2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Forester Hybrid combines utility and fuel economy

Don’t expect the XV Crosstrek Hybrid to be an AWD Toyota Prius

Published: January 13, 2014 08:00 AM

The first question raised by the new Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid is this: What in the world took Subaru so long? Given the brand’s loyal clientele of outdoorsy and environmentally-aware types, a hybrid seemed natural addition to the line. The XV Crosstrek Hybrid finally fills that role.

Too bad about the second question: When will Subaru bring us a real hybrid? The XV’s hybrid system is pretty low-ambition, with a small 0.6-kWh battery powering a 13-hp electric motor. This adds some welcome oomph, given the regular XV Crosstrek’s relatively languid performance. It also should aid fuel economy, particularly in the city where you can manage to very slowly creep along with the engine off. Take the car out of the city and the Hybrid’s advantages become less noticeable. (Read our full Subaru Crosstrek XV road test.)

After buying our test car, I drove 600 miles over the holiday break with a lot of highway miles. The not-broken-in-yet car averaged 28 mpg; that’s something of a letdown, given that we averaged 26 mpg overall with our non-hybrid 2014 Subaru Forester. Maybe fuel economy will get better after break-in, especially factoring more city driving into the mix.

Question three is perhaps a bit more complicated: Why did Subaru make its first-ever hybrid the XV Crosstrek? After all, it’s a jacked-up version of the Impreza hatchback. Building the hybrid on that car—or the aforementioned Forester—would probably be more efficient. (We think a Forester hybrid would sell like rock salt in winter.)

We also think Subaru knows the XV Crosstrek’s jaunty mini-rugged-crossover looks appeal to people who wouldn’t give the comparative-wallflower Impreza hatchback a second look. The company is also selling every Forester it can build, making the XV Crosstrek hybrid a low-risk proposition. The Hybrid retains the XV Crosstrek’s mild-but-better-than-you’d-think off-road capabilities and its standard roof rack rails for carrying outdoor toys, but you lose the 1,500-pound towing capacity of the regular car.

We bought one of the first ones to hit dealers here in Subaru-crazy Connecticut. Most wanted full sticker price, but we managed to get ours for not much over invoice.  A light load of added accessories—Subarus often come with hundreds of dollars of add-ons of varying value, such as splash guards (fancy mud flaps)—brought our car’s sticker to $27,132. One add-on is an off-putting extra expense that’s unfortunately gathering steam in the industry: $41 for a license plate bracket, which is required in many states.

Going hybrid adds about $3,000 more than a comparably equipped non-hybrid XV Crosstrek. At least the hybrid adds some more sound insulation over the sometimes-loud base car. Subjectively, that alone is worth a few hundred bucks. Subaru also says the Hybrid has different chassis tuning that improves agility. We’ll see.

One other curiosity for hybrid buyers: our salesman was very careful to show us under the hood. Turns out there are two nearly identical looking 12-volt batteries, but only one can be used when jump-starting the car. Connecting jumper cables to the other battery, part of the hybrid system, would be very, very bad, causing expensive damage. (The main hybrid battery is under the cargo floor, where it consumes the space for a spare tire.) While plenty of bright stickers warn against this, Subaru should have better enclosed the battery from inadvertent jump-starting to further avoid mistakes on a dark, cold, stormy night.

So maybe we’re not overwhelmed by the XV Crosstrek hybrid. But for now, honestly, we’re just happy to have another all-wheel-drive model in the fleet for battling the New England winter—hybrid or not. We’ll find out how much the hybrid system really does for fuel economy during our formal testing.

—Tom Mutchler

Check out our first drive video on the regular Crosstrek XV:

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