Subaru is best known in motorsport for tearing up the world’s rally stages. But since the Japanese marque pulled out of the World Rally Championship a decade ago, it has been continuing the tradition in other forms of off-road racing.

This mad thing is its latest contender. It’s called the Crosstrek Desert Racer, after the ruggedised hatchback crossover thing that’s sold in the UK as XV. But, so far as we can tell, the only bits it actually shares with the road-going Crosstrek are the completely redundant door handles and the trim strip at the leading edge of the bodywork.

But who cares, because the Desert Racer is a completely unhinged beast of a thing. It’s essentially a driveable rollcage, with dampers as tall as a six-year-old child, huge race-spec off-road tyres with bead-lock wheels and enough LED lights to replace the sun. It’s finished in Subaru USA’s latest blue-and-gold livery.

The heart of the matter is the engine slung out beyond the rear axle – a 2.5-litre, four-cyinder Boxer unit lifted from the Crosstrek, tuned to 300hp without a turbo.

The team at Crawford Engineering built the engine, led by brilliantly named head of R&D, Quirt Crawford. He said: “My goal with the Crosstrek Desert Racer program was to show what was possible with a non-turbocharged boxer engine in an unlimited class, and the results so far have been very strong.”

Buggies of this sort originally used aircooled Volkswagen flat-four engines. But as they have become more expensive to build and run, Subaru motors have come to the fore.

The 2019 season is the third for the Class 5-spec Crosstrek Desert Racer. Operated by Grabowski Brothers Racing, it has so far achieved a best finish of second place in the 2018 edition of the Baja 500. This latest iteration makes its debut in this year’s Baja 500, which starts on 1 June. It’ll then contest the rest of the SCORE racing season, including the Baja 1000.

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By Graham King