CARS.COM — I drive a Mazda5, which pairs with my urban family's lifestyle like the easy-breezy combination of peanut butter and jelly. The tiny van seats six, can easily be wedged into downtown Chicago's space-challenged parking spots and — no surprise — is a popular choice for other families in my neighborhood. But there's bad news: Mazda discontinued it after the 2015 model year.
What's a suitable replacement for urban families who need something compact and maneuverable, but also roomy and affordable? The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek deserves a look.
Related: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek: First Drive
The tiny SUV is the smallest in Subaru's stable and, like the Impreza on which it's based, was redesigned with revised styling, a new engine and more room. While the Crosstrek lacks the Mazda5's magically helpful sliding doors and seating for six, it does check other boxes when it comes to a city family's needs. If you're a family short on space, here are four reasons the Crosstrek should be on your short list:
1. Ample Room
The 2018 redesign brought more cabin space. Rear legroom is up by an inch and rear headroom by a smidge. That extra space translates to more room for kids and their bulky car seats. In our Car Seat Check of the previous-generation Crosstrek, the SUV lost a point in terms of infant car-seat accommodation — the front passenger didn't have quite enough legroom when the infant seat was installed behind. This year, that's not a problem, and the Crosstrek received high grades overall in our latest Car Seat Check.
2. Rugged Looks and the Goods to Back It Up
The Crosstrek doesn't just look tough with its extra body cladding and 8.7 inches of ground clearance; it's got a standard all-wheel-drive system hardy enough to tackle my city's pothole-ridden streets — and then some. New this year on the Crosstrek is its X-Mode low-speed off-road feature. When activated at speeds below 13 mph, X-Mode changes throttle, stability control, traction control and all-wheel-drive settings to let you get out of sticky off-road situations or descend slippery slopes with electronic hill descent control.
The flipside is that the Crosstrek is a sloth on the road. If you live in the city, you may not care; gridlocked streets move at a glacial pace. But on the highway, the Crosstrek's slow responsiveness is likely to annoy, as momentum is painfully slow to build. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 152 horsepower this year, up slightly from 2017. It's mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable automatic; the latter has a stepped-gear feeling to make it seem more like a traditional automatic transmission.
3. Safety Chops
The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick Plus, which is the agency's highest designation. To qualify for a Top Safety Pick Plus award, a vehicle must have good ratings in all five tests, an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention, and an acceptable or good headlight rating.
The Crosstrek scores another win in the safety-features department with the available EyeSight system. It bundles adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning. Blind spot warning and adaptive headlights with automatic high beams are also available.
Value is also key when there are mouths to feed — and here the Crosstrek delivers again. The 2018 model starts at $22,710, including a destination fee, for a base 2.0i model with a manual transmission; opting for the automatic adds $1,000. That's a $140 increase over model-year 2017 versions. The Crosstrek offers more rear legroom and cargo room than many rivals like the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3 for similar, or in some cases less, money; compare all four here.