2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive: memories are made of these

July 17, 2017

You can remember your first car. I bet you don’t have to think hard.

I’ll make another safe bet that the name of that car is clearer in your head than the name of your best friend from the same time.

Like friends, memories, and first cars, we forget the flaws of things we love. Or, more accurately, we smear a sheen of romanticism over those shortcomings like Vaseline on the lens of history.

The Subaru Crosstrek was not my first car—far from it. In fact, I’ve never owned one.

MORE: Read our full review of the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek

But that didn’t stop me from marrying more memories with the Crosstrek than any other car I can remember. I turned 30 years old in a Crosstrek and considered my career goals of working for The New York Times and becoming a war correspondent as being hopelessly unrealistic and probably underpaid. I turned 35 in the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek and considered career goals—generally speaking—to be hopelessly unrealistic altogether. In between those two events, I moved my girlfriend 500 miles over a mountain in a Crosstrek, found a new love for camping, and got a dog.

For the record, the dog has a name, but the cars never did.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive

2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive

Enlarge Photo
2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive

2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive

Enlarge Photo
2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive

2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive

Enlarge Photo

Same power, second chapter

Those are all events that are probably more relevant to the experience of being in a Crosstrek than the engine that powers the car. That doesn’t excuse the 152-horsepower 2.0-liter flat-4’s lack of grunt at highway speed. With four fewer horsepower on tap in the previous generation, we traversed the 10,662-foot Vail Pass summit while towing an 1,100-pound trailer—that’s the crux of that memory. That we did it slightly faster than walking pace is secondary. (The Crosstrek is one of the few compact SUVs rated to tow, albeit at scale. It can drag 1,500 pounds if you must.)

Base Crosstrek 2.0i models weigh just 4 pounds less than the outgoing model, which makes the added 4 hp to the Crosstrek’s power-to-weight ratio a slightly less significant rounding error. If you weren’t impressed by the last generation’s speed, chances are that your opinion won’t improve. Subaru doesn’t quote official 0-to-60 mph times because “about 10 seconds” doesn’t sound all that great.

There’s no coaxing the power out either. The engine is mated to either a 6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The former is for frugality, and the latter is for efficiency, since the CVT is actually the less thirsty of the two. The smooth uptake and sharp-shifting stick are nice for feeling, but lousy at drawing speed from the Crosstrek. Most of the engine’s power is on the low end, so constant shifts are required to keep it in its sweet-spot without strangling the overmatched mill. The smart money goes for the CVT, which is $1,000 on base and Premium trim, but standard on the Limited-trim cars. A wider spread and simulated gears help the CVT do its best impression of a livable gearbox, and it mostly succeeds.

A newly minted off-road program, dubbed X-Mode, a CVT-equipped Crosstrek can now scratch and claw its way up a reasonably sized hill or tricky terrain. In a South Dakota quarry, the 2018 Crosstrek managed an 18-degree downbubble through a steep decline, expertly modulated with hill-descent control.

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