2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid Review

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid - Subaru's subcompact crossover is a worthy competitor, hybrid or not.

By:

Vehicle Tested
2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Base Price: $29,295
As-Tested Price: $31,120
Built in Japan.

Options
None

Engine: 2.0-liter I4/electric, 161 horsepower
Transmission: CVT Automatic
Drive Wheels: All-Wheel Drive

Japanese automaker Subaru is on a roll. For 2014, it moved into the top 10 for U.S. sales. That puts Subaru ahead of Volkswagen, Mazda, GMC, BMW and Mercedes-Benz in overall national sales. Last year, Subaru's sales jump of 26% jump was best among mass-market automakers.

How is Subaru doing this you ask? The brand offers a combination of new-and-improved vehicles that appeal to the mainstream and an all-wheel-drive marketing campaign that has finally hit home.

One vehicle that Subaru added during the 2013 model year was the XV Crosstrek. It's a subcompact crossover wagon that's based on the Impreza's underpinnings. Like its bigger brother the Outback, the Crosstrek sports all-wheel-drive, a four-door wagon bodystyle and a raised suspension for improved off-road ability.

XV Crosstrek offers a choice of a five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. In addition, it rides three inches higher than the Impreza, sports 8.7 inches of ground clearance and black plastic wheelwell flares. The big news this year is the introduction of the XV Crosstrek Hybrid. Competitors include the Honda Fit, MINI Cooper Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Nissan Juke.

Trim levels include 2.0i Premium, 2.0i Limited, Hybrid and Hybrid Touring trims. Prices start at $21,995 and top out at $29,295. Standard equipment on the 2.0i Premium includes 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, heated mirrors, a windshield wiper deicer, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, heated front seats, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, Bluetooth and a six-speaker audio system with a CD player, USB port and auxiliary jack.

The 2.0i Limited adds automatic headlights, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a rear seat fold-down armrest, a rearview camera and six speakers and a 4.3-inch LCD display for the audio system.

The Hybrid includes the 2.0i Limited features (minus the leather upholstery) and adds unique 17-inch wheels, chrome door handles, quick-ratio electric power steering, active grille, folding sideview mirrors with signal repeaters, keyless ignition/entry and an upgraded multifunction display.

The Hybrid Touring includes a sunroof, leather upholstery, a 6.1-inch touchscreen, a navigation system with voice controls, smartphone integration (Aha radio), HD radio and satellite radio.

2.0i models get a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed "boxer" four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Premium. Optional on the Premium and standard for the Limited is a continuously-variable automatic. The Hybrid model gets the same engine but adds a 13 horsepower electric motor for a combined output of 161 horsepower.

Five-speed manual models get an all-wheel-drive system that distributes power 50/50 front to rear. Automatic models get a unique all-wheel-drive system that biases power delivery to the front wheels, but sends more power under acceleration to the rear when the front tires begin to slip.

The Subaru XV Crosstrek has an $825 destination charge and is built in Japan.

Get Up and Go  Subaru's first hybrid favors improved economy over increased performance. That sad, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 10 seconds. That's average for the subcompact crossover class and on par with the Outlander Sport and base Countryman. On the other hand, the Juke and Countryman S are significantly quicker to 60 mph.

The slow-performing continuously variable transmission doesn't help acceleration. Off the line, the transmission takes too long to get the engine into its powerband and provides a similar experience when called upon in passing situations. Though standard steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters that simulate manual up-and-down shifts help move things along if we you are willing to do the work.

The engine's unique design has both advantages and disadvantages. The horizontally-opposed cylinder layout help engineers lower the vehicle's center of gravity and also improve packaging efficiently. At the same time, the design doesn't feel as balanced or smooth as traditional inline four-cylinder engines.

While the badging on the back tells you the XV Crosstrek is a hybrid, it drives more like a gas-only car than a hybrid. The engine/battery combo is quite mild compared to other hybrids providing only modest boost and marginally better fuel economy. At the same time, the system also doesn't compromise interior space or cargo room other than the displacement of a small covered bin. EPA ratings of 29 mpg city and 33 mpg highway are indeed better than the numbers generated for the gas-only models, but not by the margin you might expect. That said, real-world driving will likely yield about 28 mpg in the city and perhaps as high as 35 mpg in gentile highway cruising.

On the Road 
In providing comfortable on-road and competent off-road performance, the XV Crosstrek stays true to Subaru's go anywhere mantra. Dynamically, the Crosstrek isn't going to win autocross events as there is too much understeer dialed into the chassis. However, the Sube feels more tossable than your typical subcompact crossover. In characteristic Subaru fashion the XV leans over quickly in turns and then takes a solid set, almost as if communicating to the driver the car's limits before things get dicey. The steering is mildly overboosted and lacks true on-center feel on the highway. Brakes inspire confidence, are easy to modulate and have good stopping power.

Around town the XV Crosstrek has a supple suspension that does an excellent job of absorbing minor pavement imperfections and softening large impacts. At the same time, the shocks do a fair job of minimizing secondary motions like head toss. That comes in handy when heading off road as well because the Crosstrek has above-average ground clearance and a supple long-travel suspension setup.

Interior noise levels are class average. That's not saying much, though, because subcompact crossovers are among the noisiest non-performance cars on the market. There's a fair amount of wind noise at highway speed and the tires and engine kick up a racket on the highway.

Behind the Wheel 
XV Crossteck's interior design places function ahead of form. Still, there's a fair amount of brightwork and plenty of nicely textured surfaces. Overall, you get the feeling that the interior is a step above most class competitors, but certainly not posh. The instrument cluster boasts two large gauges and a center information display -- a setup that's fairly commonplace today. Center stack houses refreshingly simple rotary dials for climate control and either a basic radio layout or a touch-screen affair that integrated navigation and phone control. This system is a generation (or two) behind the class leaders and isn't as easy to program or operate.

Outward visibility is good, thanks to large door openings, tall greenhouse and upright seating position. Though short on side bolstering, the front seats offer plenty of head and leg room for large adults and an acceptable level of long trip comfort. Getting in and out is a snap as well.

Rear seat room and comfort are better than expected when compared to others in the class. Outlander Sport and Fit likely offer a bit more room, but the XV Crosstrek is near the top of the class in this regard. As with all in the class, sitting three across is quite tight.

At a touch over 22 cubic feet, basic cargo space is just average. Lower the rear seats and space jumps up to an impressive 52 cubic feet. That's more than Nissan's Juke or the MINI Countryman. You also get a fairly flat load floor and a wide-opening rear liftgate. One quick note about the hybrid, about 2 cubic feet of underfloor cargo space is lost to the additional battery. Interior storage is just average with an open center bin, covered console bin and twin cup holders. Map pockets are, thankfully, large.

Bottom Line  Subaru's XV Crosstrek isn't the perfect subcompact crossover, but there is no "ideal" car in this class. All are forced to make compromises. Where the Crosstrek shines is its ability to offer true go-anywhere (reasonably) ability, good fuel economy, versatile cargo space and above average passenger comfort.

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is unique in the class, but is more of a design and engineering exercise than a true hybrid worthy of the name. Its fuel economy boost isn't great and performance is no better than the standard model. However, it's great to see that Subaru is getting its hybrid legs wet assuming bigger and better things are to come in the future.



Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.