At the 2013 Automotive Journalists’ Association of Canada Test Fest evaluations, Subaru entered its XV Crosstrek in the “Under $35,000 SUV” category. It didn’t win, but placed a very close second behind the Ford Escape 1.6 litre EcoBoost. As a voter in this group, I didn’t choose either one; I think Honda’s CR-V is still the category winner here.
Anyway, one of the things that turned me off the Crosstrek was its CVT. Subaru likes to describe it as a “Lineartronic” transmission – whatever that is - the idea apparently being that power transfer is smooth, uninterrupted, predictable, and….well, linear.
While I would concede that it is relatively smooth in operation, this CVT is ‘way too unresponsive and really slows this vehicle down. Takeoff acceleration from a standing start is paralytic, and if you need instant snap right now, for overtaking on the highway for example, it simply isn’t there in the low rpms. In fact, I was shocked at how unresponsive my tester was and tried it again and again to see if things would get better. They didn’t. By way of comparison, a conventional planetary type of transmission would have a kickdown that would drop it down a gear or two, and off you go, but that doesn’t happen here and the CVT in the Crosstrek – Lineartronic or otherwise – takes far too long to spool up and detracts from the overall character of this vehicle. In short, stay away from the CVT.
Which is definitely possible, as Subaru also offers a five-speed manual that is $1300 cheaper than the CVT, with only marginally inferior fuel consumption.
Elsewhere, power for the Impreza-derived Crosstrek is delivered by a 2.0 litre horizontally-opposed four cylinder that develops some 148 horsepower. Subaru’s Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system is standard on all models. Not all of the entrants at Test Fest offered AWD as standard issue, so that’s a good thing. As well, Subarus have excellent off-road capabilities. Most of the folks interested in this kind of rig are looking for extra traction and road-holding ability in lousy weather or deteriorating road conditions, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take the Crosstrek into the boonies, should the need arise. Because of its relatively small size and light weight, this is an off-roader par excellence.
That said, 148 horsepower is not going to set the roads on fire and all of the other entrants in this category out-power the Crosstrek, hands-down….some by a considerable margin. The CR-V, for example, develops 185 horsepower, and the Ford Escape, 178 horses. Yet another reason to stay away from the power-robbing CVT.
Subaru is offering the Crosstrek in three basic packages: Touring, Sport, and Limited. My tester was the latter, and it came with things like leather interior, vouice-activated navi system, back-up camera, climate control and a power sunroof. This takes it from a base price of just above $30,000 up to well over $32,000. A base Touring model, on the other hand, is well under $25,000 to start and has essentials such as heated front seats, air conditioning, and tilt/telescoping steering. This makes it a much more attractive proposition, in my opinion.
Behind the wheel, lack of power notwithstanding, the Crosstrek is about as driveable as these things get. It’s perched a little higher off the ground than the Impreza, but nothing onerous and ingress and egress is a cinch. The flat-four boxer engine has a built-in smoothness and civility and it’s much less rambunctious than the Escape. Fuel economy is also a pleasant surprise; equipped with the CVT, the Crosstrek delivers about 8.2 L/100 km in town and 6.0 on the highway. With the exception of the Mazda SkyActiv CX-5, this is just about the best fuel economy in this category.
Storage capacity, equally important, is down here, however. The Crosstrek offers less room to haul stuff than all its competitors. The CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe, for example, are vastly roomier inside.
One small thing I did like, however, was the choice of paint. In addition to the usual greys and blacks, there is a distinctive “Tangerine Orange” colour that really makes the Crosstrek stand out in a crowd. Years ago, BMW conducted studies that related car colour to safety. They found that bright tints such as the now famous Aztec Orange are much more visible than white, grey or black, for example, and can result in fewer accidents. Interestingly, many fire departments changed the colours of their engine around about the same time, going from traditional red to lime green and so on. Worth bearing in mind.
However, that wouldn’t be enough to sway me were I in the market for this kind of vehicle. I like the Crosstrek’s off-road prowess, its engine and its deceptive ruggedness, but it’s simply too small, and gutless.
Especially with the CVT.
AT A GLANCE
Base Price: $30,995 as tested: $32,410
Engine: 2.0 litre horizontally-opposed four cylinder
Horsepower: 148hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 145 ft. lb @ 4200 rpm
Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 8.2 city; 6.0 hwy. Regular gas.
Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-7, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape 1.6 Eco-boost, Hyundai Santa Fe, Chev Trax, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage.