 5-day period.

Nevertheless, with about 40% of the Michigan miles at speeds below 45 mph, the Crosstrek Hybrid still returns an excellent 29.4 mpg (8.0 L/100 km) for this reviewer. The average of all WardsAuto editors’ jaunts over two weeks of driving is 28.2 mpg (8.3 L/100 km).

After complaints from owners of the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek, Subaru’s engineering team went to work on quieting the hybrid CUV’s cabin. In our Michigan drive, engine-noise intrusion into the passenger space is nonexistent. A hybrid-typical whine from the electric motor is faintly heard at launch from a stop in city driving.

Road noise was pronounced in Iceland, thanks to rough-aggregate roads and all-season tires, but in Michigan it is less noticeable.

Wind noise at highway speeds is more evident, including an intermittent whistling sound that seems to come from the driver’s-side mirror.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a good vehicle for long hauls and hours behind the wheel.

Its front seats are firm but supportive, and legroom abounds both up front and in the rear, which is not always the case in small CUVs.

Even the rear middle seat is roomy, with space enough for legs and feet on the drivetrain-tunnel hump.

A clever bit of engineering is the seatbelt feeder attached to the rear-center headrest, raising the belt high enough to properly fit taller middle-seat passengers.

The interior is typical subdued Subaru, but it does boast some stylish nubby, nylon-like seat fabric. Thankfully heated front seats are standard.

The center-stack layout is logical and includes large, easy-to-grab knobs for heating, ventilation and air-conditioning functions.

Subaru has lagged behind competitors in infotainment offerings and the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is no exception. It’s more than a bit ridiculous in 2013 to lack standard satellite-ready radios in a $25,995 vehicle.

A buyer has to step up to the Hybrid Touring grade, which begins at $29,295, to get a SiriusXM-capable audio system.

But even tickling $30,000, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a relative steal. The Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX 450h hybrids range from the upper $30,000s to upper $40,000s.

The closest competitor to the Subaru hybrid for now may be the non-hybrid Mazda CX-5 Sport AWD 2.0L 4-cyl., which on paper achieves the same average, 28 mpg, as the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek, but regularly overshoots that if users of fueleconomy.gov are any indication.

But alas, it’s not a perfect comparison either. While it begins at $24,045, the AWD Mazda has lower total output and isn’t meant for serious off-roading.

So, for the time being, Subaru stands alone in the affordable, capable, hybrid category. Just realize if you want to tackle the Fjallabaksleið Nyðri your mileage may vary.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com

‘14 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Vehicle type 5-passenger, AWD compact cross/utility vehicle
Engine 2.0L 4-cyl., all-aluminum head/block
Power (SAE net) 148 hp @ 6,000 rpm (160 hp total hybrid system)
Torque 145 lb.-ft. (197 Nm) @ 4,200 rpm (163 lb.-ft. [221 Nm]) total hybrid system)
Bore x stroke (mm) 84.0 X 90.0
Compression ratio 10.8:1
Transmission Continuously variable w/ integrated 13.4-hp electric motor
Wheelbase 103.7 ins. (2,634 mm)
Overall length 175.2 ins. (4,450 mm)
Overall width 70.1 ins. (1,781 mm)
Overall height 63.6 ins. (1,615 mm) including roof rails
Curb weight 3,451 lbs. (1,565 kg)
Price as tested $26,820 incl. $825 destination
Fuel economy 29/33 mpg city/hwy est. (8.1-7.1 L/100 km)
Competition Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Lexus RX 450h
Pros Cons
Good real-world fuel economy On paper non-hybrid XV close
Off-road ready Aggressive driving kills mpg
Roomy interior No Big 80s on 8?!