We loved Subaru's first-generation Crosstrek and a lot of you did too. However, it wasn't perfect; the dashboard tech in particular left much to be desired. And in the years since its debut, the tall-wagon-slash-small-SUV segment that Subaru pioneered has become crowded with fresh and hungry competitors. Volkswagen's Golf Alltrack, for example, was a German shot directly over Subaru's bow, borrowing heavily from the Crosstrek's formula.
But Subie fans needn't fear, because the Crosstrek is back and this second-generation model promises to be even better than before. I hit the road in a loaded up 2018 Crosstrek 2.0i Limited to find out just how much better.
New StarLink tech
The area where the Crosstrek sees the most massive improvement is in the dashboard. Changes range from small upgrades like improved graphics on the color multi-information displays in the instrument cluster display and atop the dash to an all-new Subaru StarLink infotainment system shared with the new 2018 Impreza.
The new-generation StarLink tech features a standard 6.5-inch display and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. That's alongside the native app integrations with Pandora, Aha, iHeartRadio, Yelp and SiriusXM. There's even a Magellan smartphone app that can be mirrored on the in-dash display for navigation.
At the top Limited trim level, StarLink can be upgraded to an 8-inch display, bringing with it onboard navigation powered by TomTom software and maps. The TomTom system is very responsive and accurate in its routing. I'm not sure if I'm a fan of the extremely simplistic interface, but it got me everywhere I needed to be.
Between the TomTom system, the Magellan app and Google and Apple's respective Maps apps, Crosstrek drivers have four navigation options available; half of which are totally free. Aside from the larger screen, I can't see why I'd upgrade to the more expensive navigation system. Especially considering how I spent most of my testing hooked into Android Auto.
The Crosstrek features an NFC chip embedded in the dashboard that can be used to quickly pair a smartphone to its Bluetooth system. Simply tap a compatible phone to the icon on the dashboard just below the StarLink screen and be instantly connected for hands-free calling and audio streaming. It's a feature most will only use a few times during ownership, but a nice touch.
Improved EyeSight driver aid
The previous-generation Crosstrek already featured Subaru's excellent (and optional) EyeSight driver aid system, but the 2018 model adds a new trick to its bag. The new lane keeping assist system uses electric power steering assist to help prevent the Crosstrek from unintentionally drifting out of its lane.
Of course, the rest of EyeSight's features return this year, including lane departure alert, forward collision alert with auto pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition. All of this is powered by just two cameras located at the top of the windshield. Wow.
The rear end of the Crosstrek is protected by Subaru's blind-spot monitoring system at highway speeds and a rear cross-traffic alert system in the parking lot. The Crosstrek also features a standard rear camera and optional reverse auto-braking at the Limited trim level. So equipped, the Subie can automatically brake to prevent an accident if it detects an obstruction or pedestrian in its path while backing up.
Boxer-four and symmetrical all-wheel drive
Next, we come to the engine bay where the Crosstrek's 2.0-liter, horizontally opposed "Boxer" four-cylinder engine has seen tweaks and revisions for the 2018 model year. Power is stated at 152 horsepower, while torque sits at 145 pound-feet. Those aren't particularly impressive numbers, but the tall wagon manages to feel lively enough when accelerating.
A six-speed manual is available, but most examples will put their power through a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The CVT has the advantage of improved fuel economy. The EPA estimates 27 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, a 4 mpg advantage across the board compared to the standard gearbox. I averaged 27.4 during my week of testing.
At the upper trim levels, the CVT can be had with paddle shifters, but they don't add much at all to the performance. The "manual" shifts were slow and revealed annoying dips in the powerband. Left in its automatic setting, the CVT did a better job of keeping the engine in the meatiest part of the torque curve and returning the best acceleration and responsiveness.
Like every other Subaru (that's not a BRZ), the Crosstrek comes standard with the automaker's symmetrical all-wheel drive system. For 2018, the system gets upgraded with "Active Torque Vectoring", a brake-based system that uses light pressure on the inside wheel when turning to help the vehicle rotate around a bend. It's not "true" torque vectoring, but the Crosstrek feels more dynamic than before.
The all-wheel-drive system is also upgraded with a new X-Mode off-road traction program with hill descent control and, for CVT models, a hill-start braking assist that prevents rolling backward when lifting from the brakes on a hill.
Off-road-ready, standard roof rack
The changes to the Crosstrek's design language are subtle, but a side-by-side comparison with the previous-gen reveals a more muscular body, new headlights and larger wing-shaped tail light. Beneath the sheet metal, the Crosstrek rides on the automaker's all-new global platform — the same platform you'll find beneath the new Impreza.
The Crosstrek preserves the old car's 8.7-inch ground clearance — that's more than a Cadillac Escalade or Chevy Tahoe — as well as its impressive approach, departure and breakover angles. The robust suspension, tallish ride and standard all-wheel drive make the Crosstrek surprisingly capable on rough dirt trails.
Subaru claims a massive 100.9 cubic feet of interior volume, which is more easily accessed for this generation thanks to an enlarged rear hatch opening. Even the doors seem to open wider than average; the rears swing to nearly 90-degrees for easy loading of cargo, car seats, etc.
Fitting with its rugged aesthetic and off-road capability, the Crosstrek is fitted with a standard roof rack that can be used as a mounting point for a bike or board rack.
Competition and pricing
The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek starts at $21,795 for the base 2.0i model, but our close-to-fully loaded Limited with its tech upgrade tips the scale at an as-tested $30,655.
The sweet spot in the lineup is the midtier $22,595 Premium model. That gets you access to the optional EyeSight driver aid tech ($1,395), but saves a bit of dough by skipping leather trim and a few other amenities. You'll also have to go without the larger infotainment display or TomTom navigation, but with standard (and arguably superior) Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, you'll make do. Add $1,000 for the CVT and $915 for destination charges to reach my recommended price of $25,905.
The 2018 Crosstrek fixes most of my nitpicks with the previous generation while keeping intact everything I already loved. It's spacious, comfortable and reasonably efficient. You can actually drive it over fairly rough trails. And now it's packing new modern tech that makes it much easier to live with and safer on the road.
The Subaru will inevitably be cross-shopped with the likes of the Mazda CX-5, the Honda CR-V and their ilk, many of which boast better on-tarmac performance. However, for those active types who want to take their small SUV off-road, the closest competition comes from Volkswagen's new Golf Alltrack and the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.