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Driven: The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport is a Fantastic All-Rounder

Thirty more horsepower means 100 percent better.

LOS ANGELES—A few years ago, I fell into an argument with an old roommate—an automotive engineer by trade—over some potential modifications of my 2005 Pontiac GTO. For a brief moment, I considered bolting long-tube headers and full exhaust to the 6.0-liter LS2 V-8, netting a predicted gain of between 20 and 30 horsepower. He argued it wasn't worth the effort and money involved; 30 hp is a 7.5 percent gain, what difference can that make? Well, meet the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Test: Quite a Big Difference, Actually

It's a shame he's a two-day drive from my current home in Los Angeles, or else I'd strap him into the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport I recently tested and take him for some white-knuckle, tire-smoking, eye-squishing highway pulls in the automaker's latest big-engined hot-rod. Alright, I'm exaggerating a bit—quite a bit, actually—but for 2021, Subaru did apply one of the most hallowed hot-rodding techniques to its outrageously popular compact crossover. For the new model year, both the Crosstrek Sport and the range-topping Crosstrek Limited now pack a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter FB25D flat-four shared with the Forester, Legacy, and Outback, boosting displacement by half a liter, power by 30 hp, and torque by 31 lb-ft to a total of 182 hp and 176 lb-ft.

Perhaps it's not the WRX-swap the Subaru diehards would kill for, but this shot-in-the-control-arm is more significant than it may seem on paper. Prior to the 2021 Sport and Limited, every Crosstrek buzzed around town and up cabin roads with the same 2.0-liter FB20 flat-four, regardless of trim or price. Though long considered one of the better compact crossovers on the market, both reviewers and owners dinged the first- and second-gen Crosstrek for its power and acceleration, or lack thereof.

 

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Test: Numbers Game

The hard numbers don't fall in Subie's favor, either. MotorTrend clocked the 0-60-mph run of its long-term Crosstrek at a molasses-like 9.0 seconds, and it felt every bit as sluggish out on the highway and up steep city inclines. Remember, the purpose of an SUV of any size is to carry people and things, and while you may scoff at us complaining about power and acceleration in something so far removed from performance intentions, think about how much that 2.0-liter suffers when loaded up with two passengers and some luggage.

Happily, the new 2.5-liter heart fixes this lethargy. MotorTrend got its hands on a Crosstrek Sport shortly before I slid behind the wheel, testing the new powertrain package at a more respectable and totally usable 7.8 seconds from 0-60 mph. Again, nothing barn-burning, but not only can you now noticeably scoot past traffic, but your load of passengers won't tap their feet and/or gasp in horror when you try to merge ahead of that semi.

If you're more interested in putting these extra horses to work in the dirt as one of the many "active lifestylers" that gravitate toward the Subaru brand, you'll be tickled pink to learn the new Sport trim offers a dual-mode version of the standard off-road X-Mode drive settings, now with Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud profiles that augment the throttle, transmission, the all-wheel drive system, traction control, and stability control.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Test: A Fantastic All-Rounder

Aside from the stuff mentioned above, plus a refreshed front fascia and new wheel designs, everything else is the same Crosstrek you're probably already fond of, considering it's already one of the best-selling SUVs in its segment. After a few days with a 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport and another few days with a Limited, I'm quite the fan of the updated Crosstrek myself; for most average households, it's a remarkable do-anything all-rounder. During my week-long combined stint with both trims, I used it as a typical crossover owner might, and while that might sound like a "no-duh" statement, it's relatively uncommon that I get the chance to experience a crossover or truck as it might regularly be used.

Case in point—I participated in the launch programs for both the current Forester and the current Outback, during which both SUVs were used only as either conveyance or in extreme use cases. During the Outback drive, we blazed a trail through some surprisingly rough fire/ATV roads, but not once did we haul passengers or have a pack of dogs jump in the back. The Forester drive was on some of North Carolina's better driving roads, but no kids were picked up from practice, and we didn't drop the rear seats flat to load the back with bags of mulch.

In the Crosstrek, I loaded it up with IKEA goodies, shuttled my roommate around town, picked up some houseplants, sold some old wheels and tires, and parked in tight inner-city lots, among other things. Refreshingly, the Crosstrek drives very much like the lifted Impreza hatchback it is, something most of the others in this slice of the SUV pie can't rightfully say. The Crosstrek is distinctly car-ish, with a great ride, satisfying steering, and above average handling. All this, and I fearlessly crashed through L.A. 's strange mid-road drainage ditches, ramped it over speed bumps, whipped into steep parking lot entrances, and didn't have to close my eyes and pray when I saw one of Interstate 405's more notoriously warped expansion joints.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Test: We're Fans

None of these are things I wouldn't have done in a similar crossover, but the Crosstrek just feels like such a complete package. There are a few drawbacks worth mentioning, though. Subaru's CVT is significantly less sloppy than it used to be, but there's noticeable engine thrash under any moderate acceleration due to the sustained medium-high revs. Brake pedal feel is disappointingly mushy, though braking itself was more than strong enough for the Crosstrek's intended use. I'd also like to see the dual-function X-Mode ported over to the Limited, but these are just little gripes that don't ruin the experience.

Overall, it's a great little SUV. That 20 percent boost in horsepower is just what the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport needed, though do keep in mind the base and Premium trims retain the same 2.0-liter flat-four as before. Even if you do stick with the 2.0-liter, the Subaru Crosstrek is one of the sharpest and most appealing compact crossovers you can buy.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Highlights

  • Crosstrek is now available with larger 2.5-liter flat-four
  • More power and torque: an additional 30 hp and 31 lb-ft
  • Same CVT, same all-wheel drive
  • Dual-function X-Mode off-road driving modes
  • One of the better compact crossovers in the segment
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $27,545/$29,145 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.5L DOHC 16-valve flat-4/182 hp @ 5,800 rpm, 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION Continuously variable automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE  27/34 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 176.5 x 71.0 x 63.6 in
WHEELBASE 104.9 in
WEIGHT 3,265 lb (Sport)
0-60 MPH  7.8 sec
TOP SPEED  130 mph (est)