By Allen Penticoff
Regular readers of this column may note that I had been the owner of a 1997 Subaru Outback wagon. This sturdy car served us very well, until the rust cancer had reached a point of “sell-now-before-it’s-too-late” state. Which we did, somewhat reluctantly — as it was a very capable, if not very fuel-efficient, vehicle.
With those years of Subaru experience, I’ve kept an eye on the newer Impreza. A somewhat smaller version of our beloved Outback wagon — but a car with better fuel efficiency. When I sought to take one for a review drive, I discovered there is a new version of the Impreza, the XV Crosstrek, which is essentially an Outback version.
All Subarus now have full-time all-wheel drive (AWD). What intrigues me about the Impreza/Crosstrek is that Subaru has managed to eke out great fuel economy from an AWD drivetrain. The less expensive Impreza gets 27/36 mpg (a friend reports even 40 mpg on the highway) while the beefier XV Crosstrek yields 25 mpg city and 33 highway mpg. Pretty good, considering most two-wheel drive cars in this size range have similar gas mileage performance.
At Napelton Auto Werks on Perryville in Rockford, friendly sales rep Tim Normoyle was quick to point out the main difference between the Crosstrek and a regular Impreza — namely 3 inches more ground clearance. This gives the Crosstrek considerably more ground clearance — 8.7-inches for dogging down those snowy roads. The Crosstrek also comes with the “winter package,” which includes heated seats and side mirrors — a feature we much enjoyed in our old Outback.
The Crosstrek is more a response to the American consumer’s desire to drive SUV-appearing vehicles than a need to get through the snow better or ford rocky streams. Subaru has long met needs of people who want a safe, sure, reliable vehicle that truly is a small SUV even when they don’t look like it. The Crosstrek has the look and is thus marketed to those whose lives are outdoors-oriented.
I found it to be roomy and well-appointed. The cloth seats (leather-trimmed optional) were quite comfortable, and the steering wheel had a nice feel to it. I liked the analog speedometer and tachometer, as well as the center-mounted digital information screen. As with most new cars, there was an infotainment display down lower with steering wheel controls of audio functions. Nice big, round knobs controlled the cabin climate. The “Limited” package (the higher of the two) includes a back-up camera as well.
The base Crosstrek comes with a five-speed manual transmission. Subarus have long featured manual transmissions, so it is not uncommon to find one. Most Crosstreks, however, will have the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is now what passes for an automatic transmission. The Subaru uses a steel belt in its CVT. Those Crosstreks with the CVT also feature a manual mode — the ability to use two steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters to simulate six different gear speeds. Like those in other cars, it will automatically shift into first gear if you come to a stop. I rather liked this feature while driving it. If you, like me, prefer manual shifting, you might just want to get your Crosstrek with the less expensive manual transmission. But having the CVT with manual mode is a best of both worlds combination … and this was my first experience with this combination.
Subaru makes much of their flat-four “boxer” engine. It’s hardly anything new, but rep Normoyle popped the hood to show me that Subaru had moved the engine oil filter up top to the front of the engine to a very handy spot. I can see it may be a bit messy getting an upside-down oil filter away cleanly, but it sure is convenient. Also new is the steel timing chain. This eliminates one of the boxer engine’s few weak points, replacing a complicated timing belt (not DIY friendly at all). Thumbs up to Subaru for both.
The driving experience was fine. Acceleration, ride, cornering were all commendable. If you feel you may need or want four-wheel drive capabilities, either the Impreza or the XV Crosstrek would be a good choice in a new vehicle. With its fuel efficiency and being very low on emissions, it will have less of an impact on the environment/outdoors that we so love to go play in. I’d be comfortable living with an XV Crosstrek — it is even relatively affordable, listing at $28,349 including upgrades and moonroof (the later not available with the four-speed manual, for some reason). The Impreza starts at $17,895 MSRP.
From the Oct. 30-Nov. 5, 2013, issue