2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

Utility and capability come together in affordable hybrid.

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: November 11th, 2013

We were traversing a desolate stretch of Iceland in Subaru's first hybrid, the XV Crosstrek, when U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name" came onto the iPod. Fitting, given the desolate location. Sure, there were route numbers, but otherwise, the nameless roads were as empty of life as the moon. Well, except for a caravan of Subarus, lifted Land Cruisers, and Nissan Patrols with snorkels for air intakes. And a bunch of overfed journalists who looked out of their element in the elements.

Subaru brought us to Iceland to prove that a tall wagon/crossover that most buyers will use for grocery-getting could handle extreme conditions. After all, the company does well in U.S. markets that have character-building winters, such as Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, and New England. What better way to prove that a hybrid could withstand harsh winters in those places than to take the car to the windiest place on Earth?

Unfortunately, the weather turned nasty to the point that no crossover, not even one with 8.7 inches of ground clearance and full-time all-wheel-drive, would have it easy. Up until that point, the Subies had felt right at home, even if their drivers didn't. But even when things went sour and cars started getting stuck in snow and tires began to pop at frightful rates, the Crosstreks were never the worse for wear.

Subaru officials told us they chose the Crosstrek platform for their first hybrid because - and we're paraphrasing a lot here - an Impreza hybrid would get lost in the family-sedan shuffle. Instead, the Impreza-based Crosstrek gets to host the world's first horizontally-opposed "boxer" gas engine/hybrid combo. There are other motivations here as well - Subaru wants to keep loyalists with hybrids on their mind from straying to the competition in addition to snagging new buyers who might not have shopped Subie showrooms before. Not to mention the price. The just-under $26K base sticker price puts the XV into a class by itself - there are no other hybrid crossovers within spitting distance. If you want a Toyota Highlander Hybrid, prepare to pay around 40 large.

According to Subaru, the Crosstrek is also more functional than others in its price range - the Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman got called out in the press briefing as choosing form over function - which means that the Crosstrek hybrid stands alone. But does it stand out?

  • On the Road

    If you're buying a hybrid, or a wagon, or a hybrid wagon, you're probably not looking for screaming acceleration or giddy handling. That's good, because that's not what the Crosstrek is about. It does add power over the gas model - the 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer pairs with its electric motor to make 160 system horsepower and 163 lb-ft of net torque (up from 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft in the gas-only model), but the extra grunt doesn't turn the Crosstrek into a burner. Acceleration can be leisurely at times, especially in the mid-range, and using the steering-wheel paddles to manually downshift the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) doesn't help all that much.

    We had little chance to test on-road handling, but if you're often tasked with rally-style driving in deep snow, the Crosstrek handles the white stuff like a champ, at least until its ground clearance is breached (in fairness to Subaru, few crossovers have the ground clearance to handle the snow we dealt with, only dedicated SUVs stood a chance. For most American snow driving, the Crosstrek will be more than capable).

    On-road ride was comfortable, suffering little on gravel roads, although it got stiff when the roads got really bad. Steering feel was a mixed bag - it felt artificial, thanks to its electric-power steering unit, but it was still weighted nicely. Subaru claims that the ratio is quicker than not only that of the gas Crosstrek but also its current WRX/STI models, and after performing some opposite lock while sliding through snow drifts, we believe it.

    Brake feel is unremarkable, and some tire noise intrudes on rougher pavement, but it's not bad. It should be noted we were using special tires to deal with Iceland's extremes.

    For those with inquiring minds, Subaru is saying that the car can be driven as electric only up to 13 miles per hour for about one mile, and that EV mode can activate at up to 25 mph while coasting. There's a stop/start system that works unless it's too cold or the battery charge is too low (there's a few other conditions in which it won't work) and grille shutters exist to reduce wind resistance on the highway and help the engine warm up quicker.

    Subaru chose nickel-hydride batteries over lithium-ion for cost reasons. The hybrid system was developed completely in-house, no assistance from Toyota or anyone else.

  • Exterior

    You'll have to look closely to differentiate the hybrid from the gas-model Crosstrek. There's hybrid badging, of course, and a new green paint color that you can't order on the gas car. There's also chrome door handles and rear LED lights, to go along with different wheels. And that's about it.

    That leaves you with a tall wagon that looks unmistakably Subaru. If the Crosstrek looks like an Impreza wagon on steroids, that's because it IS an Impreza wagon on steroids - it rides on the Impreza platform. Although Subaru has given the car some aggressive off-road-type styling cues, it's still the poster child for crossover wagons. Not a bad thing, but it won't turn many heads.

  • Interior

    The main changes over the gas model are a new gauge cluster, the addition of a driver-info screen, and the installation of a smartphone app for integrating music with the available nav system. The info screen shows the typical hybrid stuff - energy flow, range, average mpg, and so on and so forth. There's just two trim levels, base and Touring, and ticking the Touring option brings you leather seats, a moonroof, and the nav system.

    Both trims get push-button starting, heated front seats, the usual satellite radio/USB/Bluetooth audio connections (and Bluetooth hands-free calling, naturally), and the driver-info screen.

    After three days cooped inside the XV, we had no qualms about headroom, legroom, or seat comfort - it delivers in all three areas. The seat heaters lived up to the Arctic challenge, as did the heating system. We suffered the snow in comfort. Rear-seat room appeared about average for the class, as did rear cargo area.

    Beefs and gripes were few. We didn't care for a USB port that only charges an iPhone when music is being played from said phone, not in any other mode. During one snow-forced stop, we messed around with the nav system and we found that inputting addresses uses an auto-correct function that is more annoying than intuitive. And the chrome-look bezels on the HVAC controls looked classy but felt cheap. The soft-touch dash is also not all that soft.

    The driver's info screen worked well, and the gauge cluster is simple and easy to read clearly. There's also a proper handbrake for those who care about such things.

    Overall, it's not a sexy cabin, but it's functional and pleasant. It's also all-day comfortable. There's room for improvement, but Subaru could've done much, much worse.

  • Final Thoughts

    The Crosstrek Hybrid is an odd duck. Nothing just like it exists in its price range. And Subaru planned it that way.

    Most owners won't take it to the interior of Iceland, but in addition to using it to haul doggies and groceries, at least a few will take it to the interior of Maine. Folks who like utility and all-wheel-drive will find themselves intrigued. The bad news about the hybrid is that it doesn't improve maximum mileage all that much over the gas model (29/33/31 versus 25/33/28), which is a problem, given the hybrid's slight price premium over the top-trim gas model. Not to mention, the extra power still leaves the XV lacking. But this isn't a car for play, this is a car for work.

    And work well it does. It's affordable, offers solid utility, and can handle bad weather with aplomb. To paraphrase the company's current ad campaign, that's what makes a Subaru.

    We love tall wagons around these parts, we think they make more sense than most SUVs. There's a lot of practical value here, but we'd like a pinch more power, a dash of more fuel economy, and a skoosh more spice. That would make the very capable Crosstrek stand out even more in its class of one.

  • Specs, Features, Prices

    Engine: 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder with electric motor.

    Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic

    Drive Wheels: All-wheel-drive

    Fuel Economy: 29 mpg city/33 mpg highway

    Base Price: $25,995 (excludes $825 destination fee)

    Available Features: Satellite radio, navigation, rearview camera, push-button start, heated front seats, leather seats, moonroof, USB, information screen, leather-trimmed steering wheel, keyless entry, stop/start system.

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