Subaru XV Crosstrek — An Impreza goes crossover

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Subaru made a brilliant marketing move in the mid-90s creating a crossover version of its mid-sized Legacy station wagon by adding side body cladding, raising the suspension height, giving it a rugged-sounding name — the Outback — and enlisting the services of Australian actor Paul Hogan of Crocodile Dundee movie fame.

Subaru called it "the world's first sport utility wagon." The trim level became so popular that with the Legacy's complete redesign in 2000, the Outback — with 7.3-inches of ground clearance — became its own separate model.

Fast forward to 2013 and Subaru is applying the same formula to its compact Impreza creating a crossover variant of the recently redesigned sedan, here calling it the XV Crosstrek. The Crosstrek is essentially an Impreza hatchback with three more inches of ground clearance (8.7 inches) and a suspension beefed up for moderate off-road driving. And, of course, like all Subaru models, except the new BRZ sports car, it comes with all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

The Crosstrek was originally conceived for the European market, but U.S. dealers convinced Subaru to bring it to the states as well. This begs the question — will it cannibalize sales of the almost identically sized Forester, which will appear in an all new 2014 version this spring?

The Forester is slightly bigger — four inches longer — with nine more square feet of cargo space. The smaller Crosstrek has a smaller 2.0-liter boxer engine and is more fuel efficient than the Forester, EPA-rated at 25 mpg highway and 33 city on regular gas. The Forester, on the other hand, is available with 102 more horses if you opt for its optional 250-horsepower turbocharged engine.

The Crosstrek should attract a youthful buyer interested in semi-serious off-road adventures. The Crosstrek evokes a more rugged persona than the long-running Forester, which has an established and perhaps more family-oriented audience.

The Crosstrek is attractive, especially with the hot-looking black/silver 17-inch "starfish" alloy wheels as found on our test vehicle. It’s powered by a 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder flat four and torque is a modest 145 lb.-ft. mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and therein lies a problem for the newest Subaru. The relatively small engine is tasked to move nearly 3,200 pounds, about the weight of a mid-sized sedan.

In everyday around-town driving the Crosstrek proved adequate and it had a nice, tight 34.8 cubic-foot turning radius. But when it came time to make a quick merge from the on-ramp onto a four-lane highway, it begged for more power as the continuously variable transmission droned with pedal to the metal. This situation can be somewhat avoided if the driver uses the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, giving the Crosstrek the feel of a standard automatic. It can also be avoided by opting for the standard five-speed manual transmission.

We found the ride pleasant and the electric power-assisted steering receptive to commands. On-center feel was good and no serious course corrections were required on highway travel.

The interior is pleasant, the front seats are comfortable even for long-distance travel, and our usual rear-seat passengers said they had adequate leg and head room.†When hauling cargo is the object of the day, the rear seats can be folded to reveal 51.9 cubic feet of storage space. With the seats up there is a decent 22.3 cubic feet of luggage and grocery-hauling room.

The dashboard layout is conservative, no frills here. Controls are intuitive and include steering wheel buttons for the audio and cruise control systems. Climate controls are made up of three large well-designed knobs. High in the center of the dash is a hooded readout featuring outside temperature and time. Materials are of good quality and fit and finish is excellent.

Another downside we encountered was the noise level, which is on the wrong side of OK. We wished for a bit less wind and road intrusion as we attempted to carry on a conversation.

The Crosstrek comes in two trim levels, 2.0i Premium and 2.0i Limited starting at $22,790. Standard equipment consists of 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, heated mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, air conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, tilt-and telescoping steering wheel, heated front seats, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a six-speaker audio system.

Our Limited edition with navigation and moonroof came in at $27,290.

While we were not particularly enthusiastic over the newest Subaru — mainly because of its power deficiency — its combination of all-wheel drive, generous cargo space and decent fuel efficiency make the XV Crosstrek worthy of consideration for those who want crossover utility and capability in an affordable package.

Base price: $22,790; as driven, $27,290
Engine: 2.0-liter Flat 4
Horsepower: 148 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 145 foot-pounds @ 4,200 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: continuously variable
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 103.7 inches
Length: 175.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,164 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 22.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 51.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 33 highway, 25 city
0-60: 10.5 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Jeep Conpass

The Good
• Standard all-wheel drive
• Fuel-efficient
• Off-road capable
• Great looking wheels

The Bad
• CVT drone under hard acceleration

The Ugly
• Needs dose of performance