In a world where seemingly every auto manufacturer is making SUVs (hello, Lamborghini!) and crossovers, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Alfa Romeo does it by making an insanely fast and sporty crossover. Range Rover goes for an incredibly sleek look and a separate screen just for climate control.
By contrast, Subaru just tries to make quality vehicles. That strategy has served the company well with the Outback, which has been at or near the top of the station wagon sales charts for what seems like forever. But can that strategy work with crossovers? Enter the Crosstrek.
All new for the 2018 model year, the Subaru Crosstrek is a mini crossover built on Subaru’s new Global Platform, which Subaru says offers 70-percent more rigidity. The Crosstrek has a raised suspension with Stablex dampers for a smoother ride. The old, familiar Subaru Boxer engine remains—in this case the usual 2.0-liter, direct-injection, four-cylinder suspect capable of cranking out 152hp (113.3kW) and 145lb-ft of torque (196.6nM); if you’re thinking that sounds a bit light, keep reading. The all-wheel drive Crosstrek has a seven-speed automatic transmission, but Subaru offers a six-speed manual transmission in the base and Premium trims. If automatic transmission is your thing but you like to take over sometimes, the Crosstrek comes with paddle shifters.
Unlike some crossovers that look like they would quail at the prospect of tooling down a rutted, gravel road (I’m looking at you, Audi), the Crosstrek appears ready for some serious off-road action. It’s an attractive-looking car, with just the right amount of plastic trim and body cladding to keep it from looking over-engineered.
The Crosstrek starts at $21,795, which gets you the basics. Moving up to the Premium trim costs an extra grand or so, and that upgrade adds fog lights, some fancy interior stitching, automatic headlights, and paddle shifters. As is customary, the Subaru in the Chicago press fleet was a fully loaded Crosstrek 2.0i Limited with a sticker price of $30,655—that’s $26,295 for the Limited trim with 18-inch wheels, Starlink connectivity, and a small digital display smack-dab in the instrument panel. The extra $4,000 or so adds Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist tech, a moonroof, navigation system, and deluxe Harman Kardon audio.
A dated interior with some forward-thinking touches
The Crosstrek is a comfortable car. The cockpit is laid out smartly, and the six-way power driver’s seat is both comfortable and supportive. (Your front-seat passenger will have to make do with old-school manual seat adjustment levers.) The orange stitching mentioned above seems like it runs everywhere, including across the dashboard, as though it was covered with two massive pieces of material that could only be joined together with a sewing machine. It feels a bit dated in some ways, with the emergency brake lever still an actual lever that sits right on the edge of the driver’s seat. The seat heat controls are old-school rocker switches as well. If it weren’t for the two displays in the center console, the interior would feel extremely familiar to anyone who has purchased a Subaru in the last 15 years.
The interior is spacious enough for a small crossover. Adults in the back seats don’t unduly suffer with long-legged adults in the front seat. With the back row up, there’s 20.8 cubic feet (589 liters) of cargo room. Drop the seats in their 60-40 split and you’re up to 55.3 cubic feet (1,566L). With the seats down, I had no trouble fitting my mountain bike back there.
Those displays, though… Subaru is by no means the first company to go with multiple displays in the center console, but it has taken a unique—and intelligent—approach to the concept. The main 8.0-inch multitouch display runs Subaru’s Starlink UI and offers a crisp and sharp viewing experience with contemporary-looking graphics. You’ll primarily use it to interact with the GPS and entertainment system, as well as see where you’re going when you’re backing up. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support are built-in if you want to bail on Starlink in favor of your smartphone’s automobile UI.
The second display is a jack of all trades. It sits about halfway between the front of the dashboard and windshield, and it has a small lip to shield it from direct sunlight. Using the “Info” button on the steering wheel, you can have it display the song you’re listening to, the street you’re driving on, your mileage, and more. The top bits of the display show interior and exterior temperatures, fan setting, time, and the current climate-control setting. I tested out the Crosstrek’s GPS while driving to referee a high school rugby match about 50 miles west of Chicago, and the secondary display showed the next step in the navigation, freeing up the main display for media. It’s very well thought out. My only complaint is a bit of lag on the display; I would change the radio station and the secondary display wouldn’t update for a few seconds.
Subaru has also taken a smart approach to steering wheel clutter. Driver-assist functions are on the right side of the steering wheel, and infotainment controls are on the left side—nothing Earth-shattering. But the 4.2-inch LCD display in the instrument panel is controlled by three tabs that sit at the 8 o’clock position behind the hub of the steering wheel. They are easy to access if you want to change your display and completely unobtrusive if you never muck about with display settings.
On the road, the Crosstrek is pleasingly rigid, which helps it deal with nasty bits of road. I wasn’t able to take it off-road during my time with the car, but it’s never difficult to find potholed streets and alleys in this part of the country, and the suspension deals nicely with that kind of driving. Steering is tight and extremely responsive in all situations. Cornering is fine in the Crosstrek. It’s not the type of vehicle you’re going to aggressively drive down winding country roads, and if you’re looking for a small crossover that feels locked down on curves, look elsewhere.
The 2.0-liter engine powering the Crosstrek is both gift and curse. The gift is the excellent mileage—I saw close to 33mpg in a week’s worth of driving, close to Subaru’s rating of 29mpg for the city, 39mpg on the highway, and 33mpg combined. The downside is that it feels underpowered. Acceleration is lacking, and when you call upon that boxer engine for a little bit of extra oomph, it’s going to let you know about it—and probably disappoint you a little bit. The cabin lets in a fair bit of road noise to start with, and it gets even louder when the engine is working hard.
Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist tech could use a bit more polish, and adaptive cruise control works as expected. And those will actually bring your car to a complete stop in traffic. But pay attention: once the car completely halted, the adaptive cruise control became inactive, and the car began to creep forward. Lane-keep assist does the job, although it’s slightly more aggressive than I would have liked when correcting lane-drift. The rest of the collision detection technology, including the rear backup camera system, beeped at me at all of the appropriate times.
If you’re a Subaru fan, you know exactly what you’re getting with the Crosstrek: a reliable, rugged, and sturdy vehicle that will likely make you happy for years to come. If you’re Subaru-curious and in the market for a small, inexpensive crossover, definitely check it out. Even at $30,000 for the Limited trim and driver-assist package, the Crosstrek is a good value. As long as Subaru keeps building cars like this, long-time customers will be coming back for more.