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Subaru XV Crosstrek

The Subaru XV Crosstrek is a newly introduced crossover vehicle that's the distant successor to the old Impreza Outback models. Now with its own name, and its own compact space in the Subaru lineup, the XV Crosstrek also gets another distinction for the 2014 model year, as the first Subaru hybrid offered in the U.S.

The Crosstrek competes with the Jeep Compass, the MINI Countryman, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the Fiat 500X that's coming later this year, and maybe even the oddball Nissan Juke. And its second year on the market, Subaru is introducing an additional variant, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid. It's the first-ever hybrid from the brand, and while it's not expected to produce soaring fuel-efficiency ratings, it will likely find an eager audience among the brand's often eco-aware buyers. You know, they're the ones in the ads who kayak, climb mountains, explore caves, and other do outdoorsy things--often with their camping or sporting gear mounted on the Subaru's roof rack.

The XV Crosstrek rides almost 4 inches higher than the standard Impreza hatch, and adds entirely different front and rear styling, lower body cladding, a roof rack that can carry up to 150 pounds of gear, and some mechanical changes. Those include a beefed-up suspension, larger wheels and tires, structural reinforcements, bigger brakes, and a larger fuel tank. The Crosstrek is also one of very few vehicles in the compact crossover class that's rated for towing—up to 1,500 pounds.

The Crosstrek's interior is largely carried over from the Impreza hatchback, though it gets more rugged upholstery, along with a removable, rubberized cargo tray that can be easily hosed off. Seating is well-placed to make the most of the interior, with room for four adults and a backseat that's a bit tight in legroom but not lacking in headroom. While there are soft-touch materials on the dash, some of the interior trims and details look no better than what you'd expect for the Crosstrek's $21,995 base price.

On the road--and off it too--the Crosstrek is essentially a compact hatchback on steroids, with wide-ranging abilities. It's far from the most powerful car in the class, with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine that's smaller than many competitors' engines. It feels reasonably perky with the five-speed manual gearbox, and the XV Crosstrek accelerates well enough with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). But when a quick burst of power is needed, we found the CVT can be surprisingly slow to respond.

With the same Subaru all-wheel-drive system used in all its cars, the Crosstrek scrambles ably along particularly challenging muddy or rocky trails—including through deep snow, aided by a whopping 8.7 inches of ground clearance—just as well as many utility vehicles based on trucks. It rides well, and its compact dimensions and precise steering make tight maneuvers easy whether on-road or off.

Gas mileage is a strong selling point for the Crosstrek—and a real reason to choose it over one of the taller or larger crossovers. Its EPA ratings range up to 25 mpg city, 33 highway with the CVT, or 23/30 with the manual.

A weak point, on the other hand, is the remarkable amount of noise delivered by the large and aggressive wheel-tire combination on certain rough pavement surfaces. The Crosstrek is also far more susceptible to sidewinds than the much lower Impreza, and the suspension and wheel changes have made the Crosstrek notably more nervous and "wander-y" at high speeds than the Impreza it's based on.

The Crosstrek is a strong value for the money, with keyless entry, air conditioning, cruise control, and Bluetooth connectivity all included on the base Premium--which may be the best pick for buyers who'll use the car off road to haul sporting gear and athletic people. The Limited model adds automatic climate control, leather upholstery, and a fold-down rear armrest. An available combination navigation and audio system brings voice commands, test-massaging ability, and XM NavTraffic.

The IIHS calls the Crosstrek a Top Safety Pick, but the NHTSA has not yet given the crossover any crash-test ratings.

The Crosstrek name (the "XV" stands, Subaru says, for crossover vehicle) is a new label for a model that's significantly different, both visually and functionally, from the compact hatchback Impreza it's based on. The new model is the successor to the so-called Outback Sport, which was little more than a trim-and-tape-stripe package on top of first the Impreza wagon, and more recently the Impreza hatchback. It offered little of the capability of the larger mid-size Outback it was named after, and served only to dilute the Outback brand.


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