2018 Subaru Crosstrek is an inexpensive way to get into the dirt

With 8.7 inches of ground clearance, all-wheel drive and a new X-Mode for slippery situations, the Crosstrek can get to adventure for only $100 more than the previous generation.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
6 min read

As I looked down the 12 percent grade made up of loose, sharp rocks at a quarry somewhere in South Dakota, I was grateful for the new X-Mode with hill descent control on the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek. Pushing the X-Mode button on the center console, I whispered to myself, "Don't touch the brake. Let the car do the work for you," With a bit of trepidation, I started down the hill.

I could hear the brakes pulsing to keep the car at a steady 5 miles per hour, but the rocks were so loose that it slid a bit on the steepest part. "Don't panic, Hall. Don't touch that brake!"

The hill flattened out and the Yokohama Geolandar tires on 17-inch wheels regained grip, taking me smoothly down the rest of the hill. As I hit the gas on the next incline, X-Mode modulated the throttle and shift points to provide maximum traction up the slippery slope. The Crosstrek eagerly climbed up the other side of the steep hill with minimal wheel spin, despite the loose rocks. Color me impressed.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

The Crosstrek is at home on graded dirt roads as well as the pavement. 


Subaru's Crosstrek SUV, now in its second generation, is based on the Impreza hatchback. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive, the Crosstrek has been a hit with Subaru's typically outdoorsy customers, coming in third in sales behind the Outback and Forester models. It's available as a five-door hatchback in base, Premium and Limited trims with seating for five.

The 2018 Crosstrek, built on Subaru's New Global Platform, represents a complete update, and has a whole new look. The new platform increases the overall rigidity of the Crosstrek by 70 percent, according to Subaru, resulting in diminished noise and enhanced agility. On the outside, the Crosstrek gets a larger grille and sleeker headlights, giving it a more sophisticated-looking front fascia. I've always liked the hexagonal tail lights on the first-generation Crosstrek, but the revised look for 2018 echoes the design in the front, and the new gloss black rear roof spoiler is a classy touch.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

LED headlights...check!


The revised 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine now has direct injection, raising the output to 152 horsepower from the 148 of last year. Torque remains the same at 145 pound-feet of twist. You can get a Crosstrek with a new six-speed manual, but most folks will choose the continuously variable transmission (CVT).

I'd like a little bit more power, but the CVT and powerplant work well together, getting an EPA fuel rating of 33 miles per gallon in the city, an excellent score for an all-wheel drive small SUV. The transmission mimics a traditional automatic under heavy acceleration, and there are paddle shifters to click through seven preset ratios if you want to channel your inner race car driver.

The paddle shifters came in handy on my Subaru-sponsored press drive through the Black Hills of South Dakota. Half our day was spent on well-maintained dirt roads, and I used the paddle shifters to keep the revs high, keeping the Crosstrek motivated out of the turns. The back end slid out on the loose dirt, but the traction control kicked in quickly to keep things in line.

New this year for the Crosstrek is active torque vectoring, which applies the brakes on the inner wheel during cornering for better twisty fun. This helped keep the car on the correct path both on the dirt and pavement, even though I was traveling at, let's just say, a higher rate of speed than your average Crosstrek driver.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek

Heading down a 12 percent grade.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Also helping the fun factor is a quicker steering ratio, equal to that of Subaru's BRZ sport coupe. By quickening the ratio to 13:1 and adding a smaller steering wheel, the Crosstrek feels a bit more sporty than one would think. There is a bit of body roll in the turns thanks to the higher center of gravity of the ride height, but the new stiffer chassis keeps things planted and composed. 

The Crosstrek rides smoothly and Subaru has done a lot this year to quiet the cabin, including revising the HVAC system to near-whisper decibel levels. Audiophiles take note: The Crosstrek is now available with a Harman Kardon premium audio system, consisting of eight speakers and a subwoofer. The sound system has never been a huge concern for Subaru, so it's great that this option is finally available.

More safety for 2018

Subaru's EyeSight system is available on the Premium and Limited trims. It includes driver's aids like adaptive cruise control, which follows a lead vehicle at a set speed. The system brings the Crosstrek to a complete stop, but you have to engage the system once the lead car gets moving again.

The Lane Departure gives an audible and visual alert if a driver crosses a lane line without signaling. New this year is Lane Keep Assist, but I never felt the car steer itself back into the correct lane, despite my purposely veering off course to test the system.

Also new this year as options on the top of the line Limited model are Reverse Automatic Braking and High Beam Assist. Although I didn't get to experience either of these safety functions during my daytime drive on the wide open roads of the Black Hills, their inclusion shows that Subaru is committed to adding more technology to keep drivers safe.

However, Toyota offers many of these driver's aids standard across all trim lines and Honda includes them on all but the base trim. If you want the driver's aids on the Crosstrek you'll pay $1,395 for the basic EyeSight package and $2,095 for EyeSight with reverse automatic braking and high beam assist, with the added bonus of a moonroof thrown in.

Cruising all roads in the new Subaru Crosstrek

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The Starlink infotainment system is also new, and none too soon as the old system was showing its age. A 6.5-inch touchscreen is standard but my test model came with the optional 8-inch screen with navigation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the board and drivers can download the Starlink app to add features such as Yelp, Stitcher and eBird. Yes, the Crosstrek comes with a bird-watching app.

There is more legroom for rear seat passengers compared to the 2017 model, but utility with the rear seats up suffers just a bit, down to 20.8 cubic feet of space. However, the overall cargo space gets a boost to 55.3 cubic feet and the rear hatch opening has been reworked to be 4 inches wider, so loading all your gear is that much easier.

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek will be available later this summer and the company has priced it quite well, considering all the new features available.

You'll pay just $100 more for a 2018 Subaru Crosstrek than you did in 2017, at least for the base model. The second-generation Crosstrek starts at $21,795 minus destination while the Limited starts at $26,295, but you can break the $30,000 mark by adding the EyeSight package, navigation and the premium audio. Still, the Crosstrek is a fun little run around that's great for active folks with plenty of gear. 

Editor's note: CNET accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgments and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.