Subaru didn't want to say why it sent the XV Crosstrek to the hybrid party first, but the original car itself was an opportunistic play for the European market that has worked out surprisingly well over there and over here. In areas represented by the American flag it's doing about 4,000 sales per month and on pace to hit 50,000 units for all of 2013; that's just another happy chapter in Subaru's generally awesome year that sees it outpacing Volkswagen through the end of October, 347,890 units to 342,962.
The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is the opportunistic play for the 25 percent of Subaru buyers that will be looking for a hybrid as their next vehicle, so sayeth Subaru, and for those outside the fold who are determined to include the word "hybrid" in their purchase but also want some extra ride height, space and all-wheel drive.
After heading to Iceland to give it a workout, what we can tell you is that it certainly is a hybrid and it is also, certainly, a Subaru. What we can't tell you yet – and we'll explain why not below – is that it makes perfect sense beyond the dictates of market research and the oft-used alibi, 'the government made us do it' (our words, not Subaru's).
What we also know is that if someone tells you there's only a 10-percent chance of snow on your hinterland, trans-volcanic drive route, pack a parka and a lunch.
Other than the 196.5-pound battery pack, there's been no great, singular lump of change made to the XV Crosstrek Hybrid; rather, it is about lots of little alterations intended not only to maintain the gas-powered XV Crosstrek's dynamics, but improve on them and identify the dual-motored beast among the herd.
That Panasonic-sourced, nickel-metal hydride battery is a 13.5-kW pack with a capacity of 0.6 kwH. Why not lithium-ion? Because that would drive the cost up, and that's not the Subaru way. It provides juice to a 13.4-horsepower electric motor built onto the car's Lineartronic continuously variable transmission. The battery and electric motor add 230 pounds to the curb weight while the ancillaries, stiffening and improvements to noise, vibration and harshness quelling add another 74, the total being 3,451 pounds for the base trim and 3,484 pounds for the Touring. In case you're wondering, the entire system was developed in-house at Subaru and doesn't have any Toyota components.
You'll find the same center-of-gravity and 8.7 inches of ground clearance as its non-hybrid counterpart.
The battery, drive motor inverter and DC/DC converter sit in a space under the slightly raised rear floor where the spare tire used to go, which means that the XV Crosstrek Hybrid comes with a flat-repair kit. The power electrics make the most of their presence with the help of a stop/start system that's assisted by a second battery in the engine compartment, a refined climate control system with more sensors for more efficient operation, active grille shutters in front and longer flaps beneath the car. The pack is cooled by a vent in the cabin next to the rear seat on the driver's side. It fans air onto the battery and then out of an exterior vent behind the pillar.
The entire rear floor of the car was also redesigned in order to manage the additional mass, and the body has extra subframe supports. The suspension and its mounting points get a shot of steroids so as to keep things nimble, with tweaks like a sway bar that thickens by two millimeters to 18 mm and high-response dampers in front, and the hatch sits on more rigid 17-inch aluminum wheels. Measure the clear air underneath and you'll find the same center-of-gravity and 8.7 inches of ground clearance as its non-hybrid counterpart. To sharpen the handling further, the steering rack is quicker, besting the ratio of the Impreza WRX STI.
There's reduced friction in the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, boxer engine up front, along with a higher compression ratio and improved spark plugs, and the whole lump rests on liquid-filled engine mounts. And because the hybrid will ascend to the throne of the XV Crosstrek line, engineers didn't stop there with the changes. Citing feedback about cabin noise - even though most reviews we've read didn't find anything to complain about - there's more damping in the footwells and under the front seats, the windshield has an acoustic film between the layers of glass, there's more vibration dampening in the steering wheel and more sound absorbing material in the pillars and in the roof, all of which hangs over a thicker floopan.
The upgraded ambience is supposed to let buyers get more enjoyment from the upgraded power. While the gas-only XV Crosstrek produces 148 hp at 6,200 rpm and 145 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm, total hybrid output is 160 hp at 6,000 rpm and 163 lb-ft coming at a much kinder 2,000 rpm. The time to reach 60 miles per hour, however, hasn't changed compared to the gas-only burner at just around 10 seconds. Remember, when the latest Impreza came out it gave up 22 hp and 25 lb-ft when it ditched its old 2.5-liter motor, but it also lost 110 pounds. The Crosstrek Hybrid puts it all back and then some, with a modest gain in gumption. How you get there will feel different, in any case, with the instant aid of the electric motor helping to redress what is a near utter lack of torque in the midrange in the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek.
At the hybrid-specific end of the driving experience, progress can be made in full electric mode up to 15 miles per hour for almost a mile, under light load. If you're coasting down from higher speeds the EV mode can kick in at 25 mph.
All that electric goodness returns fuel economy of 29 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined. That compares to 25 mpg city, the same 33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined for the gas-only Crosstrek with the Lineartronic CVT, the only transmission that the hybrid will come with. Not what you were expecting? Well think about it this way: it's the same combined rating as econoboxes like the Honda Fit equipped with a manual and a Mini Cooper with an automatic, four mpg better than the more powerful all-wheel-drive Mini Countryman All4 and Nissan Juke, and well ahead of a competitor like the Ford Escape.
Still not what you expected? It was said that Subaru wanted the XV Crosstrek Hybrid to be "the most fuel-efficient crossover in America," but then reality stopped by for some Plasma Green tea and the result is the "most fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive crossover in America." So no, that 10-percent overall gain in fuel economy isn't as much as hybrid watchers were expecting and probably isn't as much as Subaru wanted. In fact, it might be so modest that this really is a car for people who demand a hybrid no matter what the so-called value proposition is – but let's not kid ourselves, there are plenty of those folks out there, and hybrid purchases are about more than fuel economy.
Here's another way we look at the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid: Tom Doll, Subaru's executive vice president, said at the New York Auto Show: "We at Subaru were not the first to market with a hybrid, but we sure made sure we did it right." If we take this as his definition of "right," then what he meant is a 10-percent overall gain in fuel economy, all of which really comes in the city and under ideal conditions, which is the precise locale that no one associates with the allure of a Subaru. Plus, while the "clever packaging" means no loss of passenger space and a tiny subtraction of cargo room, there's no spare tire. Unlike most of the stock-photo faced, forward-thinking influencers with full, active lives that we're shown as the core demo for just about every car, Subaru buyers really are known for having active lives and getting their purchases dirty, rocky, muddy, snowy. If I'm that guy, being stuck with a flat-repair kit would be one of the swiftest ways to erase my Getty Images smile, especially because I have to pay more for it.
That 10-percent overall gain in fuel economy isn't as much as hybrid watchers were expecting and probably isn't as much as Subaru wanted.
It's been given some extra standard tech to help the financial cause, like the aforementioned stop/start, plus keyless access, push-button start and a color multifunction display atop the dash. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and the All-Weather package, blue lighting in the instrument cluster gauges, chrome inserts on the exterior door handles, integrated turn signals on the side mirrors, a clear CHMSL, LEDs in the taillights and "Hybrid" badges on the front fenders and rear hatch will let the world know you are a gold-plated Subaru greenie. Opt for the Plasma Green hue exclusive to the hybrid and your status climbs to platinum.
Inside, there is essentially no compromise to be made compared to the non-hybrid. The slightly raised floor in the rear quarters means cargo room drops by 0.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up and by 1.7 cubes with them down. Even with the placement of the battery pack, you still get four liters of underfloor storage. Otherwise it's the same XV Crosstrek interior that more than 40,000 buyers this year alone have already, and happily, welcomed into their homes.
It's the same XV Crosstrek interior that more than 40,000 buyers have already, and happily, welcomed into their homes.
What gives the game away are the tweaks made for hybrid running, like that "cool blue" lighting on the instruments, the "Ready" light that lets you know the car is on, the EV light to let you know you're moving on electric power alone and the multifunction screen that shows you how power is being apportioned.
Let's get to how it all works together, shall we? What we do know is that the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is indeed fitted with all of the techie bits that a hybrid is supposed to have. We have also experienced its low-speed EV operation and we know there's nothing wrong with its overall acceleration - lay an outdoor shoe deep into the throttle, ignore the thrumming of the CVT, and get on with where you're going.
As for the improved NVH and proof of better gas mileage, we'll admit we have no clue, and the reason for that is a thing called Iceland, where Subaru invited us to drive the vehicle.
Earlier this year Subaru took journalists to Hawaii for its first US drive of the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek. Hawaii and Iceland have a few things in common, one of them being that they are the best known locations of hot spots in the Earth's mantle, which is where liquefied rock material is pushed up against and through the crust of the Earth. This makes both of them continuously active volcanic formations – Hawaii's got a volcano that's been erupting for 30 years straight, while Iceland sits astride the Mid-Atlantic ridge and is continually shifting; one of the islands in its territory was formed only 50 years ago.
But Iceland has a climate that's more like the moon, only the moon is far more hospitable, which is why we'd have expected the reverse drive arrangement: if you wanted to show off the beloved, Subaru-specific on- and off-road prowess of your new compact crossover you'd take it to Iceland, and if you wanted to show off the improved city mileage of your new compact hybrid crossover you'd take it to the benign, urban and urbane climate of Hawaii.
Our part-time job as a tinfoil-hat wearer makes us wonder if Subaru didn't want us to actually find out the real-world fuel economy. But we don't believe that's the case. Our less part-time job as an auto scribe, among the most spoiled professionals on the planet, makes us think that Subaru wanted to make sure we'd clear our busy schedules and actually show up for four more city mpg. This is, after all, one of the few professions where you'll hear the phrase, "Oh geez, not Mallorca again..."
They might have really wanted to make sure we knew the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is still a bona fide Subaru. On that point we can deliver an emphatic "Yes."
Or they might have really wanted to make sure we knew the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is still a bona fide Subaru. On that point we can deliver an emphatic "Yes." We called the original "A rugged runabout for the masses," and nothing has changed.
The first day on The Rock we were tested by nothing more than low temperatures, medium winds, rain and gravel roads, which is a third-grade-level test for the post-graduate Subaru. That was a day for admiring the scenery, the grasses that could quickly give way to volcanic rocks lined with woolly fringe moss and macro lichens, the horses that look like ponies, the woolly-haired sheep and steel gray lakes too dark to bother reflecting the snow-capped formations of volcanic mountains and a colorless, cloudy sky.
The next day, the one that involved heading about 70 miles into the interior for some backcountry hot springs and cabin living, that's where the Subaru showed off its Harvard degrees. Guided by the excellent chaps at Luxury Adventures, all of them saddled up in those trademark Icelandic rigs that have been converted by Arctic Trucks, the trip was meant to take 5.5 hours, including a stop for lunch, and we were told there was a 10-percent chance of snow.
Instead, our journey from the Hotel Ranga through the Fjallabak Nature Reserve and into the Landmannalaugar area took almost nine hours, most of which came after lunch. The vistas were studded with lakes, springs and rhyolite mountains, but we didn't have time to look at any of them between the terrific quantities of snow that kept sticking up the convoy, the 90-mph winds, the kind of visibility conditions where there's suddenly no visibility but you can't stop driving or else you'll get stuck, and trailing one of the meanest looking plows we've ever seen through the North Atlantic night before getting to an "Are you [censored] kidding me?!" river crossing.
That 8.7 inches of ground clearance in conjunction with the standard capability of a Subaru with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive aided by VDC kept us going, and almost entirely on our own power. The leather-wrapped wheel was great in the hands, especially when one had to saw at it to hold onto precious momentum. It was a great time... you just can't learn much about a hybrid doing it. And watching the guys from Subaru of America who were repairing punctured sidewalls in the bathroom overnight - after having grabbed spare wheels and tires from a trailer during the day - reminded us, again, that we would rather not have a flat-repair kit.
It was a great time... you just can't learn much about a hybrid doing it.
Even when we weren't fighting our way between the drifts, trying not to get stuck but getting pulled out by trucks on 44-inch tires when we did, the long stretches on Icelandic back roads meant steady-state driving at highway speeds and that doesn't show off the advantages of a hybrid. And being Iceland, roads tough enough to handle the climate don't do any favors for the gauging tire noise and cabin improvements. On top of that, Iceland mandates snow tires from October to April, so instead of the custom, low-rolling resistance tires the XV Crosstrek Hybrid will normally wear, we got Continental Viking Contact snow tires that roared like they were auditioning for a role in a saga.
Nevertheless, the steering was fine, we never hesitated to pass slower traffic when we wanted, and our urban driving in Reykjavik was without incident or even any wish for more power. Keeping the conditions in mind, nothing about the cabin noise called attention to itself, so it should be markedly better when driven back on Earth. Based on what we could tell, The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a gas-only Crosstrek with some mild hybrid abilities. More importantly, it's a Subaru, and a hybrid Subaru might be the two most important purchase points for its buyers.
So you want one? It will come in two trims, neither offering any options: XV Crosstrek Hybrid and XV Crosstrek Hybrid Touring. The first will run you $25,995 plus $825 for destination and have all of the standard equipment from the gas-only Crosstrek Premium, plus the extra interior and exterior appointments. The Touring takes you to $29,995 before destination and adds navigation with a 6.1-inch touchscreen, leather seats and a moonroof. If you were to equip a non-hybrid 2.0i Limited as closely as you could to the Hybrid Touring, you're about $2,700 below the hybrid, and you'd never get items like the push-button start, multi-function dash screen and LED taillights.
Now is not the time to mention the 2.0-liter diesel engine that Subaru has in Europe ... because it isn't going to happen.
Is it worth it? If it's solely about high mileage and saving money on gas with a hybrid, then this isn't really the thing; if you drive 12,000 miles per year and spend $3.50 per gallon on gas, the difference in fuel spend between the gas-only car and the hybrid is just about $150. That's 18 years of driving it would take to make up for that $2,700 difference in purchase price.
No, now is not the time to mention the 2.0-liter diesel engine that Subaru has in Europe - you know, the one the same horsepower as the gas engine but 258 lb-ft of torque, that averages 42 mpg - because it isn't going to happen. Just buy a drink for the leprechaun sitting next to you and keep dreaming.
If you absolutely, positively have to have the words "hybrid," "compact crossover" and "all-wheel drive" in your life, then – since it's the only one that exists – yes, this is for you. Or if you only ever plan to drive your Subaru in the city, also yes. Outside of those rather specific parameters, you might be better off saving that $2,700 - or more, depending on spec - and, oh, taking a trip to Iceland. Just give yourself some extra time to get where you're going if you make the trip in November. And pack a really warm coat.