Following the trail blazed in 1994 by the original Outback, the XV Crosstrek plays off the company’s outdoor-friendly image. Its 8.7-inch ground height bests that of many crossovers and even an SUV or two. Lower body cladding fends off the nicks and scratches that accompany off-roading. Standard all-wheel-drive boosts its year-round utility and off-road chops.
This year, the Crosstrek, already one of the more fuel-efficient crossovers, gets a hybrid variant The hybrid inherits most features of the up-level Limited trim and offers a modest fuel-efficiency bump. Regular trims are powered by a four-cylinder engine that makes 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. It can be paired with a five-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The same engine powers the hybrid, with the addition of an electric motor that adds 13 horsepower and 48 lb-ft. It is available only with the CVT.
The Crosstrek Hybrid suffers from lackluster performance and from the CVT’s distinctive elastic-feeling characteristics. Ride quality and handling are average for the class, though the Crosstrek’s unique drivetrain architecture minimizes body lean. Subaru’s reputation for quality and its appeal to practical, no-nonsense buyers practically guarantees a market for the hybrid. And the tendency of Subaru owners to extract every last mile from their cars may enhance the hybrid’s cost-to-benefits outlook. However, a close look may tip the scales toward the conventional model.
The low-key Crosstrek cabin emphasizes utility at the expense of luxury. Soft-touch materials cover the dash and door panels and switchgear has a sturdy feel. Understated trim bits add visual variety but minimal flash. Even with such techie updates as voice-activation, iTunes tagging and SMS text-messaging, the Crosstrek’s cabin electronics fail to impress. Its audio systems are subpar and the navigation display is cramped and challenging.