The verdict: The compromises and expense of the Subaru Crosstrek’s hybrid system versus the excellent standard Crosstrek make it a smart choice for a very limited clientele.
Versus the competition: Plug-in hybrids are increasingly common, and most of them come with some sort of compromise: higher cost to buy, limited cargo space, greater weight. But none of them offer standard all-wheel drive at this price like the Crosstrek Hybrid, giving it an advantage for those seeking all-weather capability and part-time electric efficiency.
We’re big fans of the Subaru Crosstrek here at Cars.com. The standard model was updated for 2018 and is incredibly spacious for its footprint. It drives like a bigger car, features all-weather capability, has just enough off-road ability to get you most places you’re likely to want to go and is amazingly inexpensive compared with the competition. No, it’s not quick (not even decently so), but it’s reasonably efficient even with its standard flat-four-cylinder engine. The Crosstrek has won our Subcompact SUV Challenge twice, with the most recent generation taking the crown in 2018.
For 2019, Subaru has brought an electrified version back to the lineup, but the 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid is available only as a plug-in hybrid — meaning it has a bigger battery capable of limited electric-only travel after you plug in and charge it. It’s significantly more expensive than a standard Crosstrek, making us wonder if the boost in fuel economy (and performance) is worth the price.
Same Popular Looks
You won’t pick a plug-in hybrid Crosstrek out of a crowd on first glance. It looks almost identical to the standard version, with a few minor tweaks. First, you’ll notice there are “fuel” doors on the rear quarter panels on both sides of the car. One is for gasoline, the other for the electric charging port. This is a terrible location for a charging port given most chargers are located at the front of a parking space, meaning you’ll have to stretch the charge cord down the driver’s side of the car to reach the port — if it can reach at all. (The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is guilty of the same offense.) My home 240-volt charger is near the front of my garage, meaning I had to do some creative parking in order to charge the Crosstrek Hybrid at home. Charging ports need to be at the front of a vehicle, not the rear.
Note that unlike some larger plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars, the Crosstrek PHEV can make do without 240-volt charging. Subaru estimates an empty battery can be recharged in about five hours on a 120-volt household outlet using the provided cord. With 240 volts (which requires additional hardware), it can do it in about two hours.
Driving the Crosstrek Hybrid is a serene experience — at least while electricity powers the car. EVs are usually wonderfully silent, and the Crosstrek is no exception: Smooth, calm acceleration is the name of the game, and as long as you don’t push too hard on the go-pedal, you’ll be rewarded with silent sailing. Alternatively, you can floor the accelerator and see just what the addition of electric motors does for the Crosstrek’s motivation. Spoiler alert: It makes it quicker. Subaru says the electric motors change the vehicle’s torque profile such that it subtracts a full second off its zero-to-60-mph sprint. That the car manages to do this despite being 600 pounds heavier than the standard Crosstrek is amazing.
The Crosstrek Hybrid works much like other plug-in hybrid vehicles: It prefers to keep itself in electric mode, using the gas engine as a booster when the juice runs out or when the driver calls for more performance than the electric motors alone can deliver. There is no EV-only mode, so you can’t push a button to lock the gas engine out like you can in some other PHEVs. There are, however, functions for holding the battery charge at a certain level or even recharging it as you drive by running the gas engine continually.
The driving experience is much like any other Crosstrek: comfortable and smooth, with quick handling and ride quality that makes it feel like a bigger, more sophisticated, more expensive automobile. Braking feel is excellent for a hybrid, meaning there’s no odd nonlinear electric feel to the brakes, simply a firm and progressive pedal. The hybrid is significantly heavier than the standard Crosstrek due to all that extra electric gear, and that manifests when changing directions. It doesn’t have the lightness the standard Crosstrek does, but it’s still easy to maneuver through traffic and around town.
The secret to the Crosstrek Hybrid is something Subaru calls its StarDrive system. It integrates two electric motor-generators — one that acts as an engine starter and generator, one that powers the vehicle in hybrid and EV driving modes and acts as a generator during deceleration (employing regenerative braking). Combined with the Crosstrek’s 2.0-liter flat-four-cylinder boxer engine and continuously variable transmission, the system cranks out 148 total horsepower. The car also features an 8.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that it uses to power the electric system. As in most Subarus, all-wheel drive is standard. The EPA estimates all of this tech enables the Crosstrek to go 17 miles on electric power alone before the engine needs to fire up, but our testing found this to be a bit conservative; we were able to eke out 21.4 miles of EV range before the engine kicked on. Once it does, the CVT keeps the engine revving more than it would with a conventional transmission, introducing a buzzy drone into your silent driving experience.
Based on our drive, you can wring anywhere from 17-21 miles out of the Crosstrek in electric mode before the gas engine kicks in. Your range will vary, of course, especially if you use systems like air conditioning or heat, or if you have a heavy foot. Once electricity runs out, the Crosstrek gets an estimated 35 mpg combined (my test showed 36.9 mpg). This is a significant boost over the standard Crosstrek, which is rated 27/33/25 mpg city/highway/combined. Despite this boost to fuel economy, the hybrid’s overall range is almost identical to the standard Crosstrek: You get 480 miles in the former and 481 miles in the latter. This is due to the hybrid’s smaller gas tank, which is only about two-thirds the size of the tank in the standard version.
If you want more electric-only range, you’ll have to sacrifice your all-wheel drive to jump into a Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid or a Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid. Both offer more electric (29 and 26 miles, respectively) and overall range, but neither can be had with all-wheel drive. If AWD is important, you can opt for a larger plug-in hybrid SUV in the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, which offers an estimated 22 miles of EV-only range (though we coaxed 27 miles out of one) and has the benefit of considerably more cargo room, but less sophisticated interior appointments and multimedia tech. Compare all four models.
The hybrid is the highest-spec trim in the Crosstrek line, so you get standard leather seats, a high-grade instrument cluster and Starlink 8-inch multimedia display, a power driver’s seat and more. In the two front seats, the Crosstrek Hybrid is identical to a standard Crosstrek, albeit with some funkier blue trim colors. Otherwise it has the same great comfort, same excellent visibility, same spaciousness (that one doesn’t expect in a subcompact car footprint) as any other Crosstrek. The backseat is especially notable for its legroom, which you can’t get in most competitors. Passenger space isn’t negatively impacted by the larger battery in the hybrid; you can still carry five people in surprising comfort.
The problem with the interior comes when you look in the cargo area and realize that much of it is gone. A significant portion has been reassigned to the battery pack. The rear seatbacks do fold, but you’re still left with a higher cargo floor, which cuts down your ability to carry a lot of stuff; you’ll only manage a couple of small roll-aboard cases in the Hybrid. Cargo volume behind the backseat falls from 20.8 cubic feet in the standard car to 15.9 cubic feet in the Hybrid, and maximum cargo volume with the seats folded drops by 12.2 cubic feet to 43.1 total. If you’re willing to sacrifice that all-wheel-drive capability in favor of greater cargo room, look again to the Niro and Ioniq, which both offer more space. Alternatively, you can go with the Outlander, retain AWD capability and get almost twice the cargo space behind the backseat.
Safety Is Standard
The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid has not yet been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (the standard version has, and it did quite well), nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (but again, the standard version has been tested). In addition to all-wheel drive, Subaru includes a number of standard safety systems as part of its EyeSight suite of electronic driver aids. It includes standard adaptive cruise control, precollision braking, lane departure warning and lane keep assist. Blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert are also standard. As in other Subarus featuring EyeSight, I found it to be intrusive and too much of a nanny when monitoring lane keeping, but I didn’t mind its collision alert functions. Adaptive cruise control worked well, too, but featured an annoying beep whenever it detected a vehicle in front of you or whenever that vehicle moved out of the way and allowed you to resume a set speed, meaning it was constantly beeping at me on the highway.
The Pricey Position
Being at the top of the Crosstrek lineup comes with a premium price. The new 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid starts at $35,970, including destination fee. That’s a sobering $13,100 more than a base Crosstrek 2.0i, though it does feature that significantly long list of standard equipment. In fact, there are very few options on the hybrid; my test car added a power moonroof, heated steering wheel, navigation system and Harman Kardon premium eight-speaker audio system, bringing its as-tested price to $38,470. A better comparison might be with a fully loaded non-hybrid Crosstrek 2.0i Limited, which tops out at $30,520 — meaning the Hybrid system adds nearly $8,000 to the window sticker — stressing the Crosstrek’s traditionally stellar value equation.
Competitors don’t cost quite as much. The Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid — itself a higher-riding crossover-style vehicle like the Crosstrek — starts at $29,495 but doesn’t have the same level of equipment; load one up with all the options and you’re at a more comparable $37,290. Same with the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, which starts at a much lower $26,270, but when fully kitted out rings in at $33,245. Neither of these models feature the Crosstrek Hybrid’s standard AWD, however. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV does, but it’s a significantly bigger vehicle that starts at $36,890 and can range up to more than $43,000. Compare all four models.
So like any plug-in hybrid, whether or not the premium you’ll pay for the electrified powertrain is worth the money you’ll save in gasoline over your time with the car depends on how you use it. The Crosstrek Hybrid is indeed more fuel-efficient in all conditions than a standard Crosstrek, but stick within 20 miles of home (as most commuters do) and charge up nightly, and the savings can add up in both convenience and dollars. Whether the higher payments and less useful cargo space will work for you depends on your own personal use characteristics, but the car itself is just as good to drive as a standard Crosstrek.
Editor’s note: This story was updated June 28, 2019, clarifying that the Crosstrek Hybrid is not the only plug-in hybrid to offer standard all-wheel drive.
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