Dallas – I’ll get this out of the way first. I’m the owner of my second Subaru, a ’13 Crosstrek bought in the fall of 2013. Purchased for use in the tight confines of Washington D.C., after some eighteen months it has but 6,500 miles on the odometer; roughly 2,500 of those were driving between Dallas – where it was purchased – and D.C. Despite the few miles, I regard it as one of the most enjoyable cars (or trucks or SUVs) I’ve had in my garage…ever.
The shopping for it, however, was far harder than it should have been/might have been. Since it would be used in D.C., that’s where I started my shopping. But in asking for a Crosstrek with a manual transmission I was met by mostly blank stares – and if they weren’t ‘blank’ they were quizzical! In actuality, there were a handful of stick shift-equipped Crosstreks in the region, but the dealer I was speaking with seemed ill-equipped – or less than inclined – to secure one.
A phone call to Sewell Subaru in Dallas was coincidental (which ya’ gotta’ love…) with a manual arriving on their lot that same weekend. The deal was struck, and while Sewell proceeded to install both a short shift kit (highly recommended for shorter shifts, along with its more precise feel), STI shift knob (to make me feel faster) and trailer package, I attempted to get a loan while listing ‘freelance writer’ as my employment.
My insistence on a manual was based in part on my earlier ownership of an ’11 Forester, equipped with an automatic despite flirting with the manual option. Also, I had driven an auto-equipped Crosstrek shortly after its introduction, and it seemed rather flaccid, at least relative to what I was expecting from a compact SUV. With that as background, know that the ’16 Crosstrek Premium currently in my driveway – one equipped with Subaru’s CVT – constituted one very nice surprise.
EXTERIOR: Subaru’s Crosstrek is seemingly the outlier in a growing number of subcompact CUVs. More of a tallish wagon than a true crossover, its proportions are far more conventional than those architectures employed by Nissan’s Juke, Mazda’s CX-3 or Chevrolet’s Trax. And while I think the Crosstrek’s relative conventionality works for it, there are probably an equal number of arguments you could make against it. The hip point is higher than the Impreza hatchback on which it is based, but anecdotally lower than those CUVs I’ve previously mentioned. And while its cargo capacity is all the cubic volume I might need or hope for, its layout is better for hauling home the passed out lover than it is for hauling his or her loveseat.
INTERIOR: The differences between my base model ’13 and today’s 2016 Premium trim are subtle, but for some shoppers probably substantial. Both are fitted with cloth; mine came with black cloth, which shows lint, while the test vehicle offered beige cloth – which shows everything else. The beige was highlighted by contrasting black vinyl on the bolsters, which should prove better for durability. And while every touchpoint on my base Crosstrek is plastic – offering OK quality and predictable ‘tactility’ – touchpoints on the Premium trim are either leather or a very good simulation of same.
The biggest differentiation when elevating yourself to the Premium is in its offered technology; that’s if, of course, you value technology. Technology on my Crosstrek is limited to the Sirius/XM satellite radio, for which I’m not a subscriber. On our Premium Subaru’s standard STARLINK, in-vehicle technology can display incoming texts on screen, as well as allowing access to apps such as Pandora, iHeart Radio and Aha. And unlike some installations, you don’t feel overwhelmed visually by its size. As these things go it’s relatively intuitive, and flipping from NPR on FM to NPR on XM is easy enough.
ON THE ROAD: If the Crosstrek’s proportions don’t lend themselves quite so easily to hauling stuff, know that on the road they work far better for simply hauling. And no, you won’t be blown away by the Crosstrek’s 2.0 liter boxer four, especially when connected to the standard CVT (the manual trans is only available on the base Crosstrek – which is another beef), but you will be impressed by the Crosstrek’s mature composure for a vehicle costing this side of $30K. And no, you won’t confuse its dynamic with that of its WRX sibling – this, I’ll remind you, is a mature take on the Subie’s onroad composure. But comfort and composure are truly remarkable, with steering carefully weighted and body roll held nicely in check. Taken as a whole, I think the Benz and BMW people might have been well served before signing off on the engineering specs of their CLA and X1 (1st gen), respectively, if they had spent some time with Subaru’s entry-level CUV.
Under the hood, whether you opt for stick or CVT, know you’ll wish there was more than 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. Opt for the hybrid and total system power is bumped to 160, while torque grows to 163 at a low 2,000 rpm, which is the obvious key to more aggressive – if that’s the word – off-the-line acceleration. With all of that, if you know going in that this won’t be a substitute for the old WRX you should stay happy; there’s enough scoot here to merge safely on to today’s freeways and pass carefully on today’s byways. If we were on the product team at Subaru, we’d lobby for the BR-Z’s 200 horsepower 2.0 liter connected to a close-ratio 6-speed box, if only as a low-volume, niche-type offering.
OFF THE ROAD: Of course, with every Subaru is the duality offered by its standard all-wheel drive. Combined with almost nine inches of ground clearance the Crosstrek may not manhandle Moab, but will certainly get you to most trailheads. There, your mountain bike or hiking boots can take over. Regrettably, we’ve yet to drive ours offroad, but certainly wouldn’t decline the opportunity; I simply need the time to do it. We will refer you to the articles on the Crosstrek at the time of its launch, where those journalists with A-plus credentials were afforded a chance to drive pre-production examples in wintry/icy Iceland. In all reporting the Crosstrek excelled.
SUMMARY: With solid – almost vault-like – build quality, composed handling and decent room for both passengers and stuff, the Crosstrek – in any trim – is a viable choice for either urbanites wanting to escape the city, or suburbanites tackling the city on their daily commutes. Reasonably responsive and responsibly efficient, the Crosstrek – when investing either the $22K for the base or $32K for the uploaded Hybrid – is a remarkably savvy investment, one you can easily pass from one generation to another. Buy one for yourself today – and give it to your 10-year old when he or she is licensed.