Road Test: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek Premium

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek Premium

Adventurous Spirit Packed With Value

By Lynne Hall and Larry E. Hall

Subaru has long stood by the horizontally opposed engine to power its cars. While proven to be reliable, it had a reputation for just so-so fuel economy. That changed a few years back, and the all-new 2018 Crosstrek continues in Clean Fleet Report’s All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club – with 33-mpg highway/27 city/29 combined when equipped with a continuous variable transmission (CVT). (Choose the manual shifter and fuel economy drops to 29 highway/23 city/25 combined.)

Introduced as a 2014 model, the Crosstrek is the result of a successful formula Subaru has used before: Take a core vehicle, alter the bones, jack up the suspension, add some body cladding and, viola, a new model. In this case, the donor car is the Impreza hatchback, which was the first Subaru model built on the company’s Global Platform, also a member of the 30 MPG AWD Club.

Impreza DNA

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek is ready to go anywhere

Impreza’s DNA is apparent in the Crosstrek’s profile, but from there the car takes off in a different direction. No other Subaru has the same grille or bumpers. The front A pillars are moved forward by 7.9 inches compared with the

Impreza. This not only improves cabin space, it adds athleticism to the look.

The 2018 Crosstrek rides on a 104.9-in. wheelbase, up 1.2-in. over the first-generation Crosstrek; it’s 0.6-inches longer than the previous model and 0.9-inches wider. Of course, like (almost) all Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard.

The most notable, visual difference between the two cars is ground clearance, which has been cranked up three inches to 8.7 inches. Throw in muscular fender flares, along with dramatic 17-inch alloy wheels, and the Crosstrek becomes an open invitation to travel farther once the highway ends.

Lynne says…

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We, along with buyers in New England and Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel-drive cars and wagons offered superior traction–not just on snowy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

Versatile space comes standard

And that decision in 1994 to morph the Legacy wagon into the “world’s first sport utility wagon” and call it Outback? Brilliant, as consumers in all three markets flocked to dealers.

Since then, Subaru has perfected the recipe for creating a new model from an existing one—and I think the Crosstrek is its best yet.

As much as I liked the Outback, I thought the lower body cladding was a little over the top, almost garish. Conversely, Crosstrek stylists used restraint and added just the right amount of muscularity with the fender flares. Also, the wider track, added length and longer wheelbase result in balanced proportions.

Compared with the small crossover SUV sales leaders–and Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V—the Crosstrek has the look of a sport utility that wants to get out of town. It says, “Hey, throw a couple mountain bikes or camping gear in the back and let’s get a little dirty, maybe even muddy.”

It backs up that invitation with a ground clearance of 8.7 inches that’s more generous than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. While we couldn’t find time to do some semi-serious off roading, previous Subaru test drives have shown their ability to go just about anywhere short of rock crawling.

The Inside Story

Crosstreck’s well-laid-out interior follows Impeza. The cabin is minimal, but not spartan, with durable soft-touch materials covering upper surfaces for comfort, and plastic on lower panels for easy cleaning. Switchgear arranged on the center stack and surrounding the steering column has a sturdy feel.

Seats, front and rear, fall into the comfortable category. We found the space suitable for four adults (cramped with five), even if rear passengers were squeezed a bit for foot room. In case your passengers tend to be toddlers rather than adults, it’s easy to comfortably fit two front-facing car seats in the rear.

The 20.8 cubic feet behind the rear seat was more than adequate for a week’s worth of grocery shopping, and a standard waterproof cargo tray is a thoughtful feature. Rear seats are 60/40 split and fold completely flat, providing 55.3 cubic feet of space. That’s enough room for two mountain bikes. Or, with standard roof rails, heft the bikes onto the roof.

On the Road

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek interior is upscale, but not in luxury territory

In town behavior was standard Subaru—easy-to-drive, easy-to-park and easy to get in and out of. The Crosstrek doesn’t miss a beat on the pavement, either. Agile and racy are not in its dictionary, but predictable, smooth and comfortable describe its on-road behavior.

Granted, 152 horsepower doesn’t sound like much these days–and it’s not–but it is adequate to the task of motivating the 3,302-pound Crosstrek for 0-to-60 mph in a little more than nine seconds. Whenever editor/husband Larry expressed a want for a turbocharger, I gently reminded him that this little Subie was about fuel economy, not speed.

Our Premium model’s engine was hooked up to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which for 2018 now incorporates seven stepped, predetermined ratios (controllable via paddle shifters) to mimic traditional gear shifting and mitigate the rubber-band sensation. Looking at my notes, I had checked hill hold as my favorite feature—take your foot off the brake when stopped on a hill, and the Crosstrek won’t roll backwards. I’m perplexed as to why more carmakers don’t have this feature.

Larry Says…

In 2005, Subaru made a move to present its automotive assets with style and content that would attract a broader audience. The company’s goal was to elevate its image to a “premium niche brand”—not a luxury brand, but one consumers were willing to pay a higher price (for perceived quality and features like standard all-wheel drive).

The second generation 2018 Crosstrek takes a simpler approach and isn’t quite as animated as the rest of the lineup. The upside to this is the Crosstrek offers a very good value proposition.

Consider: the base 2.0i Crosstrek starts at $22,795 plus a $915 destination charge. This least-expensive Crosstrek includes all-wheel drive with active torque vectoring, cruise control, 17-inch wheels and a rearview camera. Also standard is Subaru’s Starlink multimedia system with a 6.5-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, AM/FM stereo, USB port with iPod control, Bluetooth audio streaming and an auxiliary jack.

Our Premium test drive model had sticker price of $23,595 including the $1,000 CVT. It added heated front seats, fog lights, a windshield wiper de-icer and heated side mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker audio system.

The top-line Crosstrek Limited starts at $28,450 and can top $30,000 with options. It includes leather interior, a CVT automatic transmission as standard, power driver’s seat, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, automatic climate control, an 8.0-inch touch-screen infotainment system with AM/FM/HD Radio, CD player, dual USB inputs and voice-activated controls. A moonroof is optional on Premium and Limited trims, as is the EyeSight driver-assist and active-safety system with adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keep assist package. Limited trims can also add a Harman/Kardon premium audio system, navigation, and reverse automatic braking.

Traction Options

While all-wheel drive is standard, the system differs depending on the choice of transmission. Without going into technical details, CVT models split torque 60/40 front-to-rear as the default, while the manual transmission system distributes torque 50/50. Both can direct torque to the wheels that slip to ensure traction.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The only engine option

Regardless of the model, the Crosstrek is available with one engine, a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed (“boxer”) four-cylinder engine. The boxer nickname comes from the way the pistons look when the engine is running—like a boxer throwing punches. The punches this boxer throws are 152 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque. As for my wanting a turbocharger under the hood, that little more than nine second 0-to-60 edges on Prius territory, not what I prefer when merging into fast traffic.

Once up to speed, the 2018 Crosstrek felt solid and capable. Inside, wind noise was nearly nonexistent, and only on particularly rough concrete roads did we hear any commotion from below. Ride quality was very good, muting most small bumps, and reducing big ones to minor hiccups in the cabin.

Yes, Lynne, the Crosstrek is about fuel economy—and we did pretty good. Well, actually you did pretty good, since you were behind the wheel for most of the 215 miles during our week test drive. With about half of the miles driven on city streets, we managed to beat the EPA rating with 30.5 mpg combined.

Bottom Line

People buy Subarus for qualities other than glitz. The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek’s modest base price fetches the utility of a small wagon with a roomy cabin and cargo area that offers practicality and easy drivability. It will meet the needs of those who prioritize fuel economy over performance, contributing a small roll in saving the planet while exploring it.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring

Cruising Well into the AWD 30 MPG Club

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We thought Subarus were neat long before Paul Hogan started hauling his “barbie” around in Outbacks or Lance Armstrong cycled his way to becoming the new company spokesman.

2018 Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback in its natural habitat (when it’s not cruising the highways)

We, along with buyers in New England and the Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel drive cars and wagons offered superior traction—not just on snowy or muddy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface. And the decision in 1994 to morph the Legacy wagon into the “world’s first sport-utility wagon” and call it Outback? Brilliant, as consumers in all three markets flocked to dealers.

Over the years Outbacks and, indeed, all Subarus, were known for just so-so fuel economy. The automaker has been working to erase that reputation. The 2014 Outback 2.5i four-cylinder, with a 30-mpg highway rating, earned inclusion in our Clean Fleet Report All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club. The 2018 Subaru Outback improves on that with an EPA rating of 32-mpg highway/25 city/28 combined with a standard continuous variable transmission (CVT). Plus, the 2018 Outback boasts a driving range of nearly 600 miles, thanks to a large 18.5-gallon gas tank.

For those willing to forgo some fuel economy in exchange for power, the six-cylinder 3.6R is rated at 27-mpg highway/20 city/22 combined.

While the crossover SUV craze has overshadowed the car market in the U.S., the Outback wagon is Subaru’s top selling vehicle. But it isn’t totally alone. If you are set on a wagon with all-wheel drive, there’s the all-new Buick Regal TourX, along with the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, BMW 3-Series Sports Wagons, Audi A4 Allroad and Volvo V60.

A Distinctive Look

The Outback has grown in size over the years and along the way became a nameplate of its own, losing the Legacy badge in 2000. But one thing hasn’t changed, its distinctive look.

In profile, it is still one handsome station wagon with a roofline that sweeps naturally back. Like the original, the SUV-like appearance is maintained with pronounced front and rear fender arches along with lower body cladding and signature round fog lights. Minor restyling for 2018 brings a chunkier bumper and front fascia that includes a wider and lower grille, chrome wings extending from the logo and more aggressively styled headlights. The rear has also been tweaked for a more substantial look, and the Limited trim offers a new wheel design. The 8.7 inches of ground clearance continues to set it apart from other small crossovers; it’s one of those cars that still looks classy when it’s caked in mud.

A roof rack remains standard but with a clever twist. The roof rail system has noise-reducing crossbars that swing out of the way when not in use. It also makes it easier to secure bikes, kayaks and snowboards.

Inner Space

While Subaru wanted the outside of the Outback to look tougher, it made the 2018 edition’s interior more luxurious. The center console and steering wheel have been redesigned; all grades above the base trim include new stitching on the dash. The dash, center console and door panels flow together in a contemporary manner. Materials look and feel rich, and the faux wood trim has a matte finish, not the sheeny look that so many makers prefer.

2018 Subaru Outback

The Outback retains user-friendly features while embracing tech

Unlike far too many vehicles that use tiny controls on the center console, the Outback has large, easy-to-read push selectors for climate control. And kudos to the designer who kept separate rotary audio control knobs rather than absorbing them into the navigation system.

Storage inside the Subaru’s interior is also generous and well thought out. The center console bin is massive, the door pockets have slots for water bottles and there’s a larger covered bin forward of the shifter that’s perfect for a phone or wallet. The two front cupholders are large and well-placed. There are also two rear cupholders in the fold-down armrest.

Front bucket seats are supportive with good grip, and yet are comfortable. It’s easy to arrange a just-so driving position, which is a separate issue from how good the seats themselves feel. Front

2018 Subaru Outback

The wide open space–in back of the Outback

head- and legroom are excellent. The rear cabin is a pleasing place to ride. It’s not only comfortable for adults with its reclining seatbacks, it’s a rear seat that adults can climb into without much trouble. Younger families will appreciate the easy-to-reach latch connectors in the outboard seat for easy car seat installation.

I’m still amazed by the amount of stuff you can cram into the cargo area of the Outback. There’s a generous 34.3 feet of storage space behind the rear seats, which expands to a voluminous 71.3 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded flat.

Of late, Subaru has been on top of the features-offered game. For 2018, the Outback has an updated Starlink multimedia and infotainment system that features a standard 6.5-inch screen in place of the previous 6.2-inch unit, and an 8.0-inch touchscreen is available in the Outback for the first time. Both offer Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary inputs, along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. The upgraded unit also has two USB ports, TomTom navigation and the ability to receive over-the-air updates using Wi-Fi. 

The automaker also bolstered the Outback’s safety arsenal with optional swiveling headlights, automatic high-beams, adaptive guidelines in the standard rearview camera, individual tire-pressure monitors, automatic locking doors and a reverse-braking system. The optional EyeSight camera and sensor package has also been upgraded with lane-keeping assist that now activates at a lower speed, around 37 mph.

If you want a variety of choices, go no farther. There are four trim levels of the 2018 Outback 2.5i wagon. Pricing begins at $25,895 for the base model with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission, while the top line 2.5i Touring starts at $36,490. The 3.6 R Limited model starts at $35,995.

Committed To AWD and The Boxer Engine

Subaru introduced its first all-wheel drive vehicle in 1972, the Leone Estate. Called symmetrical all-wheel drive, the system became standard on all Subarus sold in the U.S 1996. The lone exception is the rear wheel-drive BRZ sports car (which is a platform shared with Toyota). Engineers have improved the AWD technology over the years and today the system enhances traction,

2018 Subaru Outback

The Boxer continues to punch above its weight

control and balance. What hasn’t changed is its symmetry—a balanced front-to-rear and side-to-side operation.

While others have followed Subaru with AWD, the company continues to march to its own drummer with its “boxer” engine. The boxer, also used by Porsche, is laid out horizontally rather than vertically, as are conventional in-line and V-engines. The pistons are placed opposite one another. When the engine is running, it looks like a boxer throwing punches, hence the name.

This piston action allows their movement to cancel out vibration as well as reducing wear. Because it is mounted longitudinally—front-to-rear—it provides a low center of gravity, adding to the Outback’s stick-to-the-road capability.

Behind the Steering Wheel

Subaru handed us the keys to an Outback 2.5i Touring to test drive. Standard equipment included leather upholstery with heated front seats, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control, EyeSight, Starlink and a Harmon Kardon 400-watt audio system. Suggested retail was $36,490.

Weighing in at close to 3,400 pounds, the 175 horsepower four-cylinder is no screamer. It has to work a bit, but it is more than adequate for the tasks we ask vehicles to perform. The payoff is the fuel economy for a vehicle this weighty that totes around an all-wheel drive system.

On paved surfaces, where the Outback spends most of its time, the ride is well isolated with a suspension that’s slightly firm around town, but generally very comfortable. Highway driving has an impressive sedan-like feel, in part because of the low center of gravity.

Steering works well, staying pointed straight ahead without fussing, when that’s your intent. Cornering is easily handled without slop or drama, courtesy of well-matched tires, suspension and AWD. Brakes come on swiftly when summoned, but no one will think they are touchy.

2018 Subaru Outback

Though not a serious off-road machine, the Outback can kick up some dust

Subaru was an early adopter of the CVT transmission and the one in Outback is as good as they get. There was no annoying run up of engine rpms during heavy throttle application and, simulated gear shifts via paddle shifters resulted in smooth up and down shifts.

I first drove an Outback off-road in 1995, its first model year, when it was known as the Legacy Outback. At Subaru’s request, it was a support vehicle for the second annual “Mudfest,” an event judged by journalists to determine the Northwest Sport-Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Since then I have driven a score of Outbacks off-road. It probably can’t conquer the most rugged routes of the famed Rubicon Trail, but I’ve slogged behind numerous Jeep Wranglers and Cherokees, Chevy Trailblazers and Nissan Pathfinders on some very nasty, rutted, muddy, steep trails and emerged with nary a problem.

My off-road foray with this Outback wasn’t a real test, just a few miles on an old, neglected Forest Service road for a picnic by a scenic stream.

As for fuel economy, the Outback delivered as advertised. Driving most of the time at the legal go-with-the flow pace for 251 miles, rewarded us with a 33.1-mpg average, slightly better than the EPA combined estimate. That included nearly 35 miles of some frisky driving on a nearly deserted two-lane country road.

Bottom Line

Despite growing competition, the 2018 Subaru Outback continues to be a top choice if you’re looking for a sporty and affordable luxurious wagon with big cargo volume. The Outback is comfortable, it’s versatile, and is available with high-end safety tech and the highest safety ratings.

Join owners in the Pacific Northwest, New England and the Rocky Mountain states and, you won’t go wrong.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Events: A Day at the Track

Events: A Day at the Track

27 Brands and 52 Cars at MPG Track Day

Motor Press Guild (MPG) is the Southern California trade association for automotive journalists. MPG’s goal of bringing together writers with automotive industry representatives is best demonstrated by its annual Track Day at Willow Springs Raceway. For those of you that have never been to Willow Springs, it is guaranteed you are familiar with this track as it has appeared in hundreds of commercials. Recognizable by its twisting track with extreme elevation changes and barren landscape, Willow Springs offers a challenging test for journalists and racers alike.

MPG Track Day

Motor Press Guild hits the track at Willow Springs

In early November, journalists headed 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles to strap on a helmet and get behind the wheel of some pretty cool cars. After a safety talk, warnings and driving rules, off we went in a very orderly and polite manner to get in as many cars as we could in a seven-hour timeframe.

My first drive was the 2017 Subaru BRZ Series Yellow. This limited-edition version is designed for track use with improved performance and handling and includes a Track Mode setting. In other words, it’s ideal for a few laps on a racetrack. A quick summary is the car was an absolute blast to drive and continues the good reputation Subaru has for designing fun sports cars.

I then got into these 2017 cars that all begged to be driven fast around the track.

  • Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
  • BMW X3 M40i
  • Dodge Durango SRT
  • Fiat 124 Abarth
  • Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
  • VW Jetta GLI

On To the Off-Road

The auto manufacturers also brought a few SUVs and trucks for off-road driving. The off-road course is intense, with a near-sheer drop off the mountain surrounding Willow Springs Raceway. There were several to choose from, and I opted for the Land Rover Discovery turbocharged V6 diesel. You want rock climbing in luxury? Look no further!

MPG Track Day

The off-road course offers some challenges

The permanent 4WD utilizes Land Rover’s All-Terrain Progress Control technology. When engaged, the air suspension lifts for an additional 2.95-inches of ground clearance, and the speed can be set for as slow as 1.2 mph for a safe and confident feeling using the Hill Descent Control. I say safe and confident because the rutted, scree we were descending, in a near straight down pitch, required this fantastic technology to get to the bottom of the hill without scratching the roof.

Hot Laps

Next up was a visit to Willow Springs second and smaller track, the Streets Of Willow, where three cars were staged with factory, professional drivers that would provide white-knuckle hot laps.

MPG Track Day

Did someone say fast cars? And faster drivers

I had the opportunity to ride (maybe hang on is a better description!) with Patrick Long in the Porsche Panamera Executive AWD, Joel Miller in the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring and Adam Seaman thrashing a BMW M3. If you ever get the opportunity to have a professional driver, especially one from a factory race team, take you around a track in a high-performance car, don’t make the mistake of saying “no.” It is a blast!

The AWD Porsche Panamera Executive and the RWD BMW M3 were far more powerful cars than the RWD Mazda MX-5 Miata RF. So, while the rear end was sliding on the Porsche and BMW, the Mazda was controlled and smooth through the corners, and tracked like a MX-5 Miata is known to track.

It was fascinating to watch how each driver/car approached the corners differently, before all hitting the apex in the same place. As an automotive journalist, experiences with people that really really know how to handle a car are invaluable for my reviews.

The Real Test–Country Roads

To slow things down a bit as the day was coming to a close, I drove a few cars on the country roads surrounding Willow Springs Raceway.

  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio Ti
  • Mini Countryman SE PHEV
  • Nissan 370Z Heritage Edition
  • Volvo V90
  • VW Atlas

After all the excitement of driving on the tracks and off-road, it may seem a let-down to drive on regular roads, but this though could not be further from the truth. Even on a short drive, journalists can get a quick feel for a car they will later request for a longer-term loan.

MPG Track Day

We were glad to get a preview of the plug-in Mini

Clean Fleet Report tests cars from seven to ten days before we write a ‘Road Test’ review. This is the best way we know to give you, our readers, the best evaluation of a car so you can add it to your shopping consideration list. Therefore, full reviews on many of the listed cars will be posted on Clean Fleet Report in the coming months.

The auto manufacturers work hard to develop good relationships and communication with journalists. They know that without honest and objective reviews, getting out the word, to you the consumer, would be difficult at best. Clean Fleet Report thanks all the participating auto manufacturers that were part of the Motor Press Guild’s Willow Springs Track Day.

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Impreza Sedan

Road Test: 2018 Subaru Impreza Sedan

The Pacific Northwest Answer Machine

Living in the Northwest, with our more than ample amount of annual rainfall and occasional winter snow storms, all-wheel drive (AWD) vehicles always made sense to me. Crossover SUVs of all sizes have flooded our streets and highways, and most of them in these parts are equipped with AWD.  But what if you want four-wheel traction when needed that won’t deplete your bank account, but you don’t want what everyone else is driving?

2018 Subaru Impreza

The Impreza in its natural habitat–the rain

Subaru has the answer–the compact 2018 Impreza. It’s offered in either a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback with all-wheel drive standard. The really good part is the price for the 2018 Subaru Impreza base 2.0i sedan starts at $19,215 (including $720 destination charge), with hatchbacks priced $500 higher; a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) adds $1,000. That’s a number that undercuts front-drive entry-level models of the Honda Civic, the Mazda3 and the Toyota Corolla.  It’s like getting all-wheel drive for free.

Subaru has simplified the Impreza lineup. Beyond the base model is the Premium trim with a starting price of $22,015, which includes the CVT as standard. This is followed by the 2.0i Sport Sedan that has a sticker price of $22,815. At the top of the food chain sits the Limited Sedan, which starts at $25,415.

A Boxer Under the Hood

For years, the automaker’s horizontally opposed “boxer” engines offered up only so-so fuel economy, but sold quite well because of standard AWD. Today, fuel mileage is no longer an embarrassment. Equipped with a CVT, the 2018 Impreza has an EPA rating of 28 mpg city/38 highway/32-combined. That places the car high into Clean Fleet Report’s AWD 30 MPG Club. Even the base model with a manual shifter, which drops to 31 mpg highway, is a member.   

If you checked out an Impreza in the past and disregarded it because of so-so styling, a cheap interior and less than average fuel economy, you are in for a surprise. Now in its sophomore year, the Impreza was the debut vehicle last year for Subaru’s Global Platform, a vehicle architecture that will be used for all future models. The 2018 Subaru is longer, wider and slightly lower than its predecessor plus, it’s blessed with an interior that is far more stylish than any Impreza I’ve ever driven.

Styling

Styling isn’t a major departure from the 2016 model, but its shape is more fluid, with some added accent lines and what Subaru calls a more “sculptural” design for the body. The nose is lower and features Subaru’s latest version of its hexagonal grille. Headlights are slightly oversized and are more sweptback.

2018 Subaru Impreza

Something new for Subaru–style

An accent line along each side of the body rises over the wheel wells and dips slightly along the doors in between. The window line also sweeps up slightly at the rear, and the overall effect makes the latest Impreza slightly sleeker, less upright and chunky, than its straightforward predecessor.

Inside, the Impreza’s interior is more expressive that the last version’s resolutely plain and straighforward dash, console and materials. The logically laid out instrument panel is far and away the nicest ever fitted to the Impreza, with stitched-look trim on the dash and doors and premium feeling soft-touch materials everywhere. Large, easy-to-read speedometer and tachometer gauges sit front and center, and the driver information display nestled between the gauges displays the speed in large, white digital numerals. Thanks Impreza designers for the audio system’s volume and tuning knobs.

The new seats are exceptionally comfortable and are heated on higher-end models. Remarkably roomy rear seats are easy to get into and out of. Once inside, there’s lots of legroom, foot space and headroom. Buyers with wee ones will appreciate the large and well-marked LATCH tether points that make it easy to securely mount child seats. The sedan’s trunk lid opening is four inches wider than the previous generation, providing easier access to the 12.3 cubic feet of cargo space.

Tech

Subaru’s latest touchscreen infotainment system, with either a six- or eight-inch display screen, depending on trim level, thankfully comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. While the system isn’t at the top of infotainment technology, the 2018 Impreza’s is the best I’ve seen from the automaker.

2018 Subaru Imperza

Apple CarPlay & Android Auto land in Subaru

A delight is Subaru’s EyeSight safety system, which is optional on all trim levels. It features an arm’s length list of advanced safety and driver assistance features including adaptive cruise control, precollision braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and automatic high-beams. It now includes reverse automatic braking, as well.

Driving the 2018 Subaru Impreza Sedan

Our test driver was a 2.0i Sport model with a Crystal Black paint job, a color that made the Impreza stand out in a crowd. It included the $800 optional CVT, and a $2,945 package that bundled the EyeSight safety system, a moonroof and a Harmon-Kardon audio system. The sticker price was $26,560 including destination charges. Of course, AWD was standard.   

After adjusting the seat and steering wheel, but before cranking the engine, the first thing I noticed from the driver’s seat was how easy it was to see out of the 2018 Impreza thanks to small pillars. The cabin felt airy and larger than a typical compact car.

2018 Subaru Imperza

A boxer under the hood

Under the hood was an extensively updated version of Subaru’s familiar 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine that powered the previous Impreza. Eighty percent of the parts are new, including a direct-injection system that allows the engine to operate more efficiently and cleanly. The new powerplant produces 152 horsepower, just four horsepower more than the outgoing engine, and torque is unchanged at 145 pounds-feet.

Husband, and Clean Fleet Report editor-at-large, Larry, thinks the new four is underpowered—a not uncommon comment from him. But my take was this engine was able to handle most anything that I threw at it. I suppose it would have struggled to overtake a car uphill, but that was a situation I didn’t encounter. In everyday driving on city streets and the freeway, the Imperza was never frustratingly slow. 

The CVT

Like many drivers, I am not a big fan of CVTs, but this one did not feel like it had a slipping manual transmission clutch, and the engine revs didn’t sound like they were outpacing the speed.  It did indeed mimic a standard automatic transmission.

As the name implies, the Sport trim level caters to those who want a car that is fun to drive, not one that is just competent in traveling from A to B. To that end, they gave the car a sport-tuned suspension and a torque vectoring system that gently brakes the inboard front wheel as it’s steered into a corner, helping the car to turn in more sharply. Driving on our favorite twisty, curvy back roads, the Impreza easily swept around off-camber curves with steering that responded quickly, tracked well and gave me confidence on the mostly empty road. Braking performance was a strong point, with solid pedal feel and plenty of reserve power in normal driving situations.

With the exception of driving at high freeway speeds, wind noise was never an issue, and surprisingly, the blower noise from the climate control system has been reduced by a least 50 percent. As for the ride, the suspension did a commendable job of easing over rough pavement and a few pot holes.

2018 Subaru Impreza

More luxury in the interior

During our week with the Impreza Sport, we clocked 288 miles, which is pretty much our average miles traveled. The miles per-gallon readout showed 33.9 mpg, a number slightly higher than the EPA’s estimate.

Bottom Line

In the past, the Subaru Impreza wasn’t high on my list of cars that I liked to drive. It was a noisy ride, felt cramped inside and the interior was something to avoid. The 2018 version has changed my opinion. It’s a car I would like to see in our garage. That said, I would most likely join the 60 percent of buyers that choose the five-door hatchback rather than the sedan.

There’s a load of compact car offerings to choose from, but none offer all-wheel drive at any price. For that reason, I would put it at the top of my car shopping list.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Road Test: 2014 Subaru Outback

Road Test: 2014 Subaru Outback

The 2014 Subaru Outback Joins the AWD 30 MPG Club

In our northwest corner of the country, motorists embraced Subarus back when quirky wasn’t hip. We thought Subarus were neat long before Paul Hogan started hauling his “barbie” around in Outbacks or Lance Armstrong cycled his way to becoming the new company spokesman.

We, along with buyers in New England and the Rocky Mountain states, knew for years that Subaru’s all-wheel drive cars and wagons offered superior traction — not just on snowy roads, but on any slippery or uneven surface.

And the decision in 1994 to morph the Legacy wagon into the “world’s first sport-utility wagon” and call it Outback? Brilliant, as

Subaru,Outback,AWD,MPG

Bigger, but still an Outback

consumers in all three markets flocked to dealers.

Over the years Outbacks, and indeed, all Subarus, were known for just so-so fuel economy. The automaker has been working to erase that reputation, and the 2014 Outback earns inclusion in our All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club. The mainstream 2.5i model has an EPA estimated 30 mpg highway/24 mpg city and a combined rating of 26 mpg when equipped with a continuous variable transmission (CVT). Choose the manual shifter and fuel economy drops to 29/22 highway/city and 24 combined.

For those willing to forgo some fuel economy in exchange for power, the six-cylinder 3.6R limited is rated at 25/17 highway/city and 20 combined.

A Distinctive Look

The Outback has grown in size over the years and along the way became a nameplate of its own, losing the Legacy badge in 2000. But one thing hasn’t changed, its distinctive look.

Subaru,Outback,off-road,SUV

Off-road dexterity comes standard

In profile, it is still one handsome station wagon with a roofline that sweeps back naturally. Like the original, the SUV-like appearance is maintained with pronounced front and rear fender arches along with body cladding on the doors and rocker panels. The 8.7-inches of ground clearance continues to set it apart from other small crossovers.

A roof rack is still standard but with a clever twist. The roof rail system has noise-reducing crossbars that swing out of the way when not in use. It also makes it easier to secure bikes, kayaks and snowboards.

 

Inner Space

The dash, center console and door panels flow together in a contemporary manner. Materials look and feel rich, and the faux wood trim has a matte finish, not the sheeny look that so many makers prefer.

Unlike far too many vehicles that use tiny controls on the center console, the Outback has large, easy-to-read push selectors for climate control. And kudos to the designer who kept separate rotary audio control knobs rather than absorbing them into the navigation system.

Front bucket seats are supportive with good grip, yet are comfortable. And it’s easy to arrange a just-so driving position, which is a

Subaru,Outlook,interior,

Not the old Outback; this interior looks and feels rich

separate issue from how good the seats themselves feel. Front head- and legroom are excellent.

The rear cabin is a pleasing place to ride. It’s not only comfortable for adults with its reclining seatbacks, it’s a rear seat that adults can climb into without much trouble.

I’m still amazed by the amount of stuff you can cram into the cargo area of the Outback. There’s a generous 34.3 feet of storage space behind the rear seats, which expand to a voluminous 71.3 cubic feet with the seatbacks folded flat.

If you want a variety of choices, go no farther. There are six trim levels of the Outback wagon. Pricing begins at $24,230 including $825 destination charges for the base 2.5i with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. Chosing the continuously variable transmission adds $1,000. The top 3.6 R Limited model starts at $32,920.

Committed To AWD And The Boxer Engine

Subaru introduced its first all-wheel drive vehicle in 1972, the Leone Estate. Called symmetrical all-wheel drive, the system became standard on all Subarus sold in U.S 1996. The lone exception is the rear wheel-drive BRZ sports car.

Engineers have improved the AWD technology over the years and today the system enhances traction, control and balance. What hasn’t changed is its symmetry — a balanced front-to-rear and side-to-side operation.

There are four different symmetrical AWD systems, depending on engine and transmission combinations.

While others have followed Subaru with AWD, it continues to march to its own drummer with its “boxer” engine. The boxer, also used by Porsche, is laid out horizontally rather than vertically, as are conventional in-line and V-engines. The pistons are placed opposite one another, and when the engine is running, it looks like a boxer throwing punches, hence the name.

This piston action allows their movement to cancel out vibration as well as reducing wear. And because it is mounted longitudinally — front-to-rear — it provides a low center of gravity, adding to the Outback’s sticking-to-road capability.

Behind The Steering Wheel

Subaru handed us the keys to an Outback 2.5i Limited to test drive. In addition to the CVT, standard equipment included leather upholstery with heated front seats, heated mirrors, dual-zone automatic climate control and a Harmon Kardon 400-watt audio system that featured hands-free BlueTooth audio and phone along with USB and iPhone ports. Suggested retail was $30,800.

Subaru,Outlook,tech,driver assist

EyeSight to the blind spot

Add to that an option package that bundled special 17-inch wheels, keyless access and start, moonroof, rearview camera, navigation system and Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist system along with other goodies. Total sticker price: $35,260.

A word about EyeSight. The system integrates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning. It uses a stereo camera mounted on the inside of the windshield in front of the rearview mirror, and works exceptionally well except when weather conditions, such as heavy rain or snow, obscures the camera’s view.

Weighing in at close to 3,400 pounds, the 173-horsepower four-cylinder is no screamer. It has to work a bit, but it is more than adequate for the tasks we ask vehicles to perform. The payoff is the fuel economy for a vehicle this weighty that totes around an all-wheel drive system.

On paved surfaces, where the Outback spends most of its time, the ride is well isolated with a suspension that’s slightly firm around town, but generally very comfortable. Highway driving has an impressive sedan-like feel, in part because of the low center of gravity.

Steering works well, staying pointed straight ahead without fussing, when that’s your intent. Cornering is easily handled without slop or drama, courtesy of well-matched tires, suspension and AWD. Brakes come on swiftly when summoned, but no one will think they are touchy.

Subaru was an early adopter of the CVT transmission and the one in Outback is as good as they get. There was no annoying run up of engine rpms during heavy throttle application, and simulated gear shifts via paddle shifters resulted in smooth up and down shifts.

I first drove an Outback off-road in 1995, its first model year, when it was known as the Legacy Outback. At Subaru’s request, it was a support vehicle for the second annual “Mudfest,” an event judged by journalists to determine the Northwest Sport-Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Since then I have driven a score of Outbacks off-road. It probably can’t conquer the most rugged routes of the famed Rubicon Trail, but I’ve slogged miles behind Jeep Wranglers and Cherokees, Chevy Trailblazers and original Nissan Pathfinders on some very nasty, rutted, muddy, steep trails and emerged with nary a problem.

My off-road foray with this Outback wasn’t a real test, just a few miles on an old, neglected Forest Service road for a picnic by a scenic stream.

As for fuel economy, the Outback delivered as advertised. Driving most of the time at the legal go-with-the flow pace for 251 miles rewarded us with a 28.9-mpg average, nearly 3 mpg better than the EPA combined estimate. That included nearly 35 miles of some frisky driving on a nearly deserted two-lane country road.

A New 2015 Outback Is Arriving

As you read this, a new 2015 Outback is beginning to arrive at Subaru dealerships. It trades a bit of its rugged appearance for a more sporty appearance, is marginally larger inside, but does offer slightly better fuel economy. As with any new model, there’s a price hike. In this case, the base 2.5i with CVT (the manual shifter isn’t available) jumps less than $500 to $25,745.

If you’ve considering an Outback, the question is, should you buy the new 2015 edition, or opt for the outgoing model?

My youngest son decided to buy the 2014 model, his second Outback. His reason? Price. Dealers still have a fair number of 2014 Outbacks on their lots and want to move the inventory. He not only took advantage of an exceptional closeout price, he also got 1.9 percent financing. For him, that outweighed the slightly larger interior room and small increase in fuel economy.

What’s your decision?