What’s in a name?
For Subaru, its Impreza Sport hatchback starts at $21,095. But jack it up a few inches, drape it in sporty body cladding, substitute a Crosstrek nameplate and, voila, you can now charge an extra $500 or more. And it looks more refined for 2016, thanks to a redesigned black grille with chrome accents, new headlights, front bumper and fog light covers, accented in chrome.
Maybe it’s all just a fashionable affectation, but somehow, it seems to be money well spent.
After all, it doesn’t have the wimp factor of the Impreza Sport, thanks to an extra 3 inches of ground clearance. This lends the impression that the Crosstrek can easily traverse unimproved roads. It can, with a couple caveats. The first is that it lacks the underbody protection needed for serious off-road work, although it’s perfect for folks who face flooded roadways, muddy fields, unplowed snowy roads and other uncivilized driving conditions. The second is that despite having all-wheel drive, the car lacks a low-range gear for true boulder bashing.
So it’s more a foul-weather friend, albeit one dressed in the finest outdoor sports apparel.
Since the Crosstrek is basically an Impreza running around on its tiptoes, it’s little surprise that this buggy shares its double-overhead cam 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. There’s a choice of a five-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission, also known as a CVT. As in most Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard.
A hybrid model is also offered, but its added cost isn’t worth the money, given its fuel economy. Better to use the money that you save towards fuel.
My test car had the CVT, a $1,000 option that most buyers will opt for. A CVT differs from other automatic transmissions in that it constantly varies the gear ratio rather than choosing from among six, as in a six-speed automatic transmission. So, you’ll never feel it shift from first gear to second. But CVTs can cause a car to respond sluggishly at times, especially when asking for a burst of power. The Crosstrek didn’t feel all that quick. Asking for more power resulted in a momentary pause as the transmission found its footing before offering up the extra juice.
The flip side is that since the transmission is always in the ideal gear ratio, mileage is impressive for an all-wheel-drive car. CVT models are rated at 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway. In contrast, the five-speed models are rated at 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway.
But this is a small car at heart, so don’t be surprised by the Crosstrek’s wind, road and tire noise, or the vocal engine note when asked for more power.
The Crosstrek rides very firmly; you’ll experience the deteriorating state of our highways. Steering effort is nicely weighted, but lacking in road feel. Body lean is held in check in corners, and the car has an agile feel, despite the added ride height, although it never felt sporty. Braking is good.
Given that this platform is used for the high-performance WRX and STi, two models beloved by the fast and furious set, a little more of the feel of those cars in this one would be welcome.
The Crosstrek is offered in three trim levels: 2.0i, 2.0i Premium and 2.0i Limited. The test car, a 2.0i Premium model, had option package 14. For $1,995, buyers get the Starlink Multimedia Plus system with a larger 7-inch touchscreen, rather than the standard 6.2-inch display. And let’s face it, size matters when it comes to screens. Option package 14 also includes Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist safety system. For 2016, the package now includes blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert with lane change assist, along with adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning. Its software is intuitive to set up and use, and the onscreen buttons are easy to use.
The same could be said of the rest of the car. The instrument panel is shared with the Impreza and features simple rotary knobs for controlling climate.
Better yet, the cabin accommodations are very spacious for this vehicle’s size. The cloth seats are comfortably firm and supportive. Visibility is good in all directions, increasingly rare in an industry where small windows are considered fashionable. Cargo space is merely adequate, although usefully shaped. Thankfully, the split folding rear seats offer up even more.
Opting for the newest Crosstrek also brings additional refinements. Base models now have new standard 17-inch alloy wheels, an illuminated front console storage tray, and steering wheel audio and Bluetooth switches. The 2.0i Premium now has a standard leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift handle, and orange accent stitching throughout the cabin.
While no different than the Impreza Sport, the Crosstrek’s added ride height makes it the better choice for those who need it, and even for those who don’t.
And fashionistas, you know who you are.
Base prices: $21,595-$29,995
Engines: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; 3.6-liter V-6; 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged V-6
Torque: 145 pound-feet
Fuel type: Regular
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 26/34
Length: 175.2 inches
Cargo capacity: 22.3-51.9 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,109-3,208 pounds
NHTSA rating: Five stars