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.