Subaru Crosstrek — Now with more horsepower

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The compact Subaru Crosstrek CUV has been popular with shoppers since its inception in 2012. We've like it too, during test drives in 2013 and 2018. Very few complaints other than its performance — it didn't have quite enough urgency to suit our tastes. The big news for 2021 is that Subaru has alleviated that concern with a new 2.5-liter flat 4-cylinder engine making 182 horsepower. It's the same engine used in he mid-sized Legacy sedan and the Outback crossover.

But there's a slight catch. The 2.5-liter comes only in the two top trim levels — Sport and Limited. The Base and Premium trims continue with the carryover 2.0-liter engine making 152 horsepower. While that engine is adequate and will continue to suit many buyers, we have found it lacking with a published 0-to-60 time of around 10 seconds and a corresponding leisurely merging and passing response.

To get the upgraded engine you will have to spend at least $3,200 moving from Premium to Sport trim. We found the extra 30 horses a definite improvement giving the Crosstrek a new personality. For comparison purposes the 2.5-liter is capable of a 0-to-60 run in about 7.5 seconds. Both engines are mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which leads to elevated engine noise under hard acceleration. We prefer a standard transmission with gears.

Gas mileage is nearly identical for both engines. The 2.0-liter automatic is rated at 28 city, 33 highway, and 30 combined. The 2.5-liter is actually one mpg better on the highway and carried an EPA rating of 27/34/29.

The Crosstrek, based on the Impreza hatchback, has the rugged look of a go-anywhere SUV with large fender arches, raised roof rails, and an elevated stance with 8.7 inches of ground clearance. As always, all-wheel drive is standard equipment. All models get a redesigned front bumper with new-design foglight covers and grille treatments as well as sportier suspension tuning.

The Sport trim — new for 2021 and the trim provided for our week-long test drive — gets unique exterior trim elements that include specific wheel arch moldings, Sport-type 17-inch alloy wheels with dark gray finish, and gunmetal finish for the front grille, side mirrors and badges. The Sport interior equipment in our test car included exclusive StarTex upholstery with yellow stitching.     

And Sport features Subaru's new the dual-function X-MODE with Hill Descent Control and with SNOW/DIRT and DEEP SNOW/MUD selectable settings to optimize AWD performance for difficult weather and road conditions.

We found an engaging driving experience thanks in part to Active Torque Vectoring that helps reduce understeer and keeps the vehicle on the driver’s intended cornering path. The Crosstrek exhibited a confident feel on our usual winding back-road "test track." And the extra 30 ponies added to the perception of a well-planted vehicle. At the same time, Subaru has a refined the ride, and its relatively quiet cabin creates a comfortable atmosphere.

The dashboard layout includes a 6.5-inch touchscreen on lower trims and an 8-inch touchscreen on the higher trims, both with proper, easy to use volume and tuning knobs and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The touchscreen interface and climate control knobs are generally easy to read and use, and the secondary dashboard information screen is surprisingly useful. Large fonts, high-resolution screens and simple button structures help ease the learning curve dramatically.

The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel allows for a lot of adjustment, and the driver's seat is six-way adjustable, which provided a good fit for our driving needs.

The Crosstrek is passenger friendly — occasionally taking the neighbors out to dinner is no problem. Rear-seat passenger legroom and headroom are good. And that comes with a useable 20.8 cubic feet behind the seats, and 55.3 cubic feet of storage with the seats folded.

Crosstrek models come with the Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist Technology that has been enhanced for 2021 with new Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering. The suite of driver assist technologies includes Automatic Pre-Collision Braking; Pre-Collision Throttle Management; Lane Departure Prevention; Lead Vehicle Start Alert; Auto Start-Stop; and SI-Drive. The Rear Seat Reminder (with CVT-equipped models) is designed to help prevent child or pet entrapment by alerting the driver to check the rear seat before exiting the vehicle.

The Crosstrek can also be purchased as a plug-in hybrid giving it 17 miles of electric-only range. Expect 35 mpg combined with the hybrid, five miles per gallon better than the 2.0-liter engine, but at an elevated price starting at more than $35,000.

The Crosstrek starts in base form at $23,295 including destination charge for the six-speed manual transmission. Adding the $1,350 CVT brings a lot of good things including the EyeSight safety system, hill decent control and the X-Mode drive-mode selector. The sweet spot for many families may be the Premium trim with the CVT that adds heated front seats, fog lights, a six-speaker stereo, and sunroof.

To get the 2.5-liter engine you will have to move up to the Sport trim starting at $27,545 or the Limited starting at $29,045. Our Sport trim with a few options carried a bottom line of $29,206.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek


Base price: $23,295; as driven, $29,206
Engine: 2.5-liter flat 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 182 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque: 176 pound-feet @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Wheelbase: 104.9 inches
Length: 176.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,351 pounds
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 20.8 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 55.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16.6 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 city, 34 highway, 29 combined
0-60: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Rogue Sport

The Good
• Much-needed 30 extra horsepower
• Impressive list of safety features
• Spacious interior
• Standard all-wheel drive

The Bad
• Less cargo space than many rivals

The Ugly
• Noisy engine paired with CVT