The Subaru Crosstrek has done some remarkable things since its introduction for 2013. For a very reasonable price it offers a huge amount of SUV capability, with good fuel mileage and legendary reliability, as well as good rugged looks. The Crosstrek has been selling like hotcakes, especially in the Pacific Northwest, Subieland, because of the things a vehicle needs to do there, namely go in snow and ice and carry things. In the Northwest, a Crosstrek looks naked without a mountain bike or kayak on the roof.
The Crosstrek can handle blizzards, monsoons, muddy tracks, gravel mountain roads, towing a small boat, or your daily commute. It’s based on the Impreza five-door hatchback, but there are significant changes to the Impreza chassis, suspension, and body. Raised ground clearance, frame braces, stronger suspension, all-season tires, bigger front brake rotors, more engine cooling, larger gas tank, and new wheels, grille, bumpers, fender flares, fascias and roof rack. It’s quite distinct, especially when Impreza and Crosstrek are side-by-side. The Crosstrek is much taller. It looks as big as an Outback. And it comes in some of its own colors.
The 2016 Crosstrek has a new grille, fascia, bumpers and headlights and wheels to distinguish it from pre-2016 models.
Crosstrek uses the famed Subaru boxer four-cylinder engine with horizontally opposed cylinders, a compact design that enables the engine to be mounted low and rearward, for better overall dynamics. It’s 2.0 liters and makes 148 horsepower, mated to a Subaru-made continuously variable transmission (CVT) or five-speed manual (but good luck finding a manual; when we last looked, there was exactly one Crosstrek with a manual transmission in the state of Oregon, even though the 5-speed is standard equipment, the CVT optional). The good news is the CVT is one of the best in any car out there. Most of the time you can’t even tell it’s not a traditional automatic.
Many owners just buy the Crosstrek because it looks cooler than the Impreza, but if you don’t need the extra ground clearance, it might not be better value. The Crosstrek is a bit noisier inside than the Impreza, on account of tires and cabin cost-saving, and its handling is a bit less sharp because of its height, which also makes it harder to climb in and out of, not to mention reach the roof rack. It’s nearly four inches taller than the Impreza.
The Crosstrek is EPA rated at 26 miles per gallon City, 34 Highway, and 28 Combined with the CVT, and 23/31/26 with the 5-speed manual gearbox, so for most it’s no great loss that the manual transmission is basically unavailable. For the maximum fuel mileage, there is a hybrid that gets 29/33/31 mpg.
The Crosstrek Hybrid is the big news in 2016. It’s quieter, with five changes to the front suspension and a dozen other things, mostly insulation against noise and vibration, improvements that have been added to other models. It gets a gloss black grille to make it distinctive. It’s the most pleasant Crosstrek to drive.
The Hybrid uses the same 2.0-liter engine with different tuning, along with a 10-kilowatt (13.4 horsepower) electric motor between the engine and CVT. The acceleration is about the same, which is to say modest. The battery pack is mounted under the rear seat; space isn’t compromised with the seat in use, but when it’s lowered, 1.7 cubic feet are lost in cargo capacity. The system can power the car on electricity alone, but it’s not intended to, so don’t look at it that way; it’s too slow. It might get you a few blocks to a gas station if you run out of gas.
Crosstrek earns five stars overall from the NHTSA for safety, with four stars for frontal crash and rollover, five for side impact. The IIHS gives it its highest Top Safety Pick+ rating. For 2016, rollover sensors are added to the standard curtain airbags, a feature not found in the Impreza.
The 2016 Subaru Crosstrek ($21,595) comes standard with cloth upholstery. Crosstrek Premium ($22,395) adds active safety features, including Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, plus heated front seats, side mirrors and windshield.
Crosstrek Premium ($25,095) gets leather, automatic climate control, a fold-down rear armrest with cupholders, and comes standard with the CVT.
Crosstrek Hybrid ($26,395) features the hybrid-electric powertrain.
The Crosstrek looks macho, especially when compared to the Impreza. The body mixes style with utility. The black fender flares are tidy, not overdone, and not ugly as they would be on many other cars. Three Crosstrek-specific colors help it stand out on the highway: a blue like French racing blue; a khaki like pea soup with milk; and a soft orange-ish shade like we remember from the Porsche 911, years ago.
The Crosstrek cabin doesn’t depart from the Impreza, except for seat fabric that is more rugged and looks better for it, we think. For 2016, Crosstrek has gotten some freshening, including black and silver trim on the dashboard, orange stitching here and there, and LED illumination around the center console.
The interior materials are solid and basic. The dashboard has a soft-touch material on top that gets almost sticky in heat and humidity. The analog instruments are easy to read and make the dash sporty. A 6.2-inch touchscreen is standard, with Premium and Limited models getting a 7.0-inch screen.
The visibility is much better than most crossovers because of thin pillars and a low beltline with a lot of glass. With the height and fairly upright seats, this gives the Crosstrek a relatively commanding POV on the highway.
The driver’s seat feels somewhat short and flat for long hours of comfort. The rear seat is shaped well for grownups, and it easily does its 60/40 flop.
Subaru knows that its bread is buttered in the cargo area, so they spent a lot of design time there. It’s convenient to reach into, box-like with no intrusions. Dogs welcome. A rubber tray slides out to be hosed off. The 150-pound roof rack is standard.
The Crosstrek is solid, but not quick. Its 148 horsepower has to pull 3200 pound, which isn’t heavy but 148 horsepower isn’t much. What’s more, the 145 pound-feet of torque doesn’t peak until 4200 rpm. It responds and accelerates with the manual transmission, but it’s also more thirsty and you can’t get one anyhow.
It’s lamentable that the 5-speed manual transmission is so hard to get, because the all-wheel-drive system is old-school Subaru, which has felt good for years and years. It’s a viscous-coupling system with locking center differential that feels direct and connected. The CVT uses an electronic variable transfer-clutch system.
The Crosstrek feels like a car, not a tall small crossover. The ride is smooth if a bit noisy, with very little pitch or head toss, unlike some SUVs, even on choppy two-lanes. It doesn’t feet at all tippy despite the height, however it’s more sensitive to crosswind, and it wanders on the highway (more than Impreza does, presumably from changes to the suspension and tires). The steering is somewhat numb, and it doesn’t handle as well as the Impreza; although still we’d say it’s relatively crisp and athletic in corners, compared most all-wheel-drive compact crossovers, except the Subaru Forester. The electric power steering is light.
With its big front brakes, it will stop quickly, but it also nose-dives and bounces back upright. Off road, the approach angle of 18 degrees and departure angle of 28 degrees enable crossing rocks and logs, as long as the all-wheel drive can keep up.
The Crosstrek Hybrid powerplant makes less horsepower than other hybrids. The 48 pound-feet of torque from the electric motor can get the car moving, but you’ll probably get honked at from behind for being a slowpoke. The battery is charged regenerative braking at speeds under 40 mph. The Hybrid shuts off the engine when it’s stopped at redlights.
It’s hard to find ways to go wrong with the Subaru Crosstrek. The power is modest but the CVT is the best. The all-weather and cargo capability can’t be beat, and it looks rugged and cool while bringing 28 miles per gallon.
Sam Moses contributed to this report; with staff reports by The Car Connection.