Subaru’s Crosstrek Sport –
SUBIE. SUBIE. DO?
In almost 50 years of car and motorcycle ownership, I have a lot of memories – most of them good – and a few regrets. My first regret was in 1975, after buying a pre-owned Audi 100, believing that if Road & Track liked it I would. (Ultimately, not even our local mechanic liked it.) Almost 45 years after the Audi we sold our ’14 Subaru Crosstrek, a crossover we had kept at our Dallas apartment. With a manual trans and Subaru’s short-shift kit, it was almost exactly what a versatile, tossable small hatch should be. And with another 50 horsepower, it would have been exactly what a small hatch should be. Notably, Subaru’s 2021 variant doesn’t have that 50 horsepower, but it does have 30 more horses than our ’14; Subaru calls it a Crosstrek Sport.
In what might be termed a mild refresh for this model year, with improvements in available tech and a redesigned front bumper, the bigger news is the addition of a 2.5 liter boxer powerplant to the Crosstrek’s menu. Initially introduced on Subaru’s larger Forester, the 2.5 liter four – which is standard on the Crosstrek Sport and Limited trims – adds 30 horsepower (up to 182) relative to the lower trims’ 2.0 liter four, along with an additional 31 lb-ft of torque. This is a substantive improvement over what Subaru had offered in 2014, and continued to offer thru 2020.
That 2.0 liter, even with the goodness of a 5-speed manual, was wheezy at its limit, and decidedly agricultural at almost any speed. In the ’14 performance was notably better above 50 miles per hour, when the engine and platform seemed to have found an almost Euro-like sweetspot, but in the cut-and-thrust of city driving those 152 horsepower offered little ‘cut’ and almost no ‘thrust’. In comparison, hopping into Hyundai’s Kona crossover with the available 1.6 liter turbocharged four was a revelation, akin to moving from Ford’s Mustang to a P51 Mustang. With this 2.5 liter, a Subaru Crosstrek is finally a very refined and reasonably responsive experience.
That additional refinement is also evident in the platform. Whereas the ride and handling of that ’14 almost felt BMW-like (yup…), the 2021 is more Buick, and that works well for the general population. Were I on Subaru’s product team, I’d spec a firmer suspension, which – in turn – would provide both a more nailed ride and handling balance, along with (probably) more precise steering.
Beyond the additional horsepower in the Crosstrek Sport is Subaru’s X-MODE. Although sounding like a new Marvel-inspired movie, it is instead a dual function off-road program, with provisions for snow and dirt or deep snow and mud. Your choice. Obviously, the idea is to optimize the Crosstrek’s all-wheel drive performance, even in difficult weather or road conditions. And as weather becomes less predictable, while our infrastructure deteriorates into predictably bad, these features can keep you going when competitive products from Asia are forced to stay home.
Beyond its improved functionality is improved space. When compared to our ’14, there seems to be a little more room: shoulder room, headroom and – for rear seat passengers – rear legroom. It may be as much atmospheric as dimensional, but this is a space for four real adults, whereas the first gen Crosstrek felt like a family space for two adults and two children. In short, the room feels more like that of a crossover, and not a Crosstrek.
We also like Subaru’s choice of 17-inch rims on the Sport, while again, given the ‘Sport’ designation, we’d opt for more aggressive tires. As one that has road-oriented tires on my one mountain bike, I get the argument regarding a more street spec tire on a gravel-oriented platform, but there are any number of gnarlier tires where you don’t pay much of a penalty in road noise or wear, and I think Subaru needs to find them.
At an as-tested price of $29K, which includes $1600 of tech upgrades and moonroof, the Crosstrek Sport feels like some sort of value homerun. With a manual (not available) or dual-clutch transmission, stiffer suspension and better tires, it’d be a bases-loaded homerun. Join me in throwing that on Subaru’s Facebook page.