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Glance under the hood of the 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid and what you'll find won't look drastically different from the standard XV's engine room. Look closer and you'll see a large "Hybrid" badge on the Subaru Boxer engine cover and not one, but two lead acid 12-volt batteries -- small visual differences that hint at larger changes beneath the surface.
However, those internal changes didn't really amount to perceivable gains during the course of my testing. And despite what I saw on the spec sheet, the XV Hybrid didn't feel more powerful than the standard XV and, perhaps most confusingly, wasn't much more efficient either. At the end of my testing, I was left wondering, "What's the point?"
Is it the hybrid power train?
The XV Crosstrek Hybrid's power train is based around Subaru's 2.0-liter, horizontally opposed Boxer four-cylinder, which is mated with a "Lineartronic" continuously variable transmission (CVT). So far, it's looking very similar to the non-hybrid XV. This setup doesn't feature a specific sport or eco driving mode, but there is a manual mode that allows the driver to choose between six virtual gears with paddle shifters. (Because a CVT is, well, continuously variable, there are no real gears in the box.) After passing through the transmission the power is then split between all four wheels via Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system to maximize the available grip.
The Hybrid adds a permanent magnet AC synchronous electric motor, which contributes 47.9 pound-feet of torque to the motivational mix. That motor gets its juice from a nickel metal hydride (NiMH) traction battery located beneath the cargo floor (costing about 0.8 cubic feet of cargo volume), which in turn gets its juice from either the regenerative braking system or surplus energy generated by the gasoline engine.
I mentioned that the XV also has two lead acid batteries under its hood. One of these 12-volt batteries behaves just like the battery in a non-hybrid vehicle; the other "extra" battery is used specifically for Auto Start-Stop operation. This is where the oddities of the XV's Hybrid system begin, but we'll come back to that momentarily.
Maximum system output is 160 horsepower, 163 pound-feet of torque, which isn't a huge jump in peak torque over the standard XV. However, the electric assist manifests itself across the power band, making the XV Hybrid feel just slightly more responsive than the non-hybrid model and pulling the peak torque number to a slightly lower, more accessible point in the tachometer's swing.
However, the XV Hybrid is not sporty by any stretch of the imagination. Zero to 60 takes so long that it's hardly worth timing, and any sort of performance ambition is quickly muted by the rubber-bandiness of the CVT. This is a bit of a shame, because I really like the Impreza platform that the XV Crosstrek is built on, but motoring fun is out of the question with Hybrid. Then again, "fun" and "hybrid" are two words that I rarely speak in the same sentence, so that's no mark against the Subie.
What I really wanted to see was how efficiently the XV Crosstrek Hybrid performed.
Is it the hybrid efficiency?
Prepare yourself for even more disappointment, because at the EPA's estimated values of 31 mpg combined, 29 mpg city, and 33 mpg highway, the Hybrid is only 3 combined mpg and 4 city mpg better than the standard XV Crosstrek with the CVT option. ಠ_ಠ
According to the EPA's breakdown at FuelEconomy.gov, you're only saving about $200 per year in fuel costs by choosing the hybrid. By my math, that means that it'd take up to 25 years to break even on the additional $5,000 investment in the Hybrid model.
Adding insult to that injury, I averaged only 27.6 mpg on my best trip and only 26.4 mpg over the course of nearly 300 miles of extremely light-footed testing. I gave it my best go, but the Subaru just wouldn't come close to its claims.
What went wrong? While it's possible to drive under full electric power at up to 25 mph and get the benefit of electric assist across the board, getting the Subaru to roll in EV mode requires an extremely light right foot and a glacial pace that is sure to aggravate every driver on the road behind you.
Even once you've got the knack of caressing the throttle, the Subaru is rarely able to take advantage of the battery's boost, because the XV Crosstrek Hybrid's 0.55-kWh NiMH battery is almost always empty. For comparison's sake, the Toyota Prius V is packing a 1.3-kWh NiMH pack and the Ford C-Max boasts a 1.4-kWh capacity. The XV has about the same amount of electric storage capacity as the Chevrolet Malibu Eco -- a short-lived, extremely mild hybrid sedan that was canceled because it delivered almost no economy boost over its non-hybrid analog. Hmm.
Hybrids typically see the best gains at city speeds and in traffic jams, but under these conditions the XV's hybrid battery is quickly drained, so you end up rolling around under the same gasoline power that you'd get from the non-hybrid...only now you're carrying around 276 more pounds of hybrid stuff.