Quirky, slow and difficult to classify, the 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek adds a splash of dirt-road utility to an otherwise unremarkable compact hatchback experience.
Subaru excels at making off-road-style cars that aren’t really off-road cars. At one point, anything with an “Outback” name was golden: There was a Legacy-based Outback sedan to accompany the hugely popular Outback wagon, and an Impreza Outback wagon that was something of a junior version of the Legacy-based midsize Outback wagon.
The XV Crosstrek is what the Impreza Outback has become: a compact, high-riding hatchback with standard all-wheel drive and chunky off-road looks. (There are no changes from 2014 to 2015, but you can compare the two here). But that’s basically the extent of the Crosstrek’s capabilities — it’s not meant to be a hardcore trail buster, but merely a more capable compact hatchback. Has Subaru crafted something different enough to warrant attention, or has it simply made a weirder version of the decent Impreza?
The Crosstrek isn’t as aggressively butch as the Outback, but it still has some features that functionally improve its off-road chops. It has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is nothing to sneeze at; it should get you down some two-track roads and the odd field, and will certainly take you through deeper snow than most cars can tackle, but it’s not going to get you over the Rubicon Trail. The idea here is to combine the looks of the off-road set with the functionality and frugality of a compact hatchback. In this the Outback succeeds.
The styling is pure Subaru corporate blandness, livened up a bit with some wild colors, like Tangerine Orange Pearl and Quartz Blue Pearl, as well as Plasma Green Pearl for the hybrid model. An available roof rack adds to the functionality, while the unpainted plastic cladding on the bumpers, wheel wells and side sills is more cosmetic than functional trail protection. It’s a little more aggressive than the Impreza on which it’s based, or the competing Hyundai Elantra GT, and it’s a little less “cute-ute” than competitors like the Honda HR-V and Kia Sportage.
Powered by a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine that makes a paltry 148 horsepower, the XV Crosstrek isn’t going to win any stoplight drag races, but its power is on the high side among the growing crop of subcompact SUVs. Tuning of the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (an old five-speed manual is standard on lesser trim levels) and the standard all-wheel drive produces strangely jumpy off-the-line launches that quickly run out of steam if you keep your foot on the gas. This makes for challenging highway entry and higher-speed passing maneuvers. And heaven forbid you turn on the air conditioning. Trying to get any speed out of the flat-four engine while cooling the cabin is all but impossible; it feels like someone’s dropped an anchor out the hatchback. There’s lots of noise, but not a whole lot of forward motion.
That noise is apparent in cruising, too, where the Crosstrek exhibits a surprising amount of road and wind noise at highway speed. Ride quality is certainly a high point, however. A smooth and well-damped voyage is a certainty, even over rough pavement. Steering effort is heavy, requiring some unusual effort when negotiating parking lots or low-speed environments, but lightening up sufficiently as speed increases.
The Crosstrek’s higher ride height isn’t an issue for the handling abilities of the car, as it still has a low center of gravity thanks to the flat-four engine. It never feels tippy or unstable, it just doesn’t feel sporty or entertaining at all; it’s more sluggish and predictable.
The point of the powertrain is to emphasize fuel economy over speed, and here the Crosstrek does quite well. With its standard manual transmission, the base model is rated 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined, climbing to 26/34/29 mpg for the CVT model. If you want to really boost fuel economy, go for the hybrid, which earns a 30/34/31 mpg rating.
The Honda HR-V is a little smaller than the Crosstrek, being based on the Honda Fit subcompact car, and its 25/34/28 mpg rating with front-wheel drive and a manual transmission beats out the Crosstrek. That number jumps to 28/35/31 mpg in the front-wheel-drive, CVT-equipped HR-V and drops to 27/32/29 mpg in the all-wheel-drive CVT model.
The Hyundai Elantra GT is dimensionally very close to the XV Crosstrek but doesn’t have its higher ride height or all-wheel drive. Still, it offers more power, similar room and comparable fuel economy: 24/33/27 mpg for the automatic and 24/34/28 for the six-speed-manual version.
Finally, the Kia Sportage is more utility than wagon, but it also sits high and has optional all-wheel drive. It features a more powerful 2.4-liter engine that’s rated 21/28/24 mpg with front-wheel drive and 19/26/22 mpg with all-wheel drive — not as good as the Subaru. But it’s available with an even more powerful, turbocharged 2.0-liter engine that turns the Sportage into a rocket ship. The downside is it’s rated 20/26/23 mpg for the turbo front-wheel-drive model, 19/24/21 mpg with all-wheel drive.
Based on the Impreza, the Crosstrek has plenty of room inside. It’s a tall-roof hatchback, meaning headroom is plentiful for front and rear occupants, and the tall windows combine with a low belt line for excellent outward visibility. There’s room for four people to sit comfortably, but like in all compacts three is a squeeze in the backseat. Legroom isn’t a problem, though, with plenty of it front and back.
While you’ll be comfortable in the Crosstrek, you might not be impressed with your surroundings. Materials quality is only fair, with hard plastics and unremarkable shapes making for a generic, older look. Despite being a relatively recent redesign, the Crosstrek feels in need of another one. Most of the Crosstrek’s competitors have more upscale interiors with better materials and more modern-looking controls. If you’re more interested in comfort than style, the Crosstrek’s interior should work just fine. If you’re looking for something more trendy, go for a Honda HR-V or Hyundai Elantra GT.
Like in most Subarus, the switches and buttons feel old. Subaru has unfortunately joined the trend toward touch-panels, but the controls for the rest of the car feel familiar and a bit cheap. For instance, when activated, the rear window wiper comes with a loud clicking relay in the dash. The gauges are clear and easy to read and feature a multifunction display between the speedometer and tachometer. The touch-screen multimedia system works well, but like the rest of this car’s electronics, it feels out of date visually. Again, for more modern systems, look to Subaru’s competitors.
The Crosstrek is difficult to classify among “soft-road” capable vehicles, as it’s bigger than “cute ute” subcompacts like the Jeep Renegade or Mazda CX-3, but smaller than many compact SUVs, like the Ford Escape or Toyota RAV4. It has generous cargo room, with 22.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the backseat, expandable to 51.9 cubic feet with the seats folded.
More surprising is that the shorter Honda HR-V has comparable room: 23.2 cubic feet behind the backseat, 57.6 cubic feet total. The Hyundai Elantra GT’s hatchback gives it 23.0 cubic feet of cargo room, opening up to 51.0 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The Kia Sportage is a bit bigger still, with 26.1 cubic feet of cargo room, 54.6 cubic feet total.
The 2015 XV Crosstrek scored a five-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and also aced the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s tests, scoring a Top Safety Pick Plus award. See the Crosstrek’s safety ratings here.
What puts the XV over the edge is the availability of something rather unique — Subaru’s EyeSight system, a very reasonably priced suite of cameras and sensors that act as a crash-prevention tool. Constantly scanning the way forward and to the sides, it not only warns of imminent collisions but also autonomously brakes the car. The odd thing is that while it can detect obstacles in front of the car, there’s no blind spot monitor or rear cross-traffic alert, only a standard backup camera.
The problem with the EyeSight system is that the lane departure warning system is very intrusive. I kept switching it off, as it’s overly aggressive in detecting edge lines for the lane you’re in. Constantly beeping and adjusting on its own when you’re not actually crossing over the line gets old fast. See all the Crosstrek’s standard safety features here.
The 2015 XV Crosstrek starts at $22,445 for a base 2.0i model (including destination fee). That includes a standard five-speed manual transmission. In order to be able to add the optional CVT, step up to a 2.0i Premium model for $23,145, which includes a better audio system and the all-weather package that brings heated seats, heated mirrors and a windshield de-icer. Top of the line is the 2.0i Limited, which includes the automatic transmission standard and a leather interior. Option up a Crosstrek to the max, and you’re looking at just less than $29,000, fully loaded.
This puts it within reach for most people looking for something affordable and reliable, with good crash tests and slightly better off-road and poor-weather abilities than your average compact hatchback. The Hyundai Elantra GT beats the Crosstrek on price and comes close in overall size, but doesn’t offer all-wheel drive or the ground clearance the Crosstrek does. It does, however, offer adjustable power steering assist and a much sportier experience.
The Honda HR-V might come closest in mission to the Crosstrek, offering the higher seating position and all-wheel drive that SUV owners want, but in a package sized for budget- and space-conscious shoppers. It, too, is comparably priced, and while its external footprint is smaller than the Crosstrek’s, its internal space beats it thanks to Honda’s clever packaging skills.
Finally, the Kia Sportage rivals the HR-V as much as the Crosstrek, being a car-based crossover SUV. The Sportage can be optioned up to just under $33,000, but comes with a far more powerful turbocharged engine than anything else in the class. Compare all four competitors here.