On the Road Review: Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

We have seen this act before.

It worked to perfection, too, so why so long for part II?

Not the hybrid iteration, of course, but the beefy, rugged version of a plain Jane model that morphs into a kind of ‘supercar’ and instills pride, performance, and far greater sales than the model upon which it is based.

{gallery}xvhybrid{/gallery} We are talking of course about the original Outback Wagon, that 1990s explosion that led to Subaru’s current path of expansion, model growth, and profitability. Subaru struggled to string enough Legacy wagon sales together to make much difference against then-rivals Volvo, Saab, and even Honda had a wagon back then.

However, when the Outback wagon debuted, all of that changed. A little higher riding chassis, some beefier looking body panels, slightly larger wheels plus the premise of some off-roading capabilities led buyers into Subaru dealer showrooms in ever-rising numbers. The Outback became America’s favorite station wagon.

An attempt was later made to increase lowly Impreza sales with a half-hearted Outback Sport edition, but the execution was not as successful as the original Outback Wagon and the effort was shelved. Until two years ago.

When the redesigned Impreza debuted recently, it spawned a revised WRX/STI platform (this year) plus a model called the XV Crosstrek. The XV is actually 5 inches shorter than the Impreza, 175 to 180 inches, 3 inches wider, 82 to 79 inches, but rides atop the same 108-inch wheelbase. Yet visually, the two siblings are anything but alike. The XV, like the first Outback, is bolder looking, much more expressive in style, substance, and even color selections than the Impreza upon which fundamentals are shared. One can only assume that Subaru has found the DNA formula, again, that led to the original Outback’s success.

Until this year, the Outback Wagon has been Subaru’s top-selling model for almost two decades. The compact Forester CUV passed the Outback this year. However, if you add the sales of the Impreza and its sibling XV Crosstrek, this line tops all of the other Subaru products. Subaru’s formula is proving so successful, that this is one of the auto industry’s hottest performing brands, working on its sixth straight year of double-digit growth. Subaru is now America’s number 10 selling brand overall, edging past GMC, Ram, Volkswagen, Mercedes and Mazda.

To finesse the XV Crosstrek further, Subaru has added a mild-hybrid version for this year. You get a small battery pack, a small electric motor and a small boost in power to 160 hp overall, up 12 hp from the conventional 2.0-liter boxer four’s output. You also get an automatic stop/start system to improve city fuel economy ratings — by three mpg. Still in its infancy, stop/start operates with varying degrees of proficiency between the various automakers employing this engineering design — some systems are more seamless than others. In essence, stop/start turns off the engine when you sit for more than a second or two at stop signs, stoplights or other flow interruptions so that the engine does not idle needlessly. Your car’s other systems — audio, climate, navigation — still function, but the engine is off while your foot rides the brake pedal.

Step off the brake pedal and back to the accelerator and the engine refires instantly. Maybe not always smoothly, but instantly. For you left foot brakers, you may not gain as much benefit from stop/start as other drivers.

The XV hybrid performs just like the regular Crosstrek in all other driving endeavors. Acceleration is about the same, power running through a CVT automatic to further ensure peak efficiency, so drivers shouldn’t choose the hybrid looking for more passing power over the base powertrain. There is a small gain in overall torque — one of the attributes of an electric motor — so the XV Hybrid does feel a bit more relaxed at a highway speed pace.

The rest of the Crosstrek is unchanged. Same interesting palette of exterior paint choices, same composed and balanced ride and driving dynamics as the regular XV, and the same comfortable, people-friendly interior space. Ingress and egress is a strong virtue — convenient and smooth no matter what size the human is, while the back seat is suitable for real adults and the hatchback efficiently hides 23 cubic feet of cargo room that is easily expanded by flipping the split-folding seatbacks forward. Same principles as the Impreza hatchback employs, just in a higher riding chassis that is visually, and perceptionally, more prepared for climbing over snowbanks, doing some soft off-roading, or churning up some beach sand.

Controls and switchgear are fundamentally sound, intuitively sensitive stuff; dials, knobs and buttons. A back-up camera is included plus steering wheel audio controls on the thick-rimmed telescoping and tilting leather-clad wheel. Automatic climate, heated front seats, push-button ignition and passive locks add to your convenience.

The numbers: A base XV Crosstrek Premium with the six-speed manual transmission, body cladding, fog lamps, heated mirrors, aluminum wheels, cruise and other assorted goodies starts at $21,995 before destination fee. The CVT automatic adds $1,000. Bump up to Limited trim for another $1,500 — leather, HD radio and auto climate.

The XV Hybrid pads the list price to $25,995, or $26,820 all in. Cloth seats are standard instead of leather, but the rear-view camera is included. By 2018, all vehicles will be required to feature back-up cameras standard.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid earns EPA fuel economy ratings of 29/33/31 mpg. In over 500 miles of assorted driving, our Plasma Green Pearl sample returned 30.4 mpg — closely matching the combined mpg projection.

While the Hybrid powertrain does improve the Crosstrek’s fuel efficiency, this is not a Prius.

On the flip side, when there is 12 inches of snow in the forecast and you just have to get there, this is not a Prius. Subaru’s symmetrical AWD is standard; with proper snow tires, this car would be tough to beat in the throes of winter.

Beefs: the other doors don’t automatically unlock when you exit the Crosstrek — you have to remember to manually unlock all of the doors if you plan to walk around and retrieve something from another portal. You have to upgrade trim levels to get satellite radio, and a power seat is only available on top Touring trim — at $30,000.

Desserts: gotta love the composed driving dynamics, comfortable interior and the overall feel of the Crosstrek. This is no VW GTI, nor is it a Subaru WRX, but it is a capable Outback for a new generation of compact car owners.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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