Friday, January 25, 2013

Review: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited

Back in the mid 1990s, Subaru took its compact Impreza wagon, butched it up with a little more ground clearance, added some body cladding, and threw on a standard roof rack. It was meant as a smaller version of its go-anywhere Legacy Outback Wagon. Subaru gave it the name Outback Sport (apparently Outback Jr. was taken). However, the formula worked and the car was offered from 1995 through 2011. The Impreza was redesigned for 2012, but the Outback Sport was absent. For 2013 there would be a new lifted go-anywhere Impreza, and this time it’d get its own, much more unique name: XV Crosstrek.

Put the XV next to any of the other models in the Impreza line and you can immediately tell this one’s different. More ground clearance, unique black machined 17” wheels, all-terrain tires, black textured body cladding, tinted windows, fog lamps, and a standard roof rack. These features give the Crosstrek an adventurous look; something that says it’s not afraid to tackle some gravel, maybe some snow, and is ready for whatever comes around the bend.

All XV Crosstreks are powered by the same 148 horsepower 2.0-liter flat four cylinder engine as in other 2013 Imprezas. Premium trim levels are available with either a five-speed manual or CVT; Limited models, such as our tester, only come with the CVT. Weighing in at 3,142 lbs.—165 lbs. more than a similarly equipped Impreza 2.0i—the CVT-equipped XV Crosstrek takes its time to get up to speed and makes a good amount of noise doing so. Around town, the car’s power feels adequate if not peppy, but full throttle jaunts to highway speed take a while and are noisy; ditto that with passing power. I'd love about 10-15 more horsepower. It doesn't feel underpowered but it borders on it. Fuel economy is rated at 25 city, 33 highway with the CVT, and we observed about 22 in mostly city driving. For comparison’s sake, this is roughly what we get in our five-speed-manual-equipped 2012 Subaru Forester 2.5X, which is 4.3 inches longer than the Impreza, 2.9 inches taller, has 22 more horsepower, but weighs 55 lbs. less. However, if we had taken them on a highway-based road trip, it’s certain the Crosstrek would’ve likely returned better mileage, since our Forester is only rated at 27 MPG on the highway.

The XV Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is remarkable for its class, and identical to the current Forester. Thanks to revised suspension bits, the car rides more stiffly than the Forester and other Impreza models, but does a great job at absorbing jolts from pot holes, ruts, and other road hazards. Also like the Forester, the XV Crosstrek leans quite a bit when thrown into corners. Those looking for sportier on-road handling should look at the Impreza Sport Premium models, which sit lower and ride on grippier on-road tires versus the Crosstrek’s all-terrain rolling stock. While all-wheel drive provides plenty of traction on or off the pavement, the car’s steering feels slow and heavy. Although steering feel is good, it makes the car feel weightier and bigger than it actually is. I didn't take the car off road, but did take it down some washed out dirt and gravel roads. It felt secure and confident; I didn't worry about ground clearance, either. And although its approach angle off road isn’t as good as the Forester, its departure angle is actually better. So while this isn’t a hardcore off roader, it’s certainly more trail capable than other Impreza models as well as most CUVs and compact SUVs out there.

A quick note: I mentioned the black body cladding earlier. I wonder about its durability in the long run. Our former Suzuki SX4s had black plastic cladding and it developed road rash around the fenders after several trips down gravel covered roads. Luckily, the XV also includes Subaru’s splash guards (aka mud flaps), and maybe since that cladding is textured it won’t degrade like the SX4.

The inside of our Limited model included the power moonroof, automatic climate control, heated leather seats, and plenty of room for passengers and cargo. We appreciated the Crosstrek’s liftgate, which was easier to reach than the Forester, especially if you’re under 6 ft. tall. Our Limited trim model also came with the navigation and a stereo with the 10” subwoofer. All of the navi and stereo controls are crammed together on one smallish, not-so-intuitive unit. There are lots of tiny icons, lots of little menus, and the whole thing is rather difficult to use. Luckily, sound from the subwoofer-equipped stereo is quite good. The overall interior is comfortable and feels solid, especially compared to the previous generation Impreza, which didn't feature as many high-grade materials as the this version. It’s also decidedly more carlike than the Forester.

The Subaru XV Crosstrek definitely has its pluses and minuses. On one side, it’s compact, capable, and looks ready to go anywhere. On the other hand, you can get into a larger Forester 2.5X for less money and it’ll only sacrifice a bit of fuel economy. Plus, the Forester has more horsepower and torque, and rides better on the highway. Yet, the Forester feels more truck-like than the XV Crosstrek, which definitely drives more like a tall car than a small crossover or SUV. I prefer the size of the Crosstrek, but like the Forester’s engine more. One must wonder: Will XV Crosstrek sales cut into Forester sales, even as the redesigned 2014 Forester is set to debut later this year?

Our 2013 XV Crosstrek Limited has a sticker price of about $28,000. For that you get all the features you’d likely want: Heated seats and navigation; a moonroof and 17” alloy wheels. You certainly get a car with lots of personality, although we’d like a bit more horsepower. But the XV Crosstrek is a nice little package for those that want decent fuel economy, decent ground clearance, decent space, and a decent price. It is certainly a worthy replacement for the old Outback Sport, too.

The XV Crosstrek comes with these unique black and machined aluminum wheels. We wonder how the fender's black plastic cladding will hold up over the long run, however.

Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited vs. Subaru Forester 2.5X
For comparison's sake: The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek vs. our 2012 Subaru Forester 2.5X.
Subaru XV Crosstrek and Subaru Forester


Rich M said...

Minor correction, the Crosstrek is rated 25/33 MPG (28 combined).

That being said, for $28k would you rather have the Mazda CX-5 AWD (Also 28 MPG combined) or the Crosstrek ?

Andy Lilienthal said...

Thank you, Rich. I had looked up the manual transmission's fuel economy. I have corrected the text.

And that's a great question about the Mazda. The Mazda CX-5 has a more willing chassis than the XV Crosstrek, at least on the pavement. I think a fairer comparison would be an Impreza Sport Premium vs. the Crosstrek. That being said, I greatly prefer the steering on the CX-5, but the CX-5 feels less carlike, partially due to its seating position. The XV (and obviously Impreza) is unabashedly a car. The CX-5 is a crossver that handles well.

Duke said...

Ahhhh Mr. Andy, the review I've been waiting for. Thanks for the photos with the Forester too. Really provided a good sense of scale.

I have to didn't mention the flappy paddle shifters that come with the CVT, with the predefined ratios, making it more like a traditional manumatic. Did you get a chance to try that out? Seems like a feature you wouldn't expect in a "car" like this, but I can see where it might come in handy in an offroad situation.

The fuel economy you reported was rather disappointing. I was leaning towards the Crosstrek but I think now I'm leaning more towards a FWD CX-5...

Andy Lilienthal said...


I did use the paddle shifters a couple of times, but they didn't strike me as any better or worse than most on the market.

The fuel economy was indeed disappointing. My drives with these vehicles typically involve mostly city-style driving. Plus, we have a lot of hills here in Portland, so I often get below the city mileage. However, this was nearly the same as my Forester.

My advice to anyone shopping cars is drive all of your choices! In many cases it will reaffirm your top choice or possibly open you up to something you hadn't initially thought of.

Anonymous said...

After 1000 miles on my Crosstrek Limited it averages 30 MPG overall in a mix of city and highway driving. It recently averaged 35 MPG from Phoenix to Flagstaff AZ, with cruise at 80 MPH; that drive entails a net climb of 5000 vertical feet across 140 miles. I am impressed and happy with its mileage.

Andy Lilienthal said...

That's good to know; thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

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