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First Drive: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Lovers of the Subaru WRX will hope the brand's latest, and remotely kindred, crossover is as raucous as the red-tailed tropicbird and as pertinacious as the Hawaiian petrel. We mention these species, the former of which is indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands while the latter is endemic, after going to Oahu's north shore to test the 2013 XV Crosstrek. We not only learned how limber the compact crossover is but also got sidetracked on the birds.

The Crosstrek goes on sale in September at a base price of $22,790 (including $795 in destination charges), adding new and affordable measures of sportiness and versatility to Subaru's lineup. Aimed at the Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke, the Crosstrek offers more overall capability and a different sense of style. It demonstrated perfectly nice manners on the John A. Burns Freeway, leading from Honolulu to Oahu's eastern shore, and on the spalled Kamehameha Highway tracing around to the north. The Crosstrek was quiet, rode fine, and offered an airy cabin. Yet, making an intermediate stop at the Kualoa Ranch, it clawed and scratched over shrubby, slippery slopes as readily as the mostly flightless Erckel's francolin, introduced from Africa in 1957.

Starting with the Impreza's platform, Subaru engineers, designers, and product planners came up with many improvements over that mere car. The marketing folks thought the result merited a new name over the global appellation of XV. (Besides which, XV was used more than three decades ago by a Super Bowl.) So Crosstrek was coined for North America. Of course this Pacific chain will use it, too.

Regrettably, we can't report any compelling news about the Crosstrek's powertrain besides fifty-state PZEV status. A 2.0-liter opposed four with active valve control, the only engine offered, makes 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, as in the Impreza. With the five-speed manual transmission, it returns 23/30 mpg. Most of the 12,000 to 15,000 buyers expected this year will choose the continuously variable transmission, which has steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters to emulate a six-speed gearbox; the return is 25/33 mpg. With the CVT, there's only what we would call a "center" and no edges; in particular, when the nose is pointing uphill on steep terrain, mashing the accelerator is only slightly more rewarding than finding, to your dismay, that you've stepped on a nesting blue-faced booby. Instead of wearing driving moccasins, we were shod with sport sandals that were better suited for bounding over the serrated surfaces of Oahu's basaltic rocks, and perhaps for this reason we found the throttle tip-in to be disconcertingly abrupt, resulting in a jerky launch from standstill in the beachside towns.

Standing 4.1 inches taller than the Impreza, the Crosstrek hides behind a rather undistinguished aero-optimized face. Following the roofline's delicate arc is more rewarding. The rear is buttressed by anti-drag corners, featuring boxy shapes that prevent the air from eddying. While overall we sense little of the human hand in this form, the result still isn't bad-looking. Unique colors -- orange and khaki, along with six shared ones -- combine with the standard roof rails and fender mudguards to cue up sportiness. Machine-finished, 17-inch black wheels add to the effect. If you don't see a tailpipe, that's because it's tucked behind the rear bumper for a 27.7-degree angle of departure to complement the 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

Inside, there are few differences from the Impreza, but the comfortable seats of the Premium model do have distinctive fabric and stitching while the Limited comes with leather. The instrument cluster is endemic to the Crosstrek, and the cargo area is sealed by a sturdy liner. The seating position itself strikes a nice compromise between the petrel's cliffside perch and the shearwater's scraped cavity in the sand. Maybe more important than anything, for whatever squawking or squalling you prefer, hands-free calling is standard along with iPod and USB ports.

The rats that came with Polynesian colonists to the Hawaiian Islands no later than 1300 years ago, gobbling up eggs and helping to wipe out nearly three dozen bird species, would find nothing terribly tantalizing in the Crosstrek's recipe: all-wheel drive, restricted mass (no more than 3197 lb in the fully loaded Limited model), and a suspension of MacPherson struts and lower L-link in front with rear double-wishbones, coils at each corner, and stabilizer bars at both ends.

Nevertheless, the chassis is nimble, handling responses are predictable, and the stride is longer than expected. The average person who stuffs the cargo area with one medium kennel, the contents of two shopping carts, or three golf bags would be startled by the Crosstrek's off-pavement capability. One of the few letdowns is the electrically assisted steering, which could use a brightening facial of nightingale droppings, available at a resort on nearby Maui. Additionally, with the CVT, rather than creeping, the car bounds downhill, and we had to ride the four-wheel disc brakes.

While Hawaii's native honeycreepers have had a terrible time dealing with civilization, the common myna, imported from India around the end of the Civil War, readily adapted to its new home, eating everything from fruit to reptiles. We see the Crosstrek filling a similar niche. As this new crossover demonstrates, omnivorousness has its virtues.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
DOHC 2.0-liter with variable valve timing
Power: 148 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 145 lb-ft @ 4200 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic with manual control mode
Drive: All-wheel

Electrically assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, Front: MacPherson strut with lower L-arm, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Suspension, Rear: Dual-wishbone with coil springs, stabilizer bar
Brakes: Four-wheel disc, front rotors ventilated, with ABS
Tires: P225/55R-17 all-season

L x W x H:
175.2 x 70.1 x 63.6 in
Wheelbase: 103.7 in
Track F/R: 60.0/60.0 in
Weight: 3087-3197 lb
Ground clearance: 8.7 in
Angle of approach: 18.0 degrees
Angle of departure: 27.7 degrees
Ramp breakover: 21.1 degrees
Cargo volume (rear seats up/down): 22.3/51.9 cu ft

0-60 MPH:
Top Speed: N/A
Towing: 1500 lb
EPA Mileage: 23/30 mpg with five-speed manual, 25/33 mpg with continuously variable automatic