Hybrid vehicles thus far have enjoyed a squeaky clean image, led by the well-preened Toyota Prius. But with the XV Crosstrek Hybrid, Subaru is slinging some mud on that notion with a gas and electric-powered crossover that handles tougher terrain than you might imagine.

First things first: don't expect to tame trails in this Crosstrek on battery power alone: it’s a variation on a mild hybrid, and the 2-liter, 148-horsepower gas engine is responsible for most propulsion any time you move faster than a crawl. A 13.4-horsepower electric motor, integrated with a continuously variable transmission, provides just a slight bump in mid-range passing power. And as far as fuel savings go, the hybrid setup nets three more miles per gallon versus the conventional Crosstrek for a combined rating of 31. Admittedly, not a huge difference. Opting for the hybrid also gets you a quicker steering rack, enhanced sound deadening, and a retuned suspension.

But here's what's more significant: There's nothing about its hybrid powertrain that takes away from the Crosstrek's essential Subaru-ness. As we discovered during a test drive through a double-tracked mountain bike park on the outskirts of Miami, its symmetrical all-wheel-drive system moves torque at will to the wheels that have the best traction, enabling unbroken grip. Its 8.7-inch ground clearance (higher than both the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer) allows safe passage over ruts and rocks that would force less capable crossovers into reverse.

Like the conventional Crosstrek, the Hybrid’s clear sightlines are aided by narrow pillars, and the rear cargo hold has a massive aperture for throwing a pair of bikes in back. Like other Subarus, its body panels look better dirty, and its interior could surely do with some dog hair strewn about. It’s a vehicle meant to be handled without kid gloves.

The mild gains of its hybrid powertrain make it seem like this Crosstrek's iteration is almost a proof of concept, a placeholder for bigger leaps forward in the future. But its message is clear: hybrids will no longer be relegated to only the most manicured roads. [$25,995; subaru.com]