Friday, January 25, 2013

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i

Aside from a passel of Jeeps, the odd Toyota, and a few hulking pickups, the population of new vehicles that traffic in off-pavement readiness right off the showroom floor is limited. Except, that is, at the Subaru store. In 2012, the company’s sales accounted for barely two percent of the U.S. market; that’s a profitable, 267,000-vehicle sliver of the market that Subaru has been cultivating for years. Its succession of cars, wagons, and semi-SUVs have earned reputations for being solid, dependable, kind of different, and fashionably anodyne. Think of Subaru as dishing up the comfort food of the car biz, sort of mom’s meatloaf with all-wheel drive.
Every so often, Subaru spices up its menu with something more appetizing than its usual bland-but-filling fare. The rear-drive BRZ sports coupe is the most exciting of these in recent memory, but the new XV Crosstrek 2.0i fills the bill, too, although in a diametrically opposite way. Originally conceived as a downsized (relative to U.S. dimensions) SUV for the European market, the Crosstrek is based on the Impreza Sport five-door hatchback. Its silhouette is conventionally crossover, with a tapering tailgate as opposed to the more squared-off, wagonish style of the Forester. It’s a bulldoggy look accentuated by flat-black wheel surrounds and rocker panels, black-and-silver 17-inch wheels, squinty headlights, and a stubby nose.
What really gives it rough-road cred is 8.7 inches of ground clearance, 2.9 inches more than a regular Impreza. All-weather capability is a traditional Subaru attribute that helps account for its popularity in the sleet-and-snow states. In normal, decent-weather driving, the high stance doesn’t influence ride or handling much—the jacked-up XV’s lateral skidpad grip was a respectable 0.81 g, just .04 less than the street-level Impreza Sport and stickier than a Honda CR-V we tested. The Crosstrek’s handling is essentially transparent; it goes around corners and in a straight line without making either a negative or positive impression, although it is capable enough to handle aggressive driving. The electrically assisted steering is accurate if somewhat uncommunicative, the braking is without drama, and the ride is closer to that of a family sedan than a four-wheel-drive soft roader.
At 8.1 seconds to 60 mph, the XV’s accelerative talents are about what you’d expect from a 2.0-liter flat-four making 148 horsepower and 145 lb-ft of torque. And while the 0–60 number isn’t likely to inspire confidence in a green-light face-off or while merging onto an interstate, it makes this Subie a tad more spritely than heavier compact crossovers such as the CR-V (8.5 seconds) and Mazda CX-5 (9.2). Like they say, it’s all relative. Our test car had a five-speed manual. Weak though it may be, there is a plus side to this 2.0-liter engine: Subaru claims that (with a CVT) it yields among the highest fuel economy of any all-wheel-drive crossover in America, with EPA ratings of 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. The estimates for our five-speed manual test car are 23/30.
Perched on a 103.7-inch wheelbase, the Crosstrek’s body offers more than ample interior space. With lots of head- and elbowroom and comfortably upright seating, the ambience is one of airy roominess. Rear-seat legroom is a generous 35.4 inches with ample hiproom for three. With the standard 60/40-split rear seatbacks folded, there’s 52 cubic feet of flat-floor carrying space. With the seats up, there’s still enough utility to handle the usual day-to-day impedimenta.
The driver faces a well-proportioned steering wheel and views a cluster of instruments lettered with off-white numbers against a black background, which are easy to see except when wearing polarizing sunglasses. The center stack is conventionally contemporary with easy-to-use, three-knob climate controls and sufficient space for electronic detritus such as cell phones and iPods.
We tested the entry-level Premium model, which comes equipped with heated front seats and sideview mirrors, a roof rack, stability control, Bluetooth, cruise control, and power windows and door locks. The $22,790 as-tested price isn’t bad for what is ultimately a useful and practical car, particularly in places where the weather can become a hazard. It’s open to discussion, however, as to whether the XV will expand the universe of off-pavement-ready small crossovers or steal sales from Subaru’s other all-wheel-drive wagon offerings. The XV slots in at $1200 more than the Impreza 2.0i Sport Premium (which goes without the extra ground clearance and SUV styling cues) and $1500 less than the larger, Legacy 2.5–based Outback wagon. That may be slicing mom’s meatloaf a little thin, but then again, Subaru’s ability to find multitudinous ways for buyers to drive over the river and through the woods is well established.