The Crosstrek is Subaru’s pseudo-SUV; it’s essentially an Impreza hatchback with a raised ride height and some rugged visual cues. Since it’s based on the already-good Impreza, it has that model’s smooth ride, good fuel mileage, easy-to-use controls, and roomy rear seat. As a result, it’s ranked at the top of our subcompact SUV standings. Subaru also offers a plug-in hybrid version, which contributes to the Crosstrek’s appeal, but doesn’t deliver enough of a mileage improvement to make it a good value.
Both versions have a comfortable and controlled ride that stands head and shoulders above the competition. Its handling is responsive, though it isn't as frisky when driving through sharp turns as the Mazda CX-3, for example. Subaru’s standard full-time all-wheel-drive system is appealing and, combined with the Crosstrek’s ample ground clearance, gives the SUV the ability to easily handle slippery pavement, a muddy trail, or rough dirt roads.
The standard 152-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine has just enough power for most situations, which is on par with its rivals. But it sounds strained and raspy when hard acceleration is needed. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) mostly avoids suddenly revving the engine by mimicking the shifts that a traditional automatic transmission would make. But there are still times when engine drone can be intrusive. We measured 29 mpg overall in our tests, which is commendable for an all-wheel-drive vehicle.
The plug-in hybrid version can cover only about 17 miles on electric power but even then, it’s a challenge to drive solely with the electric motor. Any moderate pressure on the accelerator and the gas engine kicks in.
Once past that semi-electric portion, we got 33 mpg overall in regular hybrid mode, but that’s just 4 mpg better than the conventional Crosstrek. The engine drones when pushed and the electric drive’s whining becomes annoying. It takes a little more than two hours to charge the hybrid on a 240-volt charger and 5.5 hours on a regular household 110-volt charger.
The cabin has simple controls, easy-to-read gauges, and a user-friendly touch-screen infotainment system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard. The Hybrid has standard leather-covered power seats, which are comfortable but lack lumbar adjustments. Similarly, the standard cloth front seats in the non-hybrid Crosstrek are short on lower-back support and also lack adjustable lumbar support.
The popular Premium-trim Crosstrek has standard heated front seats, but add automatic climate control and a push-button start and you'll spend close to $30,000. These features are all standard on the Hybrid.
We like that automatic emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning (FCW), lane departure warning (LDW), lane keeping assist (LKA) and adaptive cruise control are available as part of the Subaru EyeSight suite of safety features. However, the system is only optional on the two bottom trims; it’s standard on the top trim and the Hybrid. In addition, the system isn’t available in the base and premium trims that are equipped with the manual transmission. Blind spot warning (BSW) is standard on the Hybrid and the top-trim of the regular Crosstrek, it’s optional on the Premium trim, and not available on the base trim. Note that this camera-based system has its limitations in certain weather conditions, such as in heavy rain or snow.
The Crosstrek is a viable alternative for those who don't need the Forester's extra roominess, but we don’t think the Hybrid is worth the nearly $8,000 added cost over a comparable non-hybrid Crosstrek. Even with available tax credits and incentives, its short electric-only range, and how the battery and gas tank cut into cargo room diminish the Hybrid’s appeal.