A Rugged Runabout For The Masses



If there's one thing manufacturers can't stand, it's a void in the marketplace. Product planners spend untold hours scouring the automotive spectrum for any whiff of white space, and once found, waste no time in sussing up a new model to fill the vacuum. That's how we wind up with oddities like the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, Chevrolet HHR Panel, and yes, the BMW 5 Series GT. Even Subaru has occasionally fallen into the answer-to-the-question-no-one-asked trap, resulting in models like the short-lived Baja.

So, when we first laid eyes on the 2013 XV Crosstrek, we couldn't help but approach the model with all the caution we typically reserve for unidentified casseroles. At first blush, the hatchback looks just like an Impreza with a lift kit and some funky body cladding. But given recent shifts in the Subaru playbook, the XV actually makes sense as part of the company's comprehensive lineup. As the Impreza has grown larger and softer, the WRX has moved even deeper into the performance realm and the old Impreza Outback Sport has vanished completely, leaving buyers looking for an economical, rugged runabout with no place to turn. That's where the XV Crosstrek comes in.

As seems to be the case with most new Subaru products, the 2013 XV Crosstrek isn't going to win any beauty pageants. It borrows all of its bodywork from the lower-slung Impreza five-door, but the addition of the new ride height does much to improve the vehicle's presence on the road. Whereas the standard Impreza can't help but look a little awkward, the XV has grown into its ears. Subaru shoved a full 8.7 inches of ground clearance under this newest crossover, putting it ahead of would-be rivals like the 2013 Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and even the Jeep Compass. The stance helps make sense of the body lines by Tonka, and with the wheels pushed far to each corner, the XV appears ready to go bashing through the woods.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek side view2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek front view2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek rear view

Whereas the standard Impreza can't help but look a little awkward, the XV has grown into its ears.

Down the side, onlookers can't help but notice the chunky 17-inch alloy wheels with their geometric design and black painted accents. Those bits are standard across the board, and help make room for lager brakes up front. The 2013 XV Crosstrek wears bulky plastic fender flares and rockers that do a good job of protecting the paint against slung gravel and careless ingress. On closer inspection, the pieces are a step up from the cheap grained material we've seen elsewhere. With an interesting pattern and matte finish, the plastics actually look passable, especially against the dark paint of our tester.

Critics have long derided Subaru for the company's '90s-quality interiors, and while the XV doesn't offer any revelations in that department, it's certainly a step in the right direction. Limited trim offers up nice leather seating with contrast stitching, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels appropriately sized. The redundant controls are all familiar and well thought out, and the faux-metal accents along the dash help brighten up the cabin a bit. Yes, the buttons for the seat warmers are still in a clunky location and the climate controls can feel a bit flimsy, but we're keen to reward Subaru for leaving well enough alone here. Everything is easy to reach, simple to understand and functions as intended. That's more than we can say for a host of automakers at the moment.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek interior2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek front seats2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek infotainment system2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek shifter

Unfortunately, the cabin continues to be crippled by the in-dash infotainment display. The tech looks like something Best Buy would have been embarrassed to sell ten years ago, and simply feels out of place in our tester with its $27,290 price tag. It's got to go.

Make no mistake, the XV is on the small end of the CUV spectrum.

Otherwise, there's plenty of space in the back seats for full-grown adults, and the hatch reveals 22.3 cubic feet of cargo area with the seats up. Fold them down and that number swells to 51.9 cubes. Make no mistake, though, the XV is on the small end of the CUV spectrum. The Escape, CX-5 and Compass all outdo this little Subaru on the cargo capacity front.

Unfortunately, the XV Crosstrek is stuck with the same 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder that powers the base Impreza. At 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, the little engine is clearly taxed shuffling the 3,164-pound hatchback around town. To darken those waters even further, our tester came with a continuously variable transmission. There are plenty of manufacturers building excellent continuously variable gearboxes these days, but rest assured Subaru is not one of them. When paired with the already course boxer engine, the CVT turns the driveline into a contraption that's both loud and harsh while yielding very little in the way of acceleration.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek engine

It will take you more than 10 seconds to get to 60 mph on any sort of grade, which requires a certain amount of foresight in traffic and while merging onto the interstate. We've driven compact cars that feel more confident playing with others on the road. That cut in power does serve up an EPA estimated 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, though.

It operates like a little SUV before that segment became muddied with crossover half breeds.

Of course, the easily winded engine hardly matters once you take this CUV toward a gravel path. Subaru has paired the 2013 XV Crosstrek with Yokohama Geolander H/T G95A tires, and the light truck rubber benefits from an aggressive mud and snow tread pattern off road. The tires deliver a surprising amount of grip as you scramble around, and the soft suspension comes into its own as it tackles ruts, holes and washouts. Paired with the always excellent Subaru all-wheel-drive system, the XV really does feel capable of bounding up a mountainside, and that's more than we can say for a lot of entries in this soft-roader class.

But that capability requires some sacrifice. Those Geolanders give up grip on asphalt quickly, yielding plenty of understeer and tire squeal with just a little hustling, and the woe is exaggerated by the XV's tall ride height and subsequent body roll. That may sound like a demerit, but the truth is we have to applaud Subaru for building a CUV with a focus on utility. This doesn't drive like a car. It operates like a little SUV before that segment became muddied with crossover half breeds. During our week with the machine, we kept finding excuses to go poking around off of the paved surface.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek rear 3/4 view

The Forester steps in the door with an entry price of $21,296 – a full $700 cheaper than the XV.

So, does the 2013 XV Crosstrek take care of the vacancy caused by the Impreza and WRX growing up? It would if it weren't for the MSRP on the newest addition to the stable. Subaru will ask for $21,995, plus a $795 destination fee for the base Crosstrek. Our Limited tester started at $24,495 before getting optioned up with the Navigation and Moonroof Package for a grand total of $27,290 delivered. Those numbers are problematic given that the larger, arguably more comfortable Forester steps in the door with an entry price of $21,296 – a full $700 cheaper than the XV. Keep in mind that machine comes from the factory with the stouter 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine delivering an extra 30 horsepower over its XV sibling.

Nevertheless, we were pleasantly surprised by the XV during our time with the high rider. Its quirky styling eventually grew on us with the same inexplicable tenacity of a pug dog, and the tall ride height was certainly nice while fording small streams and bouncing over river stones, but we simply can't come up with a reason to pay more money for a less functional vehicle when there are so many better options in the Subaru showroom. We imagine most buyers will feel the same way.