Some things in life just don't make sense, like decaf coffee and our country's continued fascination with the Kardashians. Now, we can add Subaru's first hybrid to the list.
The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek is a likable little wagon with comfort and utility, but paying a premium for the inefficient, unrefined hybrid version doesn't make sense.
The XV Crosstrek is based on Subaru's Impreza and debuted for the 2013 model year; the hybrid variant is new for 2014. Compare them here. This review covers the hybrid; click here for our review of the gas-powered XV Crosstrek.
The XV Hybrid's direct competitor is the Toyota Prius, but Volkswagen's diesel-powered Jetta SportWagen TDI and its upcoming Golf SportWagen TDI provide comparable levels of utility and efficiency. So too does Subaru's own Impreza wagon; compare them here.
Exterior & Styling
When the XV Crosstrek debuted for model-year 2013 it was all-new, but it certainly looked familiar, echoing the Impreza wagon's wedgy shape and the Outback's rugged, body-cladded style.
The hybrid model looks nearly identical to the regular version, plus extra badging, exclusive wheels, some additional chrome trim outside and one unfortunate new paint color: Plasma Green Pearl. True, it screams "hybrid" — but also "look at me, I'm ugly." I heard the U word quite a bit during my test weekend.
How It Drives
First impressions aren't everything, but they're hard to shake, and in the Crosstrek Hybrid's case the shake is the problem. Upon startup, the car bounces and shudders unsettlingly. It smooths out eventually, but is again intrusive each time the stop/start system engages; it's one of the more abrupt-feeling systems I've tested.
Pep from a stop is surprisingly brisk, but high-speed passing is uninspired. The all-wheel-drive hybrid pairs a horizontally opposed 2.0-liter engine with an electric motor and nickel-metal-hydride battery for a total of 160 horsepower, which is a bump from the gas model's 148 hp. The sole transmission is a continuously variable automatic.
Subaru says that under "light acceleration" and in "certain low-speed situations" the hybrid can travel on electric power alone, but I found that mode tough to sustain. The threshold seems pretty low, with the engine kicking in fairly quickly on takeoffs and remaining on during cruising. It's no surprise, then, that this alien-green wagon isn't very "green" at all. Fuel economy is underwhelming, with an EPA rating of 29/33/31 mpg city/highway/combined. That's only 3 mpg combined better than the non-hybrid model, and it's in range with the car's more affordable platform mate, the Impreza wagon (27/36/30). The competition returns much more impressive numbers: The Toyota Prius is rated 51/48/50 and the Jetta SportWagen diesel 29/39/33.
The XV Hybrid's road manners are hit or miss: It's loud on the highway, with high levels of engine and road noise invading the cabin. Stopping is another problem, as the regenerative brakes have an unresponsive and brick-like feel that will likely take a lot of time to get used to. On the plus side, the wagon handles nicely despite its tall body, with natural steering and a solid, grounded feel even while cornering.
The cabin's design has a utilitarian look that matches the hatchback's rugged exterior styling. Black plastic surfaces are dressed up with matte chrome trim, and the touch points on the door panel and sliding center armrest are sufficiently padded.
The XV's tall ride height makes getting in easy, and the front seats themselves are comfortable, with plenty of available headroom and legroom. The backseat is no-frills in terms of looks and features, but it's sufficiently comfy thanks to a wide, nicely contoured seat. There's plenty of headroom and legroom for two average-size adults in the outboard seats. The middle position is tight, but a smaller adult could squeeze in for a short ride.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Although the XV Crosstrek is new for 2014, Subaru is still using what looks like a media interface from 2004. This setup is common throughout the brand's lineup and should be retired. The 6.1-inch touch-screen is small and the onscreen buttons are even tinier, plus the graphics look dated. The center-dash-mounted hybrid power-flow monitor, which doubles as the backup camera screen, is even smaller and questionably useful.
The problem isn't just how the touch-screen looks; in some aspects, the system is also complicated. Inputting audio presets, for example, isn't very intuitive, and some simple navigation functions, like setting a destination, are buried in menus. It also lacks a clear "home" button that takes you back to the original multimedia screen. There's a handy physical volume knob, but a tuning knob would help make audio functions easier, though the car is equipped with standard steering-wheel audio controls.
On the flip side, the climate controls are clear, large and easy to use, and pairing my phone to the Bluetooth streaming audio system and launching Pandora internet radio was quick and painless.
Cargo & Storage
The front seat offers a couple of nice small-item storage spaces; there's a large open area under the controls and a small but deep center console bin that houses a USB port and auxiliary input jack.
Backseat passengers will find two cupholders in the fold-down center armrest and one more in each door. Only one seatback has a map pocket, however, which always bugs me. This small feature really comes in handy when traveling with kids … and their seemingly bottomless bags of stuff.
In back, the battery is packaged under the cargo floor. It makes for a high liftover height, but the space is only marginally diminished versus the non-hybrid XV. With the second row up, there's 21.5 cubic feet of cargo room, just shy of the non-hybrid model's 22.3 and the Impreza wagon's 22.5. The hybrid's space is competitive against the Toyota Prius' 21.6 cubic feet but is dwarfed by the Jetta SportWagen's 32.8. The cargo area is also peppered with a few unexpected niceties, like a standard removable and waterproof cargo tray for carting messy items, plus a small underfloor storage area and grocery bag hooks.
The backseat folds flat easily in a 60/40 split, and cargo room once it's down is again generous at 50.2 cubic feet of volume, just a bit less than the non-hybrid model's 51.9 and the Impreza wagon's 52.4. The Prius can't compete, offering only 39.6 cubic feet of space when the backseat is folded. The Jetta SportWagen wins again, with 66.9 cubic feet.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deemed the 2014 XV Crosstrek a Top Safety Pick, reflecting top ratings of good in both frontal-offset tests, a side-impact crash test, a roof-strength test designed to gauge protection during a rollover, and an assessment of neck protection during rear-impact collisions. It also got an overall rating of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Crosstrek's tall ride height combined with its low dashboard make for very good forward visibility; rear visibility is also clear, and a backup camera is standard on the hybrid (it's optional on the gasoline version). Advanced safety systems available on other Subarus, like adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, blind spot warning and lane departure warning, are not offered on the XV Crosstrek Hybrid. Click here for a full list of safety features. To see how well child-safety seats fit in the XV Crosstrek Hybrid, check out our Car Seat Check.
Value in Its Class
The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid starts at $26,820 including destination — around $4,000 more than the non-hybrid version. With such paltry gas savings, it's going to take a lot of years to recoup the hybrid price premium, and you'll have to spend those years in a hybrid that could use some refinement.
It's also no bargain against the competition. The Prius starts a touch lower, at $25,010, and the Jetta SportWagen is just above it, at $27,385. To confuse matters more, Subaru's own Impreza wagon is more affordable ($19,190) yet offers similar room and fuel economy. So why choose the XV Hybrid over the regular gas version or even the Impreza wagon? There's really no logical reason — unless you just can't live without a jolt of Plasma Green Pearl in your life.