AUTO REVIEW: Subaru Crosstrek Is an Affordable, AWD Running Shoe

By Henry Payne

Like the Joshua Tree, the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek comes properly equipped to survive in the desert. It packs the segment’s longest (500 mile) range and best fuel economy. (Henry Payne/The Detroit News/TNS)

JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, California (The Detroit News/TNS) — I’ve been driving a lot of fancy shoes around lately: the $94,000 Mercedes EQE, $63K Kia EV6 GT, $86K Ford F-150 Lightning and $105K Hummer EV SUV. As average transaction prices hover around $50,000 and the industry moves toward a premium business model to pad margins that finance EV development, new-vehicle prices are increasingly out of reach for many buyers.

So it was nice to slip into a sub-$30K running shoe this spring.

The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek’s unique design was inspired by athletic footwear and it looks the part. Frameless mesh grille, black cladding around the fender wells, diffuser running up the heel. I like it. And Crosstrek is also comfortable to run in.

I flogged it for hundreds of miles all over this stunning landscape east of California: Joshua Tree, Mojave Desert, Box Canyon, Salton Sea. This is Subie’s natural habitat and it’s built for the task. Like efficient Joshua Trees that need little water to survive in the arid desert, Crosstrek features the best MPG in the subcompact SUV segment. With a nearly 17-gallon fuel tank, my tennis shoe could run for 500 miles. No wonder Subie customers are shy to $50,000 EVs with limited, 200-mile range.

I left Palm Springs early in the morning with two-thirds of a tank of gas, backpack and picnic lunch for a day of sightseeing. I could have brought a lot more.

My $27,490 Premium tester comes standard with a big rubber mat in back so you can throw in all kinds of equipment — and bring it back wet and muddy — without scarring the cloth floor beneath. The front doors have been carved out to handle tall 24-ounce bottles, and rear door sills have foot pads so you can access the roof’s robust rails. The rails can be laced up (I’m milking this shoe analogy) to hold a pile of equipment on the roof.

Equipment, like a kayak to explore the Salton Sea or camping gear or trail bikes to explore the desert where the asphalt ends. Or you can just keep driving the ‘Ru. Subaru just introduced a rugged Wilderness edition with all-terrain tires, but the standard model is fine, thanks. Crosstrek comes standard with all-wheel drive and X-Mode so you can take on foreign elements like sand and snow.

In the Mojave, I explored some well-traveled ATV trails. I poked the X-Mode button at the top of the huge 11.6-inch vertical console screen and scrambled around the dusty paths, the drivetrain distributing grip to the tires most in need of traction. Most impressively, X-mode sensed extreme downhill sections and automatically set Hill Descent Control. This clever tool worked as a sort of low-speed, off-road adaptive cruise control so I could concentrate on the task of avoiding rocks. If I did place a wheel wrong, a full spare was ready under the rear deck.

With standard all-wheel-drive and a stiffened chassis, the 2024 Subaru Crosstrek wants to take you anywhere. (Henry Payne/The Detroit News/TNS)

This electronic wizardry is impressive on a sub-$30K vehicle and is another example of how the digital revolution has reduced the gap between luxury and mainstream chariots.

Another example is wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, which comes standard with my Premium model’s big screen (the base $26K model has old-school wired smartphone apps), so you can set your destination on Google Maps in your phone, jump into the car and Subie will recognize your phone and project it on the big screen.

I’d recommend the $1,200 step to the Premium trim over the base model (which doesn’t get the big screen/wireless CarPlay enhancement) for this reason, and because Premium gets roof rack rails.

Mrs. Payne — who owns an Impreza hatchback, Crosstrek’s hatchback sedan twin that receives a similar interior update for 2024 — will be thrilled by this. She’ll also be thrilled by the obsessive attention to detail throughout. Subaru is proud of its high customer loyalty, and product planners seem to have been living in our living room.

My wife and I have complained about Subaru’s adaptive cruise control. So — voila! — it’s been improved so I could toggle the steering-wheel button and increase my speed by 1 mph increments. Want to increase speed by 5 mph increments? Loooong button hold. A third, wide-angle camera has been added behind the rear-view mirror to better track cars at the periphery of the EyeSight system. If you accidentally turn into a car in your blind-spot, Subaru says sensors will avoid the imminent collision by steering you back into your lane.

The Mojave’s stunning scenery seems endless.

Through Box Canyon near the Salton Sea, I took the cane to the ‘Ru’s Boxer engine and rode it through the twisties. The Crosstrek is no Mazda CX-30 (my favorite-handling SUV in class), but the Subie has improved with a smoother drivetrain thanks to upgraded engine mounts and CVT transmission. Under hard throttle, the engine buzzes but the redesigned Crosstrek’s cabin is stuffed with more insulation so the noise doesn’t penetrate too much. With a paltry 142 pound-feet of torque in the base engine (a peppier 2.5-liter is available on upper Sport and Limited trims), the engineers concentrated on the chassis, which has been stiffened by 20%. The suspension has been upgraded, and the seat bolted directly to the frame for less driver toss.

Evidence of budget savings to maintain the Ru’s value (even as it loads up on state-of-the-art electronics) is visible.

Crosstrek doesn’t offer a heated steering wheel, or a digital instrument display, or fancy console materials. Seat-heater controls and instrument display are little changed from the last-gen model. Nevertheless, soft materials are in the right places (think armrest covers for my pointy elbows) and the Subaru looks like nothing else.

Like the other adventure bot in class, the Jeep Renegade, Crosstrek will attract upscale, budget-conscious customers who appreciate the brand’s unique style while not having to drop another $15K for the badge. Crosstrek has added three stylish colors for 2024, including a cool clay-blue shade called Offshore Blue Metallic that’s less outgoing than my red tester.

Buy a hip, 2024 ‘Ru over a comparably-equipped BMW X1 and you’ll save 12 grand. You can spend the money you save elsewhere. Like the Indian Wells Masters tennis tournament here west of Coachella. It’s a perfect place to take your big sneaker on wheels.

You didn’t think I was going to end this column without another shoe analogy, did you?

2024 Subaru Crosstrek

Vehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive five-passenger SUV

Price: $26,290, including $1,295 destination fee ($27,490 Premium model as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter Boxer 4-cylinder; 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cylinder

Power: 152 horsepower, 145 pound-feet of torque (2.0L); 182 horsepower, 178 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.2 seconds (mfr.); towing, 1,500 pounds

Weight: 3,296 pounds (Premium as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 27 mpg city/34 highway/29 combined (2.0L); 26 mpg city/33 highway/29 combined (2.5L)

Report card

Highs: Unique styling; standard features galore, starting with AWD

Lows: Low-torque base engine; no heated steering wheel option

Overall: 4 stars

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