2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Review

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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
August 7, 2014

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek is an equal-opportunity hatchback, with agility for Snow Belt commuters and outdoor adventurers alike.

In its sophomore year on the market, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek gains a new powertrain option and remains the king of the new category it defined: You might call the compact-hatchback all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle. Beefier tires, elevated ground clearance, and suspension and mechanical upgrades turn what starts as a base Impreza five-door hatchback into a startlingly different-looking vehicle. The transformation is aided by body cladding and other styling changes, and a new color palette that no longer says, "sensible compact car."

The new powertrain is the first-ever Subaru hybrid, though in the real world, it has a pretty minimal impact on fuel economy--it's a mild-hybrid system that only kicks in at 40 mph or less. But the real allure of the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid model is a lengthy list of upgrades to its suspension and noise insulation that make the hybrid a considerably more pleasant car in which to spend time than the noisy, occasionally wandery conventional Crosstrek.

The Crosstrek range can be considered in the same vein as a good pair of cross-trainer shoes: sufficiently sturdy to handle a variety of different uses, but not specialized to any one particular duty cycle at the expense of any others.

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The XV Crosstrek has a brawny appearance that's surprisingly different in stance from its Impreza hatchback base. But with the exception of some extra noise and more vague on-road behavior, it still handles pretty much like a passenger car--and it offers versatile and impressive cargo capacity for ski gear, camping supplies, or just groceries and boxes. Subaru also notes that the hybrid version's battery pack is stowed under the deck, meaning that its cargo volume is largely unchanged from the conventional version.

Specifically, the Crosstrek's ground clearance is raised to 8.7 inches, and it has more engine cooling, a larger gas tank, some suspension and structural reinforcements, and good approach and departure angles (18 degrees and nearly 28 degrees, respectively). With Subaru's standard all-wheel drive distributing power among all four wheels, the Impreza-based crossover might be one of the best small vehicles for snowy driveways and dirt, gravel, and rutted roads.

The standard 2014 Subaru Crosstrek comes with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter flat-four engine paired either with a five-speed manual gearbox or Subaru's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The new hybrid powertrain inserts a small 10-kilowatt (13.4-hp) electric motor between the engine and CVT, though it's there largely to assist the engine and can propel the vehicle from a stop on electricity alone only if you're willing to accelerate very, very gently--and there's no one behind you.

Subaru says the Crosstrek Hybrid can move away from a stop electrically, "under certain circumstances," which is true, and it also kicks into electric-only mode under light loads and on downhill stretches from as high as 40 mph. Still, it operates much like Honda's mild-hybrid system--meaning it's there largely to restart the engine, capture braking energy to recharge the nickel-metal-hydride battery pack, and otherwise add supplementary torque so the gasoline engine doesn't have to work as hard.

The standard 2014 XV Crosstrek has a smooth, refined ride that's a step above rival models like the Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and MINI Countryman. But our road test found that it also wandered easily at highway speeds, it was nervous and hard to keep on line, the steering was numb, and it was quite susceptible to crosswinds. It was also astoundingly noisy on certain rough types of pavement. The hybrid model has five upgrades to its front suspension and a dozen improvements to noise and vibration insulation--which together pretty much cure those problems. Subaru hasn't said if the non-hybrid model will get those same changes, though.

Below 50 mph, handling is surprisingly nimble, and the Crosstrek rides well and soaks up harshness from trails and gravel roads with great competence. It's not particularly quick, with less than 150 hp moving more than 3,200 pounds for a fully-loaded Crosstrek Limited. The five-speed manual feels more agile, against an occasional lag in power delivery with the CVT. But gas mileage is excellent for a crossover (the best in the class, really), at up to 28 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) with the CVT. It falls to 26 mpg combined, or 23 mpg city/30 mpg highway, with the manual. The hybrid improves on that a bit, at a combined 31 mpg rating (28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway)--not as much as hybrid buyers may expect--although we failed to see any real-world improvement over the CVT-equipped Crosstrek in a road test of almost 500 miles.

The cabin of the XV Crosstrek is largely the same as the Impreza, with some changes to fabrics, meaning adults can get in and out of all four doors and four of them will fit fine front and rear. All models include a rubberized cargo tray that's easily removed and hosed off, and the electronic-circuit pattern stamped into the rubber of the hybrid's tray is a nice touch. The roof rack on all models is standard and can carry up to 150 pounds. Crosstrek models come rated to tow up to 1,500 pounds, too. Materials and trims are only average for this price range, though, perhaps fitting Subaru's utilitarian image. Some interfaces for audio and trip-computer displays also feel clunky and outdated.

With a starting price around $22,000, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Premium (the lowest trim level) is a strong value. The Hybrid starts around $25,000. Then there's the Limited model, the more upscale trim level. That adds leather upholstery, leather shift-knob and steering-wheel trim, automatic climate control, and a fold-down rear-seat armrest with cupholders. All Crosstreks come with keyless entry, air conditioning, power accessories, and cruise control, as well--of course--as all-wheel drive. They also get a step-up display audio system with 4.3-inch screen, rear camera and HD Radio, and a navigation system with XM NavTraffic, voice control, and text-messaging ability is optional. Adding options and the mandatory delivery fee can push that up toward $28,000, however, which brings the Crosstrek into competition with more traditional compact crossovers, and the top-of-the-line Crosstrek Hybrid just crosses $30,000.

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2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Styling

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek appears to be a compact five-door hatchback that's been butched up--and, essentially, it is.

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek manages to look remarkably different than the Impreza hatchback on which it's based. The makeover comes courtesy of a much taller stance, larger alloy wheels, a slightly restyled front end, and body cladding that together transform it into a much tougher little crossover. The look is off-road-oriented and outdoorsy, backed up by a considerable ability to handle bad weather and marginal roads and trails.

The lower-body cladding accentuates the 8.7-inch ground clearance--almost 4 inches higher than the Impreza--and raises the whole vehicle's profile, capped by a tough-looking roof rack that's a standard fitting on every Crosstrek. A palette of brighter colors, including an almost-lime green and a tangerine orange, stand in bright contrast to the silver, white, black, and maroon of the more pedestrian Impreza line.

The interior is largely the same as the Impreza, though some trim differs and the seats have a more rugged upholstery material. In general, the dashy is sporty but straightforward, a good mix of utilitarian and dashing. Simple, straight-across lines maximize interior volume, and Subaru's traditional analog instrument cluster and steering-wheel controls keep driver focused on the basics.

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2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Performance

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek is one of the most capable small cars for a variety of tough roads and climates, but it can run out of power when you may need it.

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek, now in its second year, has been an unexpected success for Subaru, which is now cutting back on standard Impreza sales to get more Crosstreks from the factory. The Crosstrek is essentially an Impreza hatchback that's been raised considerably, given bigger wheels and tires, a larger gas tank, and bigger front brakes--plus assorted reinforcements and strengthening to make it tougher in off-road conditions.

It's capable of anything from smooth pavement to mild off-roading, and good for any combination of torrential rain, blizzards, muddy tracks, gravel mountain roads, or for that matter, your daily commute. It also has good approach and departure angles (of 18 degrees and nearly 28 degrees, respectively), and with its all-wheel-drive system, which is always sending power to all four wheels, we think it might be one of the best vehicles yet for snowy roads and driveways.

It doesn't handle as well as the lower Impreza, but compared to most all-wheel-drive compact crossovers (except perhaps Subaru's own Forester), it's relatively crisp and athletic in corners. It's taller than the Impreza--with 8.7 inches of ground clearance--but it doesn't feel tippy at all. Subaru's electric power steering is light to use, but crisply weighted, and overall the Crosstrek feels like driving a car, rather than a taller small crossover. Nonetheless, it can tow up to 1,500 pounds, while some competitors--the Mini Cooper Countryman, Nissan Juke, and Jeep Compass, for example--have no rated tow capacity at all.

Two transmissions are available--a five-speed manual gearbox or Subaru's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which remains one of our favorite of the breed--and the all-wheel-drive hardware varies accordingly. Manual Crosstreks come with a viscous-coupling all-wheel-drive system with locking center differential, while CVT versions come with an electronically managed continuously variable transfer-clutch system. Both send power to the wheels with the most grip, but the manual-gearbox version provides a more direct, connected driving feel.

That said, the Crosstrek isn't particularly fast. Its 2.0-liter flat-four engine produces only 148 horsepower, and it has roughly 3,200 pounds in a loaded Crosstrek Limited. The torque peak of 145 lb-ft isn't reached until 4,200 rpm, so the car is neither sprightly nor fast. The manual version responds more quickly when a burst of power is needed, but the Lineartronic CVT is more fuel-efficient--you decide which is more important.

Under light to medium loads, the CVT delivers nonchalant acceleration, but when you floor it, the powertrain loses its composure for a moment, revving the engine high up into its range, but producing more noise than added thrust. The system's control logic causes the CVT to bog down for a second or two if you floor it, before letting the revs rise, and it remains just as quick if you ease into a full-throttle takeoff. CVT drivers have a workaround, though, in the form of six pre-set ratios built into the steering-wheel paddle-shifters.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid adds a 10-kilowatt (13.4-hp) electric motor between a specially tuned version of the 2.0-liter engine and the CVT, with its battery pack located under the rear deck floor at a cost of just 1.7 cubic feet of cargo space lost. On the road, the Hybrid switches off its engine at stops, and while the motor is less powerful than those in most other hybrids, its 48 lb-ft of torque can move the car from a stop using all-electric acceleration if the driver has a very gentle foot--and no other cars following. It also provides regenerative braking to recharge the battery, using otherwise wasted energy, at speeds up to 40 mph.

With the added weight of the hybrid system, Subaru has fitted special lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels and automatic grille shutters to the Crosstrek Hybrid, helping it achieve a combined gas-mileage rating of 31 mpg--the highest of any Impreza or XV Crosstrek model. We didn't see a real-world difference between the regular CVT and the Hybrid Imprezas in our tests, which had more highways speeds than around-town stop-and-go traffic.

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2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Comfort & Quality

Despite an interior that's more utilitarian than stylish, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek is comfortable and has surprising and practical interior space.

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek may be the triumph of capability over luxe. The brand is known for its workmanlike, all-wheel-drive cars and crossovers, and if you're okay with utilitarian and not in need of lavish luxury looks, the Crosstrek will suit you well. Toward the higher end of the range, though, the Crosstrek's cabin strains a little to live up to the top-end price tags.

Seating is upright and accommodates four adults comfortably. The driver's seat adjusts for height as well as sliding and reclining. The rear seat is well contoured for adults, and a small knob on the outside top corners of the 60/40 split rear seat back make it easy to flip forward from inside the car. Unless the front seats have been moved as far back as they'll go, in fact, you can do it with one arm.

Subaru says the Crosstrek's cargo space wasn't designed to maximize cargo-volume statistics, but to fit actual gear that its buyers use every day. After spending time with the Crosstrek and crawling around the rear, we're inclined to agree. The load bay is pleasantly box-like, with a flat, wide cargo floor without intrusive strut towers. A removable rubber tray in the main cargo area cleans off--or hoses down--easily, and there's a sturdy roof rack that will carry up to 150 pounds in addition. The new-for-2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid model sacrifices less than 2 cubic feet of cargo volume to fit the battery pack under the load floor.

The ride quality of the XV Crosstrek is good on everything from smoothly-surface highways to choppy two-lane country roads. There's little pitching or jarring on rocky trails or potholed tracks. Perhaps due to its elevated height, however, there's noticeable nose-dive on hard braking--more than you'll find in almost any other car or crossover--and a noticeable rebound as the car comes to a stop. But with larger-diameter front disc brakes than the civilian Impreza, the Crosstrek stops confidently and offers a reassuringly solid pedal feel.

It's not all good news, though; we found the Crosstrek susceptible to cross winds, and on certain road surfaces, it wandered slightly, requiring constant corrections to the steering to keep it centered in its lane. Moreover, on rougher concrete or asphalt highways, the interior noise level rose dramatically--enough to require raised voices to keep the conversation going. We suspect it's due to the much taller tires fitted to the Crosstrek against those of the Impreza, in which we had no complaints about road noise.

The new-for-2014 Hybrid model gets a dozen improvements to suppress noise and vibration, along with five separate upgrades to its front suspension. Together, they make it by far the most pleasant Crosstrek to drive. The high-speed wandering, susceptibility to sidewinds, and general nervousness we noticed in the conventional model is largely gone, though the steering remains somewhat numb. And it's far quieter on rough road surfaces--courtesy of added damping and insulation in eight different areas, new engine mounts, an insulation layer inside the windshield, and even a thicker front floorpan stamping. Subaru wouldn't comment on whether these changes would be added to conventional Crosstrek models as well; we certainly hope they are.

Interior materials are basic, though hardly unpleasant. They've evolved from those Subaru used 10 years ago, but again, the word utilitarian comes to mind. Subarus are tools for drivers who use their cars for more varied and tougher tasks than your average commuter car, and the finishes and trim reflect that--almost like a Jeep. The dashboard is topped with a soft-touch surface, however, which brings better first impressions--though we found the material almost sticky in hot or humid climates.

9

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Safety

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek is an IIHS Top Safety Pick, with top scores on all tests, and gets the highest overall NHTSA rating too.

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek is fundamentally an Impreza hatchback, with some reinforcements to suspension and body structure, plus a ride height almost 4 inches taller than the Impreza it's based on.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) deems the 2014 XV Crosstrek a Top Safety Pick, awarding it the top rating of "good" in every test it conducted, including both small- and moderate-overlap front crash, plus side- and rear-impact testing, as well as roof crush. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has given the XV Crosstrek four stars for frontal crash and rollover safety, on the other hand, but it earns five stars (the highest rating) for side impact, and in the Overall rating.

Outward visibility from inside the XV Crosstrek is much better than in most other crossover vehicles, due to its reasonably low beltline, relatively thin pillars front and rear, and enough rear and rear-side glass to give you a wrap-around view. Subaru has also added rollover sensors for the side-curtain bags to all Crosstreks; that's a feature the Impreza doesn’t get.

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2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Features

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek is affordable and smartly optioned, though its infotainment is far from state of the art.

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek provides standard all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance in a compact five-door hatchback body that has pretty much all the amenities of its sibling, the lower and more citified Impreza hatchback. There are two trim levels, with the lesser Premium model starting at just $21,995.

That base Crosstrek includes standard air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, keyless entry, and a rear cargo tray that can be removed to hose it off, along with a roof rack that'll hold up to 150 pounds of cargo. The base audio system includes audio streaming and hands-free voice commands, courtesy of Bluetooth, along with iPod connectivity and a USB jack, but its small sizes limits the number of characters visible at any time, so finding the songs you want can be tricky.

Move up to the XV Crosstrek Limited model, and you get automatic climate control; leather upholstery, shift knob, and steering wheel; and a rear-seat armrest that folds down to provide cupholders. On top of that, the audio system gets HD radio and a 4.3-inch display screen, plus a rear-view camera for backing up.

An optional navigation system adds a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, plus satellite radio, real-time traffic data, voice control, and text messaging capability. Newly added for 2014 is Aha infotainment and smartphone integration as part of this option. We're still not big fans of this system, however, because its small display and unintuitive interface give the whole thing a distinctly aftermarket feel. Oddly, the SD slot on its face cannot be used for media; you have to revert to the USB jack for that.

Finally, the top-level XV Crosstrek model is the Hybrid, which starts at $25,995. It adds a color multi-function display that shows the energy flow of the hybrid powertrain. All Crosstrek Hybrids come standard with the All-Weather Package that bundles heated front seats, heated mirrors, and a de-icer for the windshield wipers. The rearview camera is also standard, and the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid Limited model--to give it its full name--adds the same suite of Limited options as on gasoline models, plus a power moonroof.

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2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Fuel Economy

With a new hybrid model, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek now offers 31 mpg combined--high for an AWD crossover.

The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek now includes a new hybrid model, Subaru's first-ever, and the new model manages to boost the Crosstrek's fuel-economy ratings above those of the most efficient Impreza hatchback--the model on which the jacked-up hatchback is based.

Specifically, the 2014 Crosstrek Hybrid is rated at 31 mpg combined (29 mpg city, 33 mpg highway), against the base Impreza's 30 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 36 mpg highway) when fitted with Subaru's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is the only transmission option in the hybrid. The non-hybrid Crosstrek comes in lower, at 28 mpg combined with the CVT and 26 mpg combined with the standard five-speed manual gearbox.

These are still quite good numbers for five-door vehicles fitted with all-wheel drive, though the Crosstrek doesn't have the storage capacity of a compact crossover like the Subaru Forester. We'd also note that CVT versions of all Subarus get better mileage than the manual in real-world driving; in a limited first drive we saw nearly 30 mpg in mixed conditions. Notably, however, we saw little improvement over the standard model when driving the new Hybrid over several hundred miles, although admittedly our test included a majority of highway speeds during which the hybrid system doesn't play a role.

Still, if you're looking for the greenest Crosstrek, the hybrid is the model to have--although supplies may be limited during this introductory year, and at $25,995, the price is $4,000 higher than the most basic non-hybrid Crosstrek. The top-of-the-line Crosstrek Hybrid Touring, in fact, just passes the $30,000 mark when delivery is included--a healthy increase of almost $8,000 over the entry-level Crosstrek.

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August 23, 2015
2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek 5-Door Automatic 2.0i Premium

Most beautiful compact SUV in the market

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it's the best. I wish a little bit longer for carry most stuff.
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June 17, 2015
2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek 5-Door Automatic 2.0i Limited

Move from VW Passat w/All-Wheel Drive to Subaru Crosstrek

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Overall, I really like the Crosstrek. The shift from a fully loaded European styled sedan has taken some getting used to. I drove my VW Passat for nearly 240,000 miles and most people thought it still looked... + More »
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May 12, 2015
2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek 5-Door Automatic 2.0i Limited

Love it!!!

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We moved out to the country so I needed a reliable 4 wheel drive car... this car fits the bill and so much more. It's extremely comfortable to drive, reliable, and looks so sharp! I'm always recommending it to... + More »
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April 20, 2015
For 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Impreza vs. XV Crosstrek

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I got my 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek brand new from the dealership. After comparing many cars that fell within a certain price range and fuel economy, I have narrowed it down to either the Subaru Impreza or XV... + More »
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