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2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: First Drive

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It didn’t take us a journey halfway across the Pacific Ocean to understand that Subaru—and the new 2013 XV Crosstrek, or just ‘Crosstrek,’ as Subaru of America would rather call it (the XV already stands for ‘crossover vehicle’)—is for active, outdoorsy folks.

Here in Portland, Oregon, where a couple of us in the High Gear Media editorial team reside, Subaru is the number-four selling vehicle brand, and it seems we see Subarus, far more often than vehicles of other brands, loaded down with snowboards, skiis, surfboards, small kayaks, or the works for weekend camping.

But according to Subaru itself, you might run into that same 'active lifestyle' buyer in plenty of other U.S. regions. Subaru of America, citing data from NGK Consulting, says that its owners are four times as likely to hike, and about 3.5 times as likely to bike.

And yet to Hawaii we sojourned for a couple of days this past week—to Hawaii’s most populous island of Oahu, where the pace is slower, both personally and behind the wheel.

That slower pace, and the rugged landscape, proved well-suited for finding the Crosstrek’s place in the now-crowded crossover market. In short, we found that the Crosstrek might not be for an impatient, hurried lifestyle; but it does have the chops for the trail, for hauling gear, for keeping you comfortable along the way, and for not breaking the bank in any way. Think of it as a solid multi-purpose tool to have at the ready for all your transportation needs--and oh yes, they can involve lots of mud and snow.

Seriously outdoorsy…with a slower pace

Before we extol the virtues of the Crosstrek’s trail prowess and versatility, we must tell you a bit about what it’s like to drive on roads and highways: In short, the Crosstrek isn’t underpowered, but its performance on pavement is rather ordinary and unspectacular. With 148 horsepower for about 3,200 pounds in a fully loaded Crosstrek Limited, and the engine’s peak 145 pound-feet of torque not reached until 4,200 rpm, sprightly this is not.

The Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) allows the Crosstrek to accelerate lightly or moderately with an ease and nonchalance that might suggest there’s more power on tap; only when you force harder with your right foot, the powertrain loses its composure at a particular point, revving the engine into its upper range, with more noise than additional thrust. Quick launches are a sore point; the CVT simply bogs down for a second or two before letting the revs rise, and it’s counterintuitively just as quick if you ease into a full-throttle takeoff than if you slam the gas to the floor. You can tap into six pre-set ratios with the included steering-wheel paddle-shifters, and that’s a workaround that we were happy with for all but the low-speed dashes.

In any case, we enjoyed the manual version much more; it felt perkier—especially from a standing start, and at lower city speeds when we needed to tap into the power quickly, to squeeze into a gap in traffic, for instance.

To those who expect on-road handling to be compromised, or a little clumsier, in the name of off-road ability: It’s really not. We can’t say we pushed this model near its limits—something that traffic-clogged Hawaiian two-laners just didn’t permit—but even with some body lean it felt comfortable enough being hustled, loading and unloading predictably. Tall and tipsy just isn’t part of this vehicle’s vocabulary. And the electric power steering is light but very nicely weighted.

In fact, aside from feeling that you're higher up because of its nearly four inches of extra ground clearance (the Crosstrek gets up to 8.7 inches, plus various suspension and structural reinforcements, improved engine cooling, unique front fenders, and body cladding to make it all feel quite different than the Impreza hatchback on which it’s based), the driving experience is much more like that of a small sedan or hatchback than of one of the taller small crossovers like the Hyundai Tucson or Ford Escape. Think of the Crosstrek’s competitive set as more along the lines of the Mini Countryman, Jeep Compass, and Nissan Juke—along with the Range Rover Evoque—and you’ll be on the right track.

A crossover with less compromise?

And the Crosstrek is quite good at scrambling well off the beaten track. The loop of rocky, gravel, and sand ranch trails, with a few shallow creek crossings, never seriously challenged the Crosstrek’s traction, but it did serve to show off its very impressive ground clearance (more than many unique-design crossovers), and also its good approach and departure angles (of 18 degrees and nearly 28 degrees, respectively). We think it might be one of the best vehicles yet for snowy driveways

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