Up close, or from afar, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is what it is, which is a hatchback, built up with more ground clearance, protective lower-body cladding, and all sorts of more outdoorsy and off-road-oriented cues--many of them functional, some of them, perhaps intentionally, resembling outdoor gear and wear. Yet at the same time, the Crosstrek's differences yield a completely different stance and entirely different proportions it seems, with a certain level of the familiar Outback charm. Inside, it's mostly just a matter of some new upholsteries to fit the character.
To make sure it's good for the trail, the Crosstrek gets good cleats--up to 8.7 inches of ground clearance, plus various suspension and structural reinforcements, improved engine cooling, unique front fenders, and body cladding, that altogether make it quite different than the Impreza hatchback on which it’s based. It also has good approach and departure angles (of 18 degrees and nearly 28 degrees, respectively), and with its all-wheel-drive system, which is always sending power to all four wheels, we think it might be one of the best vehicles yet for snowy New England driveways. Handling is surprisingly nimble on the road, considering how well the Crosstrek rides and how well it soaks up harshness from trails and gravel roads.
The sore point for some may simply that it's lacking some muscle. Go with the five-speed manual, and the Crosstrek feels far more charming, especially when you need do order up some power quickly at lower speeds. With 148 horsepower for about 3,200 pounds in a fully loaded Crosstrek Limited, and the engine’s peak 145 pound-feet of torque not reached until 4,200 rpm, this is not a sprightly or quick vehicle, and the available CVT can exaggerate the lag in power delivery. On the plus side, you get phenomenal fuel economy for a crossover (the best in the class, really), at up to 25 mpg city, 33 highway with the CVT (or 23/30 with the manual).
Cabin accommodations go well beyond the expectations of the granola set, although they won't be any sea change to anyone who's owned a Subaru before. Seating is arranged well enough so that adults can fit fine in back--and get in and out easily--and seats flip forward to a flat cargo surface. All models include a rubberized cargo tray that's easily removed and hosed off, and the roof rack on all models is standard and can carry up to 150 pounds. Crosstrek models come rated to tow up to 1,500 pounds, too. Adding on to its appeal is a smooth, refined ride is a step above rival models like the Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Mini Countryman. About the only thing that not everyone will warm up to is a set of materials and trims that are merely average for this price range, and that some interfaces for audio and trip-computer displays feel clunky and outdated.
With a starting price of just $21,995, the 2013 Subaru Crosstrek Premium makes a very strong value proposition. Keyless entry, air conditioning, power accessories, and cruise control are all included even in this base model, as of course are all-wheel drive. Leather upholstery, leather shift-knob and steering-wheel trim, automatic climate control, and a fold-down rear-seat armrest with cupholders are all extras that you get with the Limited. They also get a step-up display audio system with 4.3-inch screen, rear camera and HD Radio, and a navigation system with XM NavTraffic, voice control, and text-messaging ability is optional.