With a car-based design that's been buffed up and raised upward several inches, the 2013 Crosstrek is built to be ready for pretty much anything between perfect pavement and mild off-roading. And it's something of an everyday cross-trainer--good for the snow, a muddy track to a trailhead, a long road trip, or the daily commute.
Considering its toughness, you wouldn't exactly expect the 2013 Crosstrek to handle quite as well on the road. Yet it's quite crisp and athletic in the corners compared to most crossover alternatives. Tall and tipsy just isn’t part of this vehicle’s vocabulary. And the electric power steering is light but very nicely weighted. Aside from feeling that you are a few inches higher, 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.
Depending on whether you choose the CVT or the manual transmission, you still get a relatively different version of all-wheel drive. Automatic versions come with an electronically managed continuously variable transfer-clutch system, while manual Crosstreks come with a viscous-coupling all-wheel-drive system with locking center diff. As we’ve experienced in the past, both systems simply get the power to the surface—whatever that might be—but the system with manual-transmission models does tend to enforce the more direct, responsive driving feel.The powertrain isn't entirely disappointing, but it may be a sore point for those who need to load the family in for a long road trip. 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, this is not a sprightly or quick vehicle.
We like the manual-transmission version of the Crosstrek, as it can respond quicker when you need to tap into a burst of power in traffic. 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, the Crosstrek’s towing ability is impressive—in the sense that many vehicles in this class (like the Countryman and Juke) don’t have a tow rating at all, while the Subaru is rated at 1,500 pounds.
In fact, aside from feeling that you are a few inches higher because of between three and four 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.