Road Test: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Subaru has always been a somewhat outré company — one need only look back at the wedgy XT and SVX to get the picture. Of late, however, the company has started to move ever closer to the mainstream market, as is witnessed by the likes of the Legacy and Impreza. Now come two left fielders in the form of the BRZ and XV Crosstrek. The former is a sports car minus Subaru’s trademark symmetrical all-wheel-drive system; the latter is a ride I had trouble understanding.

Based on the Impreza, the XV Crosstrek does succeed in the utility area. With the rear seats upright, there’s 22.3 cubic feet of space. With the 60/40-split/folding seats down, there’s a respectable 51.9 cu. ft. Dropping the seats is a simple matter. When down, the floor is flat and the intrusions into the useable space have been kept to a minimum. It also earns a privacy cover to keep prying eyes off the cargo and a needed rear washer/wiper. The only thing missing proved to be a backup camera. The liftgate’s tall beltline left a lot of real estate hidden when backing up.

The rest of the XV Crosstrek’s interior is all Subaru, which means it’s entirely logical. The controls are all situated where they are readily accessed and the radio sits high enough that it can be operated while relying on one’s peri-pheral vision. There is also a handy 4.3-inch display screen atop the centre stack that shows everything from trip information to the manner in which the power is being put to the pavement — the latter was well enough thought through that the pictogram’s front wheels turn with steering wheel input.

Likewise, there’s plenty of room, the front seats are comfortable and deliver superior long-distance comfort, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so establishing the right driving position is a simple matter. It has all the things that are desirable in any cabin with but one exception — it is overwhelmingly bland. There is nothing that puts any visual zing in the layout. Function must have a little fashion if it is to have that all-important visual appeal.

As is to be expected, the XV employs Subaru’s 2.0-litre boxer engine. In this case, it puts forth 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque at a respectable 4,200 rpm. As is the norm, the boxer engine does have a somewhat gruff tone, but it is a smooth operator that does not mind revving. The tester’s power was relayed to the road through all four wheels and Subaru’s Lineartronic or continuously variable transmission (CVT) — there is a manual available. The all-wheel-drive system is, in a word, excellent. It gets the job done with such little fuss that the driver remains unaware of its action other than for the fact there is never any unwanted wheelspin.

The transmission, unfortunately, proved to be anything but excellent. It became continuously annoying because of the manner in which it pegged the engine at the top of the rev range whenever I rolled into the gas, which made things noisy. It also explained why the CVT model gets a hood insulator the manual transmission model does not. The silver lining is that the manual mode is accessed through paddle shifters regardless of shifter position. That stated, I was still left wondering what’s wrong with the good old-fashioned five-, six-, seven- or eight-speed automatic transmissions that are still so popular.

As for performance, the XV Crosstrek does feel peppy because of its sharp tip-in response. However, putting a stopwatch on it told a very different story. The occupants are forced to listen to the engine for 10.8 seconds when accelerating from rest to 100 kilometres an hour, and it takes 8.1 seconds to accomplish the 80-to-120-km/h passing move. Then came the knee to the nether region — the XV Crosstrek sucked back 10.1 litres per 100 km during the test period, which is a lot more than the 8.2 and 6.0 L/100 km city/highway claimed.

In terms of ride and handling, the Crosstrek’s body does roll because the ride height has been jacked up to 220 millimetres. This tends to introduce a little vagueness in the steering’s feedback. Understeer also surfaces when the XV is pushed toward its limit. In other words, the Crosstrek handles very much like a crossover and not the Impreza upon which it is based.

The ride, however, is refined. Off-road, the elevated ground clearance does allow the XV Crosstrek to traverse some surprisingly gnarly terrain with the sort of aplomb expected of an SUV. No complains in this regard.

Over the past 25 years, I have tested hundreds of vehicles and, without exception, I have understood the concept. I did not always see things in the same light as the manufacturer, but I understood the intent of the car — and that would include the Chevy Spark tested on Page DT13.

However, the XV Crosstrek mystifies me. If a potential customer wants a capable five-door hatchback, there is Subaru’s Impreza. It has the same versatility, but it comes with crisper handling, better fuel economy and a sharper price point. Conversely, if said customer wants a sport-ute, there is the Forester, which is a mighty fine vehicle in its own right. So, where, exactly, does the XV Crosstrek fit in? Driving it did not answer that question for me.

Type of vehicle
All-wheel-drive crossover
Engine 2.0L flat-four boxer
Power 148 hp @ 6,200 rpm; 145 lb ft of torque @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission Continuously variable transmission
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires P225/55R17
Price: base/ as tested $24,495/$26,495
Destination charge $1,695
Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km 8.2 city, 6.0 hwy.
Standard features Automatic climate control with filtration, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, power sunroof, cruise control, heated front seats, six-way manual driver’s seat, tilt and telescopic steering, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Bluetooth streaming audio with USB/AUX inputs, steering wheel-mounted controls and six speakers, Bluetooth with voice activation, rear washer/wiper, fog lights, roof rails
Options None

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek. Photograph by: Subaru