Test Drive: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Subaru-XV Crosstrek-big MPG-AWD-SUV

XV Crosstrek – small SUV, big MPG

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 has a reputation for just so-so fuel economy.

That’s changed of late – as evidenced by the all-new 2013 XV Crosstrek’s inclusion in the All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club – with 33 mpg highway, 25 mpg city and a combined rating of 28 mpg when equipped with a continuous variable transmission (CVT). Choose the manual shifter and fuel economy drops to 30 highway/23 city/26 combined.

Not familiar with the Crosstrek? It’s 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, also a member of the 30 MPG Club.

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 and 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.

While length and track width (distance between the wheels) have been increased, the wheelbase has been shortened.

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 Crosstek 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.

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 XV Crosstrek is their 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 shorter wheelbase result in balanced proportions.

Compared with the small crossover SUV sales leaders – Ford Escape, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4 – 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 lets get a little dirty, maybe even muddy.”

And it backs up that invitation with ground clearance 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.

Crossteck’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, and we found the space suitable for four adults, 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 22 cubic feet behind the rear seat is 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 almost flat, providing enough room for two mountain bikes.

In town behavior was standard Subaru – easy-to-drive, easy-to-park and easy to get in and out of. And 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, 148 horsepower doesn’t sound like much these days – and it’s not – but it is adequate to the task of motivating the 3,087-pound Crosstek 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 base Premium model’s engine was hooked up to a five-speed manual transmission, which offered clean gates and a comfortable, easily engaged clutch action. 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 their automotive assets with style and content that would attract a broader audience. The company’s goal was to elevate their image to a “premium niche brand” – not a luxury brand,

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Crosstrek can take you trekking

but one consumers were willing to pay a higher price (for perceived quality and features like standard all-wheel drive).

The XV Crosstrek is sort of a step back. Not that quality has taken a back seat, but this little crossover SUV 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 entry 2014 Premium model starts at $23,820 including destination charges. It has an arm’s length of standard features including 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, full power accessories, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated front seats and mirrors, cruise control and air-conditioning. The six speaker audio system features a CD player, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a USB port and auxiliary jack.

Starting at $25,230, the step-up Limited version adds leather upholstery, automatic headlights, automatic climate control, a 4.3-inch LCD display and rearview camera.

A sunroof and a touchscreen navigation system are optional for both models.

Optional on the Premium and standard on the Limited is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that Subaru calls Lineartronic, and it’s a dandy. Instead of engine revs that race ahead of engine speed, the Lineartronic keeps engine and road speed in harmony. For Premium buyers, it’s well worth the $1,000 price considering the fuel economy gains versus the manual shifter.

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.

Regardless of which 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. And the punches this boxer throws are 148 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque.

As for my wanting a turbocharger under the hood, that little more than nine seconds from 0 to 60 edges on Prius territory, not what I prefer when merging into fast traffic.

And 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 192 miles during our week test drive. With about half of the miles driven on city streets we still managed to average the EPA estimated 26 mpg combined.

People buy Subarus for qualities other than glitz. The XV 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. And it will meet the needs of those who prioritize fuel economy over performance, contributing a small roll in saving the planet while exploring it.

For more on this subject, check out:

2013 Ford Escape Road Test

Top 10 2014/2013 AWD/SUVs With the Best MPG

First Drive Toyota RAV4 EV

2013 Honda CR-V Road Test


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About Author: Larry E. Hall

Larry E. Hall is the Editor-At-Large at Clean Fleet Report. His interest and passion for automobiles began at age 7, cleaning engine parts for his father, a fleet manager for a regional bakery. He has written about cars and the automobile industry for more than 25 years and has focused his attention on “green” cars and advanced technology vehicles. Larry’s articles have been published by Microsoft’s MSNBC.com and MSN Autos as their alternative vehicles correspondent, and is currently the Senior Editor at HybridCars.com. His work has appeared in metro and suburban newspapers as well as business publications and trade journals. He is the founding president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association and a member of the Motor Press Guild. Larry lives and drives in Olympia Wa. with his wife, Lynne, who shares his passion for cars.

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