SUBARU likes to play it safe when it comes to new-generation models, but in the case of the new-generation Subaru small SUV – now known as Crosstrek, not XV – the brand may have played it a bit too safe.
Because despite this new-gen compact crossover having been switched to the Subaru Global Platform, it doesn’t necessarily take big enough steps forward in some ways, despite improving immensely in others.
The Crosstrek is still powered by the same engine choices as the old XV, meaning it runs the choice of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder ‘boxer’ petrol engine, either with 115kW/196Nm, or as a petrol-electric hybrid, which uses a slightly detuned example of the same mill (110kW/196Nm) but pairs it with an electric motor (12.6kW/66Nm). Both run a CVT automatic transmission and the brand’s all-wheel-drive system, though it has been tweaked in this generation and now apportions torque 60:40, as opposed to 50:50.
In the North American market, Crosstrek comes with the choice of a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine (similar to that in the Outback and Forester), and there have been hints that some more advanced hybrid tech may come soon.
The range kicks off from $34,990 (MSRP) for the 2.0L, and there’s a $3600 premium for the petrol-electric option, with the Hybrid L listing at $38,590. The mid-spec 2.0R is petrol only, at $38,490. The top-grade 2.0S ($41,490) and Hybrid S ($45,090) round out the range.
Otherwise, the brand has focused on the seats and the “ride comfort” for this new model, though the interpretation of that term is more around occupant enjoyment than suspension overhauls.
Tota Sakurai, engineering manager for Subaru Corporation, said the brand had worked on the seats in particular to offer better sacrum support, which apparently reduces head-shaking movement by 44 per cent compared to the last model.
That’s just one of the big improvements inside the cabin, with the busy multi-screen layout of the XV done away with in favour of the familiar look and feel of the current crop of models, including the standard-fit 11.6-inch touchscreen media system. In this iteration, though, the brand has made the move to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, and all grades come with a wireless phone charger as standard as well.
The practicality is good, with ample storage up front and controls that are generally easy to get accustomed to, especially if you’ve sat in an Outback or WRX. However, there is a balance between physical buttons and dials (volume, temperature control) and on-screen commands (recirculation, fan speed adjustment).
The rear seat space remains a highlight, with plenty of room for an adult (I managed to fit in comfortably behind my own 182cm position). There’s a shortage of rear-seat amenities, however, with only one map pocket, no fold-down armrest, no cup holders, and no rear seat directional air-vents.
And the boot space remains a shortcoming for this Impreza-based high-rider, with 291 litres of cargo capacity for the petrol models which have a space-saver spare under the floor, while the hybrid versions have no spare, but gain a few more cargo litres (315L).
The Crosstrek has not yet been crash tested, however it does come comprehensively equipped with autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian, cyclist and junction detection, all models come with rear auto-braking, there’s blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert standard, and front cross-traffic alert is standard now, too. If you choose the base model you get a reversing camera and rear parking sensors, while the higher grades add a surround-view camera (a first for Subaru) as well as front and side view monitors. Airbag coverage is extensive, with nine fitted.
The Crosstrek is covered by Subaru’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and there is a five-year/75,000km capped-price servicing program as well, with the costs averaging out at around $475 per service. There is 12 months of roadside assistance offered as well.
There was no opportunity to drive the hybrid, but the petrol model was adequate for the sedate driver’s needs, while more demanding drivers will be left wanting more performance.
This 2.0L powertrain doesn’t have the same zesty ‘let’s go’ character of the 2.5L in the bigger Sooby models, and as such it can feel dull in its response, especially up hills at higher speeds. The CVT auto has a tendency to make the car lurch from a standstill then lag and feel sluggish, too.
However, the steering feels somewhat improved compared to the last model and same for the ride comfort and body control. From memory, the existing XV had a tendency to feel a bit bouncy and wobbly, especially at the rear, while the Crosstrek felt a bit more tied down.
Engine noise and that inherent CVT drone have seemingly been dulled, but there is still some noticeable intrusion from the elements – driving alongside a truck in a tunnel was a surprisingly loud experience.
The usability of the safety technology is a big plus, though, with the improved camera system offering better parking views. However, drivers may lament the annoying driver monitoring camera system which needs to be disabled every time you drive the vehicle, as does the lane-keeping technology, which can be a bit insistent.
The launch event also included an off-road drive element that showcased the inherent appeal in the Crosstrek, in that it has considerably more ground clearance (220mm), better approach and departure angles, and smart off-road drive modes (X Mode) that allow it easier progress than almost all others in this segment.