2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid review: Subaru's first hybrid vehicle has us asking, 'What's the point?'

The stopped-to-start engine transition can pretty rough, especially when the hybrid battery is depleted and the XV can't hide the ignition behind a bit of an electrical push.

The power train is inherently more complex than the non-hybrid, which could make it more complex to maintain and repair years down the line. Fortunately, the Subie is covered under a 10-year/150,000-mile warranty for our California/PZEV model. (Models that meet the "federal specifications" for emissions should carry an eight-year/80,000-mile limited warranty.)

It's definitely not the dashboard tech

Beneath the small, color multifunction display at the top of the dashboard that displays fuel economy, hybrid state, and all-wheel drive information, you'll find the Subaru's very basic stereo.

It's got a monochromatic two-line display that can output very basic audio source data. It outputs to a six-speaker audio system and features a single-CD slot and AM/FM radio tuning. Other audio sources include a USB port with iPod control, Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free phone connectivity, and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack. There's no satellite or HD Radio available at this trim level.

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The six-speaker stereo isn't much to look at, but it has a decent set of audio sources. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The setup is similar to the system that I complained about on the Subaru WRX STI. However the XV Hybrid has a much quieter cabin, so the stereo doesn't have to work nearly as hard as it did in the cacophonous STI. Still, at highway speeds, I found that I had to crank up the volume pretty high lest the middle and high audio ranges (where you'll find vocals, guitars, and many other instruments) get lost under road and wind noise.

One place that the Subaru's stereo overachieves is bass response. However, even that sounds a bit odd and artificially boosted with a very rapid volume trail-off at the lowest frequencies. I suppose I should be grateful that distortion is kept to a minimum at the default, flat audio settings. And while the Subaru audio system is simple, it's also very easy to use and offers minimal distraction opportunities.

Other amenities standard on the XV Crosstrek Hybrid include automatic climate controls, heated front seats, and keyless entry and start. I was amused to see that, although Toyota had no hand in designing the Subaru's hybrid power train, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid has the same "Engine Start Stop" button as the Prius.

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A push-button starter, smart keyless entry, and a rear camera are standard amenities on the 2014 XV Hybrid. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

There's also a standard rear camera that takes over the color multifunction display when reversing, but no other safety tech is available.

Step up one trim level to the Hybrid Touring model and the XV gains a 6.1-inch touchscreen with GPS navigation and voice command. In the process, the dashboard tech is upgraded with HD Radio with iTunes tagging, SMS text-messaging capability, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and NavTraffic, and Aha app integration, but it looks like you'll be stuck with the same six-speaker audio rig. The Touring model also adds a power sunroof and leather seats, if you're into such things.

The odd duck

Pricing is simple. You'll either pay $25,995 for the standard XV Crosstrek Hybrid model or $29,295 for the Hybrid Touring, gaining navigation, leather, and a sunroof in the process. We drove the former. Add $825 in destination fees to reach our as-tested price of $26,820.

Finding comparisons in the close-to-$27,000 price range is tricky because the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a bit of an odd duck. Direct comparisons are few and far between because the crossover sort of tucks in between two classes: small, efficient crossovers and hybrid wagons.

If you're looking for a tall wagon with great fuel efficiency in this price range, the 2014 Ford C-Max nearly matches the XV's interior volume while boasting 40 combined mpg. The slightly larger Toyota Prius V has significantly more interior volume and, at 42 mpg, even better fuel efficiency. Both are better deals for eco-conscious drivers who'll only be driving on paved roads...which, frankly, is most of you.

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The XV Crosstrek Hybrid faces stiff competition from electrified wagons boasting around 40 mpg. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

But neither the Prius nor the C-Max features Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and neither matches the Subaru's 8.7 inches of ground clearance, making them not exactly apples-to-apples comparisons.

Still, when you think about it, the XV Hybrid's most dangerous competitor is itself. It has to sit on the same lot as the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek and compete with the Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Rogue CVT, all of which get nearly the same fuel efficiency, have nearly the same amount of power, and don't complicate things more than they need to, which makes it very hard to justify the additional expense for the electrification and the chrome hybrid badges.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid
Trim Hybrid
Power train 2.0-liter Boxer Hybrid, Lineartronic CVT, Symmetrical AWD
EPA fuel economy 29 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, 31 mpg combined
Observed fuel economy 26.4 mpg
Navigation N/A
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources USB w/ iPod connection, aux-input, Bluetooth audio streaming and hands-free calling
Audio system 6-speaker base audio system
Driver aids Standard rear camera
Base price $25,995
Price as tested $26,820

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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