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2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek review:

An all-new Subaru emphasizing practicality

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Unlike for other models I have reviewed in the past, Subaru makes all of its tech options available for the XV Crosstrek at each trim. Of course, as the Crosstrek only comes in Premium or Limited, that is not saying much.

The XV Crosstrek Premium, the trim level of CNET's review car, comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission, but this one was upgraded to the continuously variable transmission (CVT), a recent technology from Subaru. This type of transmission has no fixed gears, constantly changing its ratio to help the engine deliver the most efficient power.

The CVT certainly made the XV Crosstrek easy to drive. It and the manual transmission come with a hill hold feature. To test it out, I pointed the car up a steep San Francisco hill and stopped midway along the ascent. Pulling my foot from the brake, I had plenty of time to get on the gas pedal. Subaru fits the CVT with a manual mode, and includes five virtual shift points, which you can select using paddles on the steering wheel.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
The optional automatic transmission for the XV Crosstrek is continuously variable. Josh Miller/CNET

These paddles have nothing to do with making quick downshifts to get the tires squealing through a corner. In fact, there is nothing particularly sporty about the XV Crosstrek's driving character. Instead, the paddles work best for engine braking while tackling a long descent, or keeping the power on when climbing a slippery hill.

All-wheel drive standard, of course
Like most Subaru models, the XV Crosstrek gets all-wheel drive. And as with the other models, you can't lock the differential to ensure that power gets to all the wheels. The XV Crosstrek is no rock crawler or mudder, but does exhibit the same ability to handle slippery conditions and dirt trails as its brethren. Plowing along a few dirt tracks, I could feel the car's sure-footed character.

Subaru equips the XV Crosstrek with its boxer-style 2-liter four-cylinder engine, good news for fuel economy but not so much for power. The engine produces 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, which meant a slow climb for the speedometer needle when I floored it from a stop. As such, it did not inspire a lot of confidence for passing maneuvers. Strangely, it almost felt faster when I only tipped the throttle in halfway up to about 20 mph, before putting the pedal down.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
The XV Crosstrek's all-wheel-drive system should help it on slippery roads and on dirt trails. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Driving down a twisty mountain road, the car showed more of its suburban character. The suspension allowed for a somewhat tippy feeling in turns, and there was quite a bit of understeer. At any kind of speed, I had to pull the wheel farther and farther over to keep on track through a corner. The XV Crosstrek is not some kind of proto-rally car, like the legendary Subaru STI.

Fuel economy comes up as very good, at an EPA-rated 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. With a good amount of freeway driving, I ended up with an average of almost 31 mpg for CNET's review period.

A practical car
I liked the very practical nature of the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek and its easy drivability. The all-wheel drive is a nice bonus, making it feel like a solid road-trip or ski-vacation car. The lack of power and understeer did make it frustrating in some driving situations. Subaru offers a few STI accessories, including a strut brace, which I would definitely consider, short of Subaru releasing a full STI version of the XV Crosstrek.

The navigation upgrade offered a lot of useful features, covering the basics and a little more for a modern car. The interface was a little clumsy, but otherwise I liked the simplicity of this system. However, Subaru shows no evidence of an app integration strategy with the XV Crosstrek's tech, when many cars these days are being offered with Pandora support at minimum.

Tech specs
Model 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
Trim Premium
Power train 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission
EPA fuel economy 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 30.9 mpg
Navigation Optional flash memory-based with traffic data integration
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Six-speaker system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $22,995
Price as tested $25,790

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