We’re not sure what the opposite of a sleeper is, but the Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i we tested in Premium Special Edition guise has to be a strong candidate. Mostly, what’s special is the retina-searing Sunrise Yellow paint, quixotically juxtaposed to the otherwise quotidian and practical four-door hatchback that’s jacked up with additional ground clearance for foul weather and back-country treks to the pumpkin patch. But, hey, it sure is easy to spot in a sea of crossovers at the mall parking lot. So just when we thought we had the gluten-free wing of the Subaru family pegged, along comes this lemony-fresh all-wheel-drive compact hatchback.
It’s a contrarian twist on an already contrarian car.
The Crosstrek’s 148-hp 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder doesn’t develop an abundance of power; in our last test of a nonhybrid XV Crosstrek, it teamed with a five-speed manual transmission to deliver a zero-to-60-mph time of 8.1 seconds. Our latest 2.0-liter test car, however, was equipped with Subaru’s optional Lineartronic continuously variable automatic ($1000), which adds 168 pounds to the package. At 10.3 seconds to 60 mph, the CVT-equipped XV Crosstrek’s acceleration fell somewhere between the breathless squirt of a Toyota Prius and a Chevrolet Spark CVT—not exactly fast company.
The automotive love child of a Clif Bar and Skittles.
But you already knew that this Subaru wasn’t hanging out with its fast and furious Impreza-based cousins, the WRX and STI. Judging the XV Crosstrek on performance stats alone would be missing the whole point of this car. The Crosstrek comes down on the terrapin side of the tortoise/hare continuum. Its mantra is to complete the journey, even when apexes get greasy with rain or snow or the tarmac is disintegrating or nonexistent.
The XV Crosstrek’s test-track numbers—a mushy 0.79 g of lateral grip on the skidpad and a lengthy 186-foot stop from 70 mph—seem more appropriate for a big SUV than a compact hatch. But in real-world driving, the little Subie comes into its own. The ride is well-damped without undo jostling or head toss, and body roll is held in check. The Crosstrek’s suspension rounds the edge off of harsh impacts. A new-for-2015 quicker 14:1 steering gear provides prompt response to inputs and, despite electric power assist, feels pleasantly organic. The weighting is just right and the car feels relaxed and planted on-center. Brake response is decent with progressive feel and plenty of bite. We experienced no fade in our testing. Recent updates to the CVT mean the engine doesn’t drone under acceleration, as there are some steps programmed in that simulate six gearchanges; even without using the steering-wheel paddles, the transmission “upshifts” in stages.
Inside, the Crosstrek’s seats are all-day comfortable with good lower-torso support, and they feature a grippy, nylonlike upholstery.
As with all Imprezas, the Crosstrek’s gauges and controls are simple and straightforward. Outward visibility is great thanks to thin A-pillars, pedestal-mounted mirrors, and small front-quarter windows. A backup camera is standard.
In addition to a power sunroof, push-button start, keyless access, and a leather-wrapped shifter, our $26,140 Special Edition (the non-Special 2.0i with a CVT starts two grand cheaper) came equipped with the upgraded Starlink 7.0 Multimedia system with SiriusXM satellite radio, Aha, Pandora, and iHeartRadio; voice-activated controls; and dual USB ports. The infotainment system is easy to use, with large touch points that can be tapped even on a bumpy road, knobs for volume and tuning that don’t require eyes-off-the-road time, plus dedicated shortcut keys lining both sides of the screen.
Going by the performance stats alone, it’s hard to explain the appeal of the XV Crosstrek. One could lower the suspension and go with stickier, wider-section tires in pursuit of driving satisfaction, but that would sacrifice the Crosstrek’s all-weather, all-road appeal. The small Subie crossover is comfortable in its own skin—even the bright-yellow one. A bit less sleepiness under the hood wouldn’t hurt, though.