In its second year on the market, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek continues as a bona fide success for the small Japanese maker of all-wheel-drive cars. The high-riding hatchback compact crossover seems to appeal to a lot of buyers who don't want the bulk of "compact" crossover wagons that get ever larger.
New this year is Subaru's first-ever hybrid model, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid. It'll arrive at the end of the year, and promises to find an audience among the brand's often progressive, outdoorsy buyers--many of whom have likely asked for years, "When can I buy a hybrid Subaru?"
The 2014 XV Crosstrek remains an Impreza hatchback underneath, but with more ground clearance, larger wheels and tires, more rugged styling, and a handful of mechanical updates to toughen its performance. It looks brawny but stays compact, it retains the practicality of a hatchback but rides higher, it handles like a car on the road but tolerates rougher off-road conditions, and its cargo space, gear storage, and versatility--plus Subaru's characteristic all-wheel drive--make it remarkably useful under conditions that vary from the mall to the ski slopes, or the beach to the trailhead.
From the outside, the Subaru Crosstrek has a stance surprisingly different from its Impreza base vehicle. Larger wheels and tires and that elevated ride height change its look, and outdoorsy and off-road-oriented style cues--many functional, others perhaps intentionally, resembling outdoor gear or clothing--don't read "compact hatchback" to the eye. Inside, changes are limited to different seat upholstery and a handful of superficial style cues.
The actual ground clearance of a 2014 Crosstrek is 8.7 inches, roughly equivalent to that of the much larger Subaru Outback--and far higher than most crossovers. Mechanical changes include some reinforcements to the body structure, better engine cooling, and front end body panels--both fenders and grille and fascia--that are unique to the XV line. The approach and departure angles are 18 and 28 degrees, respectively, meaning it's perfectly suited for New England snow, Northwestern rock trails, and of course those muddy soccer fields and parking lots well-known to suburban parents of kids who do "active sports" like lacrosse.
Few Subaru mass models are truly speedy, but the Impreza feels slightly underpowered. A fully-loaded XV Crosstrek Limited weighs 3,200 pounds, and the 148 horsepower from its 2.0-liter flat-hour engine is just a little shy on oomph. The five-speed manual gearbox makes the car more fun to drive, at the expense of fuel economy: the Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT), one of the better CVTs we have driven, is rated at 28 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) against the 26 mpg of the manual (23 city, 30 highway).
The new-for-2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid model inserts a 10-kilowatt (13-hp) electric motor between the engine and the CVT. It stores energy in a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack located under the cargo deck, which cuts 1.7 cubic feet out of the rear cargo volume. The entire system adds about 300 pounds to the Crosstrek's weight, and projected fuel efficiency ratings are 31 mpg combined (28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway). The Crosstrek Hybrid also has visually unique 17-inch alloy wheels, an active grille shutter to cut aerodynamic drag at speed, and various "Hybrid" badges.
On the road, the XV Crosstrek handles nimbly, and soaks up harshness even from gravel roads and rocky trails. The ride is more refined than those of rivals like the MINI Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Nissan Juke. Its Achilles' Heel turns out to be high-speed highway travel, where certain types of coarse pavement produce substantial tire noise. At highway speeds, the Crosstrek also doesn't track as straight as we'd have liked, and proves itself far more vulnverable to crosswinds than the lower Impreza on street tires.
Inside, the Crosstrek offers pleasant and modern cabin accommodations that will be familiar to owners of previous-generation Subarus. Adults can get in and out of the back comfortably, thanks to wide-angled doors and an opening that's been enlarged over earlier Imprezas.The higher price of the Crosstrek means that its sturdy, no-nonsense interior trims and materials are just average, though. And the trip-computer and audio display interfaces already feel clunky and dated--though audio quality has rarely been a deciding factor in the purchase of an all-wheel-drive Subaru.
The rear seats flip forward to create a flat cargo bay, and a sturdy rubber cargo tray with edges almost an inch high can be hosed off and keeps the carpet from getting stained by slush, hiking gear, peat moss, mud, gravel, oil, or whatever else owners may carry in their Crosstreks. There's also a roof rack fitted as standard equipment, which can carry up to 150 pounds of gear in a wide variety of accessory and aftermarket cargo carriers.
The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek starts around $22,000, and at that level, the value equation is strong. All Crosstreks start with the Premium trim level--there's no base trim--and come with air conditioning, power accessories, cruise control, and keyless entry. Of course, the brand's all-wheel drive is a standard fitting on every Crosstrek as well.
Move up to the top-level Limited trim, and you'll add leather upholstery, leather shift-knob and steering-wheel trim, automatic climate control, and a fold-down rear-seat armrest with cupholders for rear passengers. The Limited model's audio system includes a 4.3-inch display screen, HD Radio, and a rearview camera. Options include a navigation system built into the same display, including voice control, XM NavTraffic, and the ability to receive text messages.
- 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
- 2014 MINI Countryman
- 2014 Subaru Forester
- 2014 Jeep Compass
- 2013 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
The toughest competition for the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek, may be Subaru's other compact crossover, the Forester. All-new for 2014, the latest Forester is quieter, more fuel-efficient, and has a nicer interior and more usable acceleration than the older model. Among other brands, the MINI Cooper Countryman is the most car-like, but its chaotic interior ergonomics and harsh ride hurt it. At the highest end of the scale, the Range Rover Evoque costs tens of thousands of dollars more, but provides good on-road handling and substantial off-road trail ability--with more power and better performance. Two older competitors, the Jeep Compass and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, are both quite inexpensive, but don't have Subaru's reputation for sturdiness and long life. The Jeep is noisier inside and even after an interior redesign, it stills feels low-budget inside. The Outlander Sport handles quite well, but it too isn't up to snuff in interior fit, finish, trim, or materials.