By Brian Harper
Simple fact: Subaru Canada sold a little over 15,000 Crosstreks last year, accounting for more than 25 per cent of Subaru Canada’s total sales and making it the top seller for the company.
It’s logical, really. While there is no such thing as one single car, truck or crossover with all the attributes that would make it the “perfect” vehicle for Canada’s climate and geography — or, for that matter, the “typical” Canadian consumer and their needs — the Crosstrek does have a number of admirable qualities that could qualify it for consideration. In no particular order, they include affordability, decent fuel economy, a solid safety rating, hatchback utility and, of course, all-wheel-drive, the compact-sized beastie riding the AWD tidal wave that has seen crossovers and SUVs rise to dominance while decimating traditional automobile sales.
Yes, many of the Crosstrek’s attributes could equally be ascribed to a number of competitive makes and models; the Subie doesn’t get to wear a halo all by itself. Yet, with the introduction of the second-generation model for 2018, the Crosstrek has come into its own with ride and handling worthy of praise, along with an overall feeling that it’s built like a tank, which is impressive due in the fact it weighs less than 1,500 kilograms — some of its lightness attributable to an aluminum hood.
Still, I have to admit I’ve been less than enthusiastic over the years regarding Subaru’s smallest crossover. My key criticism, one shared by numerous others, has centered on the paucity of power churned out by the Crosstrek’s 2.0-litre, direct-injection, boxer four-cylinder engine — just 152 horsepower for the second-gen model, up four horses from its predecessor. Paired with the choice of a six-speed manual (on the Convenience, Touring and Sport trims) or the Lineartronic CVT (standard on the topline Limited), the Subaru has acceleration that’s a little quicker than leisurely, but not by much. The company’s description of the engine as “potent” should be greeted with a snort of derision.
Here’s the thing: Word on the street is, Subaru will add to the 2021 Crosstrek the larger 2.5L four-cylinder the company already uses in its Forester, Outback and Legacy. If this comes to pass, having another 30 or so horsepower to play with will certainly give the crossover some much-needed urge. As it is, when loading up the Crosstrek with passengers and luggage, or navigating hilly or mountainous terrain, that’s when its laid-back nature is most noticeable — not so much when puttering around town.
So, scintillating acceleration is clearly not the Crosstrek’s forte, but let’s drop some kudos on it for Subaru’s Global Platform — the foundation for the crossover — combining a framework of cross-sections and highly stiffened joints between structures that imbue the vehicle with significantly reduced noise, vibration, and harshness. In fact, the rigidity of the unitized body structure was increased by more than 70 per cent compared with the first-generation model.
Furthermore, the Crosstrek’s designers and engineers managed to combine a generous 220 millimetres of ground clearance with a low centre of gravity, meaning it’s more than capable of tackling a gnarly bit of road or trail while also imbuing it with an agility superior to most similar sized crossovers. And the double-wishbone independent rear suspension mounts its rear stabilizer bar directly to the body, improving stability.
Not including the new-for-2020 and somewhat pricey PHEV, there are four available trims for Crosstrek: Convenience, Touring, Sport and Limited, all available — at added cost, except on the Limited, where it’s standard — with Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist technology, which includes such features as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure and sway warning.
At $23,795, the base Convenience is a low-priced entry into the Crosstrek lineup specifically and the compact crossover segment generally. It covers off the essentials fairly well, its set of standard features include a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cruise control, air conditioning, power windows, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, power door locks, and power side mirrors. But, considering Subaru is a company that faithfully adheres to the form-follows-function mantra, the Convenience is a bit on the austere side.
At the other end of the spectrum — and the model being tested here — is the $33,895 Limited, the version with all the bells and whistles: a cabin swaddled in leather, heated front seats and steering wheel, push-button start and keyless entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, a more premium Harman/Kardon eight-speaker sound system, and an eight-inch touchscreen with GPS navigation among the main upticks. Thus equipped, the Limited, while not exactly reaching hedonistic levels of comfort and amenities, is still a lot more livable — the simple addition of orange stitching on the seats, dash, doors and steering wheel is an appreciated touch. More to the point, once situated behind the wheel, all controls, buttons and other functions are presented in a logical array, clearly marked and easy to reach. Functionality also applies to the crossover’s generous cargo capacity — 588 litres behind the rear seats and 1,565 with the seats folded flat.
In the past, I have proffered the idea that the Crosstrek’s mechanicals and features can equally be found in the compact Impreza — at a less expensive price point. But, while true, I have now come to the ironic realization I have reached the age where my father’s insistence on higher riding vehicles — he was a big man — makes a lot more sense. Simply put, the Crosstrek, though essentially a jacked-up Impreza hatchback, is easier to enter and exit. Should that be your primary reason to buy it? That depends. How creaky are your knees?
More pragmatically speaking, in a very crowded segment, Subaru’s entry-level crossover is definitely a strong entry and certainly one of the more competent all-wheel-drive vehicles out there. Should the Crosstrek get the more powerful engine many have been asking for, it will only increase its worthiness.