A Utility Knife For The Sensible Shoes Crowd



There are stories in every culture about a young man or woman who is supposed to marry someone sensible, attractive, a good cook and good provider. But when the protagonist of the story meets the would-be fiancee's more interesting, vivacious, funny and unconventional sibling or best friend, sparks fly and the original relationship doesn't stand a chance.

And so it was when we drove the 2013 Subaru XV through the roads and highways of Tuscany. On Day One, we drove the version the U.S. will get in the third quarter of next year. The first thing to hit us: déjà vu. This is the 2012 Impreza hatchback, albeit with cladding above the wheel wells and a a seriously jacked up stance. It will have the same, brand-new 2.0-liter flat-four as the Impreza hatch we tested a few months ago that is just hitting dealer lots. So what's the verdict? The XV can cook an acceptable pot of tomato sauce and cleans up nicely for Sunday mass. She's a nice girl and good company.

We should have left it there. We should have called it a test after Day One. We should have simply driven off with the girl we came to meet. Why? Because on day two of our drive, we met the cousin with the better personality, the longer legs, the Sophia Loren cheekbones and the killer personality: the 2.0 liter turbo-diesel with the manual transmission. We drove her through the winding back roads north of Florence amidst the Chianti vineyards, villages and Fiat fix-it shops, but she refuses to come to the States. You see, she will only date Europeans.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek driving2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek driving2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek driving

Not surprisingly, there's no diesel option for North America. But before we get back to the gasoline-powered XV, let's just say that the 145-horsepower turbo-diesel mated to the six-speed manual is the version everyone should aspire to drive. Its 258 pound-feet of torque and the olive-oil smooth shifter is what you want. We smelled a little clutch at the coffee-stop, but we chalk that up to a few hundred miles on the odometer and the desire to keep it on boil in third gear when the second driver in the car thought 4th was in order. Torquey and responsive, the Boxer engine and its low center of gravity, combined with Subaru's all-wheel-drive system, gives you everything you would need except maybe superior fuel economy. Throughout almost all Italian back-road driving, we got a shabby 29 mpg after we did conversions from European metrics, but that was five mpg better than the petrol version. Ah, but she can cook.

And how about that gasoline-fed version? Despite the fact that the XV and Impreza hatch are as close to one another as the Olsen twins (if one of them were wearing platform shoes), Subaru will market the crossover as the XV Crosstrek. Indeed, parent company Fuji Heavy Industries would only give it to Subaru of America if they gave the car its own unique name (big decision coming about whether to capitalize the "T" in 'trek'). The company previously sold an Impreza with a raised suspension called the Impreza Outback Sport, and nobody was happy with the sales results.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek front detail2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek wheel2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek rear detail2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek rear fascia

As previously noted, the exterior is the same as the Impreza hatch, only raised 8.6 inches off the ground. Both cars sport a more chiseled, aggressive hood. The grille on the XV has been tweaked to include a continuous chrome bar under the Subaru logo. The black cladding topping the rear wheel wells continues down under the car and surrounds the rear fog lights. The overall look of both versions maintains Subaru's sensible-shoe look, and Autoblog colleague Steven Ewing rightly compares the rear 3/4 view to the late Pontiac Vibe. The huge gaps in the wheel wells are necessary for suspension travel while traipsing off road, though these cars are typically bought for their sure-footedness in snow and dirt, not creek beds and mountain crawls. Still, the 17-inch wheels look a little lost in there.

The new Impreza is the same length and width as the old model, though the wheelbase has been lengthened by two inches giving rear-seat passengers extra comfort. We found gallons of front-seat headroom for us two five-foot, 10-inch occupants, not that the former Impreza was a slouch when it came to space up front.

On the inside, it's a clean, straightforward setup. No heavy-handed styling like in the Ford Focus center-stack. It's a cabin designed for sense and sensibility, for people who put 20 percent down on their mortgages and don't carry big credit card balances. There's so-called soft-touch surfacing on the upper door panels and dashboard, but Subaru could take some classes in how to select plastics as both the inside of the Impreza and XV borderline on Saturn Ion territory.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek interior2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek front seats2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek rear seats2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek rear cargo area

The 2.0-liter flat-four (148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque) is the only engine Subaru is copping to bringing Stateside. The U.S. isn't even likely to get a turbo, to which we say, why the hell not? This crossover is supposed to be for urban adventurers, according to the marketing presentation, but alas turbo power will be reserved for the Impreza STI and WRX.

The engine is mated to a six-speed CVT with paddle-shifters that Subaru calls "Lineartronic." We dipped into manual mode in both the Impreza and XV, and still don't quite get the point. It's not horrible off the line in automatic, but we'd take a manual tray for both cars given the choice. The CVT Impreza hatch hits 25 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on the highway based on U.S. certification, but we got considerably less in real-world conditions when driving the Crosstrek, managing only about 24 mpg in mixed driving.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek engine

Like the Impreza, the XV uses a MacPherson strut and lower L-arm front with a double-wishbone rear suspension. With the boxer engine and symmetrical AWD, the XV has a well-balanced and comfortable feel. As the weather called for flurries, Subaru had outfitted our tester with snow tires, but the wet stuff never materialized. Regardless, the electrically assisted steering's on-center feel – even with the cold weather rubber – was light but communicative, and the engine's start-stop system's engagement was obvious, but just shy of refined.

On the whole, there isn't too much here that the Impreza hatch doesn't already offer, except the higher ride height and the more aggressive pose that the boosted suspension provides. But those changes are important as light crossovers represent the fastest growing category in both the U.S. and Europe. The XV Crosstrek not only qualifies as a crossover (the Impreza doesn't), but it will start at under $20,000 – perhaps even under $19k – putting Subaru into a critical price bracket for shoppers comparing crossovers online (the standard 2012 Impreza clocks in at just under $18,000 in five-door form).

If you like the Impreza hatchback and Subaru's all-wheel-drive system, then there's nothing not to like here. If the idea of a legit crossover – versus a hatchback – floats your boat, then Subaru is making sure you don't feel the need to go to another brand. That's just good business sense, even if it's close to a rolling misnomer.

2013 Subaru SV Crosstrek rear 3/4 view

Can it handle some off-roading? Sure. We drove the XV through a vineyard on a dirt road, but we're sure a 1970 Dodge Coronet could have handled it without getting stuck. And that's likely the most demanding conditions owners will throw at it. But the XV is a solid, all-wheel-drive utility knife with a smooth, satisfying ride – just like most Subarus.

Subaru of America thinks it can sell between 25,000 and 35,000 XV Crosstreks a year – even without offering a turbo or a diesel. Why can't we get the better hardware that Olivier, Sven and Klaus get? We hear that Subaru of America is selling everything Japan ships to the U.S. and that the Japanese honchos don't see the need in sending over anything they aren't sure about (diesel) or that drives the cost up (turbo). Maybe Subaru executives know something we don't, but if the brand's famously adventurous buyers got the chance to experience the diesel model's superior drivability and economy for themselves, we have a feeling they'd find even more to love... and buy.