Subaru learned long ago that a little extra ground clearance and a smidgen of rugged-look trim can do wonders for the popularity of small, four-wheel-drive cars. It’s little wonder, then, that the company is sending its latest Impreza in for what amounts to the Outback treatment.
Don’t look for the Outback name here, though, as the company’s product planners don’t want to confuse the now well-established image of their signature wagon/crossover. But don’t look for the Impreza name either, despite this car being essentially an Impreza hatchback that has been lifted and (mildly) restyled. In Europe (where the car will go on sale first), it’s the XV; in the United States, Subaru wanted it to have a name, like the brand’s other crossovers (Outback, Forester, Tribeca), so Subaru of America is calling it the XV Crosstrek.
1 out of 3 ain’t bad
Speaking of Europe, customers over there have a choice of three engines: a 1.6-liter boxer four, a 2.0-liter boxer four, and a 2.0-liter boxer turbodiesel. For us, though, it’s only the 2.0-liter gasoline engine. Recently introduced in the Impreza, it makes 148 hp and 145 pound-feet of torque.
We did take a turn in the 1.6-liter, and there’s nothing to be envious of with that one and its paltry 112 horsepower. Although we did not drive the turbodiesel, it does sound compelling, as it has nearly as much power as our 2.0-liter but gobs more torque (258 pound-feet). Subaru’s 0-62 mph times have the diesel out-dragging the 2.0-liter gas engine, and in the European fuel economy cycle, the diesel gets better mileage than the wimpy 1.6-liter.
More Europe envy
Our 2.0-liter will be offered with a choice of a CVT or a five-speed manual (Europeans get a six-speed stick). We drove the CVT, which has an auto stop/start system—that is, it does on Europe, but we’re not getting that either. That’s too bad, because the system works well. Even without auto stop/start, the Impreza hatchback notches a 27/36 mpg rating; official EPA figures aren’t yet available, but if Crosstrek, which is the mechanically identical, can get close to those numbers it would be doing extremely well.
One would hope the 2.0-liter will deliver good fuel economy, because it doesn’t exactly serve up blistering performance. Subaru’s 0-62 mph time is 10.7 seconds, with the CVT. Any request for acceleration forces the CVT to bring on the revs. There are shift paddles that can have the gearbox hold one of six preset ratios to make response more lively, but this is a car that wants at least the option of a turbocharged engine upgrade.
The chassis certainly seems like it could easily handle more power. In the hills of Tuscany, where we had our drive, the car felt nicely balanced—Subaru claims the Crosstrek has a lower center of gravity than any of its competitors. Snow tires fitted to our test cars gave up early on the damp pavement, but the car lets go in a mellow four-wheel slide. The winter rubber also did the steering no favors, but the electrically assisted system at least weights up nicely, although it relays little steering feel.
Get Higher, Baby
Compared to the Impreza, the Crosstrek’s signature change is its greater ride height. The body is raised by 3.3 inches, giving the car an additional 3 inches of ground clearance (for a total of 8.7 inches). The higher H-point also makes the car very easy to get into and out of. Space inside is very good for such a compact vehicle. The rear seat easily accommodates two adults, and the center section is comfortable enough for an occasional third. Up front, the low dash and thin pillars create an airy feeling. There’s also plenty of room to stash small items in the wide console. The dash is fairly simple and attractive, but the available navigation system sucks up all of the audio controls—save the volume knob—into the touch-screen. We’d prefer some physical buttons. Materials quality is not bad, and leather is available. The problem is that all of the interior comments could apply to the Impreza as well. There’s nothing in here to give the Crosstrek its own flavor—no special upholstery, no unique trim, no distinct equipment.
Standing out, or not
That’s also largely true on the exterior. Here the biggest change, beyond the ride height, is standard black-spoke, 17-inch wheels. Beyond that, we have restyled front and rear bumpers and the black cladding along the lower body. And that’s pretty much it, as far as the styling goes.
Subaru could do more to create a distinct identity for the Crosstrek. And it would be nice to get the latest and greatest powertrain items. But we suspect that even as it is, the Crosstrek will find a warm reception—particularly in the chilly states. The compact crossover market is blossoming—witness new entries like the Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman, and the booming popularity of slightly older nameplates like the Hyundai Tucson and the Kia Sportage.
A crossover with a lower price than a Forester and better fuel economy is likely to be well received when it arrives at Subaru stores next fall. The fact that an Impreza hatchback is essentially the same car for less money may not mean anything. After all, that was the case for the Legacy wagon, and it got blown out of the water by the almighty Outback.
Base price: $19,000 (estimated)
On sale: Fall 2012
Body style: 4-door crossover
Construction: Steel unibody
Engine: 16-valve DOHC H-4
Displacement: 2.0 liters
Power: 148 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 145 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Fuel economy: N/A
Steering: Electrically assisted
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Suspension, front: Damper struts, coil springs
Suspension, rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Discs, ABS
Wheels: 17×7 inch
L x W x H: 175.2 x 70.1 x 61.8 in
Wheelbase: 103.7 in
Cargo capacity: 22.5/52.4 cu ft (rear seats up/down)
Weight: 3020–3086 lbs
Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons