What makes a vehicle a “crossover”? I thought I knew, and that it was some sort of small car-based SUV/tall wagon type vehicle, like a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4. That being said, the CR-V, RAV4, and CX-5’s of this world fall more into the “cute-ute” camp rather than crossover, at least in my book. To take my misguided understanding a bit further, I consider cars like the XV Crosstrek, Volvo XC70, and Audi Allroad to be just jacked-up wagons. Suffice it to say, I don’t have a clear understanding of the definition of “crossover” in my own mind.
That said, Subaru bills the XV Crosstrek as the most fuel-efficient crossover in Ameica. The XV Crostrek is new for 2013, and is the new name for the model which used to be called the Outback Sport. By either name, the crossover is essentially an Impreza wagon with a raised suspension, with some rugged fender flares, and (minimal) body cladding. The body sheetmetal, interior parts, and powertrain are carried over wholesale from the new-for-2012 Impreza, which features a new 2.0 liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine with 148 HP and 145 ft-lbs of torque. All Impreza and XV Crosstrek vehicles have all-wheel drive, though the technology differs depending on whether the vehicle is equipped with a five-speed manual transmission or Subaru’s CVT automatic.
I reviewed a 2012 Impreza 2.0i Premium five-door last year , and my sentiments about the interior haven’t really changed since then. Upper dash materials are soft-touch polymers, as are the steering wheel and shift knob. Manually-adjustable front seats (with height-adjustment on drivers side) are covered with a durable cloth and are more comfortable than they look, keeping me happy on 90-minute drives. The analog tachometer, speedometer, and consumption gauges are black-faced with red writing (and red nighttime illumination), and flank an unimpressive black-on-gray LCD display which shows fuel level, main and trip odometers, and cruise control status. An additional display at the base of the windshield displays time and outdoor temperature, as well as basic trip computer functions including instantaneous and average MPG, average speed, elapsed time, and distance to empty. The steering wheel has cruise control, audio, and telephone controls, and is adjustable for both rake and reach. The center console a large storage bin below the radio, two cupholders behind the gear selector, and a lidded bin under the center armrest which contains the USB and AUX inputs.
The back seat has enough legroom that with the front adjusted for my 6’4” frame to drive, I can “sit behind myself” with m knees just brushing the seatback in front of me. Headroom is adequate, though the cushion is a somewhat low. There are bottle holders in the rear doors, but the entry-level Premium trim does not have cupholders for back seat passengers. Back door openings are generously sized, making it easy to get in and out without hitting your head (and also making it easy to remove sleeping kids without hitting their heads on the inside of the car’s C-pillar opening). Around back, the cargo area is reasonably spacious, and includes a plastic cargo liner and a retractable cargo cover. Rear seatbacks are split-folding to expand cargo space; I ended up folding those seatbacks forward when carrying home bags of soil and mulch from my local garden center.
The first thing I do when I get a vehicle for review is take some time to adjust the seat and mirrors and pair my phone to the Bluetooth system before setting off. The Bluetooth pairing process in the XV Crosstrek is an un-intuitive, voice-prompt-guided activity, with no assistance coming from the two lines of text display available on the radio (which serves as the only media display of any kind). The system does display the number (but not the phonebook name) of incoming and outgoing calls on the stereo’s display. The same screen is used to navigate the menu structure of devices connected through the USB port.
Turning the key to start the XV Crosstrek, I was immediately reminded of why I called the powertrain noises “nearly agricultural” in last year’s review of the closely-related Impreza. The new-for-2012 2.0 liter is a more efficient motor, but it has the distinctive thrum of a horizontally-opposed four cylinder, and the manual transmission drivetrain makes some uniquely-Subaru noises.
On the road, the XV Crosstrek has adequate power to get around. As long as I didn’t try to rush the XV, it had acceptable acceleration and felt powerful enough. When trying to drive more quickly, though, the car’s 148 HP and meager 145 lb-ft torque quickly seemed to run out of breath. Trying to accelerate up an inclined freeway onramp to merge into 75 MPH traffic required revving the engine up close to redline, which seemed to produce more noise than speed – it is in such situations that this Subaru feels low on power.
During my first few days with the XV Crosstrek, I thought it was too slow, and that perhaps Subaru had renamed the “Outback Sport” because the latest version was slow enough to be totally devoid of “sport” and therefore undeserving of the name. As my week with the XV Crosstrek progressed, I came to the realization that the available power is appropriate for the intended pace of the XV, the gearing, and the “vibe” of the car… as though the XV isn’t in a hurry because it doesn’t need to be.
While the XV was happy to cruise at 80 MPH on the interstate, it took a while to get there (and the engine was turning 3500 RPM when it finally did). The clutch pedal requires relatively light effort, and the longish-throws of the won’t-be-hurried shifter have a notchy feel, but I never missed a shift. The XV Crosstrek has a handy hill-holder feature called Incline Start Assist, which prevents the car from rolling backward when starting off on an incline.
While road noise is clearly noticeable around town, at speeds above 60 MPH the road noise and wind noise increase dramatically, making it difficult to converse on the Bluetooth phone system both because it is difficult to hear the party on the other end, and because it was hard for the other party to hear me.
The XV Crosstrek has an impressively tight turning radius, making it easy to maneuver in tight places whether in town or off the beaten track. The crossover’s 3075 lb curb weight means it feels nimble, and generous frontward and side visibility give confidence behind the wheel. The XV’s raised suspension provides a smooth ride around town, though the ride can be a bit busy at highway speeds over roadway undulations.
The 8.7 inches of ground clearance and long-travel suspension do just fine around town, but they really shine on surfaces other than tarmac. I had the opportunity to drive the XV Crosstrek on 15 miles of unpaved, pot-holed Forest Service roads which were covered with gravel, dirt, mud, and melting snow, including fording a small stream a couple of times. During that time I dodged plenty of pot holes (and failed to dodge several), drove through some pretty gooey mud, but never scraped the underside of the car, and always felt in control. At one point on a smooth, graveled section of road I turned off the stability control to prevent it from cutting in as I dodged puddles, and was surprised to find that it cut in anyhow- using the switch to turn the system off doesn’t completely disable it.
Using the XV Crosstrek out in the forest showed off the rugged appeal of the car; I was confident with its capabilities and was unworried about getting stuck in mud or causing damage. If I owned one, I could see myself loading the XV up and heading out for some wilderness campground or trailhead without worrying about the car being damaged. At the same time, it is easy enough to drive and park in the city that I wouldn’t worry about maneuvering it in to tight parking garages or lots, and it is not so expensive or luxurious that I would worry about where I left it parked.
Subaru bills the XV Crosstrek as America’s most fuel-efficient crossover, with an EPA rating of 23/30 MPG city/highway, compared to a 25/33 MPG rating in the closely-related Impreza. Over 305 miles of mixed driving, the trip computer reported 26.1 MPG at an average speed of 28 mph.
XV Crosstrek is available in two trim levels. The $21,995 Premium trim level is the standard trim and is equipped with cloth-upholstered seats, power locks and windows, six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system Bluetooth phone connectivity, USB connectivity, an AUX input, and seating for five. The $24,495 Limited trim level adds leather-trimmed upholstery, automatic climate control, HD radio, and mandatorily selects the CVT automatic transmission. A moonroof and GPS are optional only on the Limited model, in a $2000 option package. The destination fee is $795 for either car, so our XV Crosstrek 2.0i Premium had an out-the-door price of $22,790. A similarly equipped Impreza is $1700 less.
So why would somebody choose an XV Crosstrek over an Impreza wagon? I thought the XV Crosstrek was sporty looking, with its wheelarch cladding, roof rack, tinted windows, and 17” black wheels. Photos of the XV posted on my Instagram (@kr900) and Twitter (@autosavantkrm) accounts drew plenty of negative comments about the wheels, though I find them very appealing.
The XV Crosstrek is a few thousand dollars more expensive than the Impreza, offering additional standard equipment like a raised suspension, 17” wheels (compared to the Impreza’s 16s), larger front brakes, a slightly larger fuel tank, tinted rear windows (like a “real” SUV), roof rails, and a cargo area liner. So for the extra money, you get a extra ground clearance, a bit extra utility and a more rugged image. For shoppers not ready to jump on the “cute ute” bandwagon, the XV Crosstrek may be just the ticket.