- Mountain-goat all-wheel-drive agility
- Comfortable ride
- Compact maneuverability
- Good space for adults and cargo
- Good gas mileage for all models
- Mundane interior materials
- Below-average acceleration
- Tire and road noise at speed
The 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek is a small hatchback with an attitude, combining some extra capability with efficient engines and standard all-wheel drive.
It may have the profile of a compact hatchback, but the 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek is really a small utility vehicle that offers the benefits of an all-wheel-drive SUV in a smaller package. It has its roots in the Subaru Impreza five-door hatchback, which has been modified by boosting the ground clearance, beefing up the suspension and other mechanical parts, and adding fender flares and tougher-looking front and rear fascias along with a standard roof rack.
The result is a surprisingly distinct variant on the same sheetmetal that justifies its separate model name (although we wish Subaru would ditch the "XV" and just call it the Crosstrek, as everyone seems to when discussing the Japanese maker's smallest crossover utility vehicle). The Crosstrek arrived for the 2013 model year, with a hybrid version added for 2014 that makes up a small proportion of overall sales.
Those sales, by the way, are surging as U.S. buyers celebrate lower gas prices by loading up on utility vehicles and trucks. The Crosstrek has sold so well, in fact, that Subaru has had to sacrifice some supplies of standard (and less expensive) Imprezas to make room for all the utility versions its customers are snapping up.
The specs reinforce the Crosstrek's utility credentials. Ground clearance is raised to 8.7 inches, and the Crosstrek 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 model 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.
The XV Crosstrek has a ramped-up, rugged 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 other everyday cargo. 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.
The standard XV 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.
The Crosstrek Hybrid is Subaru's first gas-electric effort. The system only adds a mile mileage boost--it's a mild-hybrid system that only kicks in at 40 mph or less. But the real allure of the Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid model is a lengthy list of upgrades to its suspension and noise insulation that make it a considerably more pleasant car in which to spend time than the noisy, occasionally wandering conventional Crosstrek. The hybrid 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.
There's a lot that's appealing to a wide range of everyday needs here—like a smooth, refined ride that's a step above rival models like the Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and MINI Countryman. But we've found that the Crosstrek wanders easily at highway speeds, with numb steering and some susceptibility to crosswinds. It's 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. Non-hybrid models get some, but not all, of these changes for 2015—and we'll revisit this impression as soon as we've spent time in the 2015 XV Crosstrek.
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.
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 7.0-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.
For the 2015 model year, Subaru is offering its EyeSight accident-avoidance technology. It uses cameras to power lane-departure and collision warning systems. Subaru has also updated the infotainment offerings for 2015, with a 6.2-inch touch screen standard and a 7.0-inch screen with multi-touch gestures included on upper trim levels.
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.