2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid review:

Subaru's first hybrid vehicle has us asking, 'What's the point?'

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Starting at $25,995
  • Engine 4 Cylinder Engine
  • Drivetrain All Wheel Drive
  • MPG 31 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 5
  • Body Type SUVs

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.0 Overall
  • Performance 6
  • Features 6
  • Design 7
  • Media & Connectivity 5

The Good The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid boasts more torque than the standard model, at a lower point in the engine's range. The crossover's cabin is quiet thanks to Start-Stop tech and the CVT and electric assist. The XV boasts the best ground clearance and only AWD system in its hybrid class.

The Bad The hybrid battery is nearly one-third of the competition's capacity, granting very limited electric and electric assist range. Tested fuel economy was well below the EPA's already conservative estimates.

The Bottom Line The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid struggles to justify its bigger price tag, as it doesn't have significant power or efficiency gains over even its non-hybrid base model and pales in comparison to other hybrid wagons.

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.

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The XV is Subaru's first hybrid model and features a very mild electric assist. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

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Driving the XV Hybrid in full electric mode requires an extremely light touch; even then the small battery pack is limiting. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

The XV features a variety of readouts that show your instantaneous, average, and historic fuel economy to help you get the best possible fuel economy. There's an interesting screen on this display called "Fuel Savings" that shows the amount of time that the hybrid system has allowed the gasoline engine to shut down and and how much fuel you've saved as a result. During my week of testing, I saved about 3 hours and 52 minutes of fuel or about 0.742 gallons. This is mostly due to the Start-Stop system keeping me from idling away during heavy traffic and while waiting at lights.

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The Fuel Savings screen shows an estimate of how much gasoline the hybrid system has saved over time. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

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

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