An early entrant in the nascent mini-SUV market, the XV Crosstrek offers eminently practical cabin space and Subaru's standard all-wheel drive.
There must be something in the water at Subaru HQ. The company, which maintained a stable model lineup over the past decade, is coming out this year with not one, but two new models. The BRZ, and its twin the Scion FR-S, launched earlier to the delight of sports-car fans everywhere. And now we have the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek.
Unlike the BRZ, the XV Crosstrek does not take Subaru into previously uncharted territory. With its all-wheel drive, the XV Crosstrek is like a downsized Outback, and less station-wagony than the Forester. It comes off as a mini-SUV, similar to the Mini Countryman and the upcoming BMW X1.
And as a totally new model, the XV Crosstrek doesn't get weighed down with legacy tech. The optional navigation head unit in the Crosstrek is a relatively new system for Subaru, with many advanced, and unexpected, features.
When optioned with navigation, as CNET's review car was, the head unit gets a 6.1-inch touch-screen LCD in the dash. The screen is not all that big compared with competitors' systems, but the system is feature-packed. The head unit offers not only navigation, but also digital audio and hands-free phone calling, all accessible through voice command as well.
A home screen crams audio and navigation information into the confines of the LCD, which ends up being a little cluttered when route guidance is active. However, a simple touch of the screen expands the map display. This interface can be a bit confusing, as the map screen has a button labeled Menu in the lower left, and a button with a little screen grid icon in the upper right. It took me quite a bit of poking around the interface just to find the volume control for voice prompts.
An icon on the map shows its orientation, and touching it cycles through the usual 2D and perspective views. The map manages to show traffic information in an easily readable format and will dynamically route around big problems. I was impressed by the system's route guidance, which not only shows detailed graphics for upcoming turns, but includes voice prompts that say street names.
The system responded quickly as I entered addresses with the onscreen keyboard. With voice command, activated by either a button on the head unit or on the steering wheel, I was able to say a business name, such as "Home Depot," and have it show a list of nearby corresponding locations. But the system had trouble recognizing a street name I tried to enter vocally.
Advanced voice command
As with most modern voice command systems in cars, I was able to tell it to call a person by name from my phone's contact list. In a more advanced voice command feature, the system let me ask for artists or albums from my iPhone when it was plugged into the car's USB port, mounted conveniently in the console.
I like the audio-source selection on this head unit, which shows a strip of icons on the right side of the screen. Along with satellite radio, USB, and iPod integration, the system also featured HD Radio. The audio interface showed track information from HD Radio stations and album art for music on USB drives or iPods plugged into the USB port.
This head unit also incorporates a seven-band equalizer for the stereo, instead of typical treble and bass controls. I liked that I could fine-tune the audio quality with the EQ, but sometimes you just want to twist a bass knob for some extra thump. Making up for the lack of quick adjustment of bass or treble controls, the system had five equalizer presets.
Not that the six-speaker system included in the XV Crosstrek had much bass to offer. However, I did notice some quality sound coming out of this system. Although not particularly flashy, I found the system better than I would have expected, making music sound enjoyable with good frequency separation. Subaru offers a number of speaker upgrade options as accessories through its dealers, such as a subwoofer. That would be my first upgrade choice.
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.
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.
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.
|Model||2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek|
|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|
|Price as tested||$25,790|