2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid first drive review: Worth the extra charge

The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is the brand's second attempt at a hybrid crossover. The first iteration never sold particularly well, so Subaru took a different approach this time around, employing plug-in technology borrowed from Toyota. As a result, the new Hybrid model presents a compelling argument for the extra money it commands over the conventional Crosstrek.

Juices flowing

An 8.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery affords up to 17 miles of all-electric range, which you can recoup after five hours of Level 1 charging or after two hours on Level 2. DC fast charging isn't offered. And while 17 miles isn't a ton of range, that's still ample for most folks who have shorter commutes.

Subaru says many owners will travel around 6,000 miles a year on electric power alone, which represents a significant energy savings. The standard Crosstrek gets 29 miles per gallon combined, while the Crosstrek Hybrid is good for 35 mpg combined in hybrid mode and 90 MPGe with a fully charged battery delivering all-electric driving range. Plus, while the standard Crosstrek uses a 16.6-gallon gas tank, the hybrid employs a 13.2-gallon unit. Despite this smaller tank, the Hybrid's 480-mile estimated range is just 1 mile less than the gas-only version.

All the goodies

Starting at $34,995 (plus $975 for destination), the Hybrid is based off the top-shelf Crosstrek Limited, so it comes pretty well equipped with heated front seats, leather upholstery and an 8-inch StarLink infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Driver-assistance features including adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation braking, lane-keep assist, cross-traffic alert and automatic high beams are also standard.

All Crosstrek Hybrids receive a unique gray- and navy-blue interior that contributes to the cabin's already spacious, premium feeling. The front seats are cushy and comfortable, but a lack of available lumbar adjustment could be a problem on longer road trips. Also, the rear windows lack the auto-down and auto-up functionality of the front windows. That's an annoying omission for a car that, as tested, totals $38,470 including destination.

The Crosstrek Hybrid's exclusive gray- and navy-blue interior livens up what was already a spacious and premium-feeling cabin.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Optional goodies on my tester include a sunroof, heated steering wheel, embedded navigation and an eight-speaker, Harman Kardon premium audio system that I find to be a notable improvement over the Crosstrek's standard audio.

Those Harman Kardon speakers are augmented by a more serene interior backdrop that's five decibels quieter than the standard Crosstrek thanks to more sound insulation. "When we first installed the hybrid drivetrain in the Crosstrek, the car was so quiet in EV mode that wind/tire/road noise became obvious," says Garrick Goh, car line manager for the Crosstrek Hybrid. "[A] side effect of engine operation is white-noise generation, which masks the outside world. EV mode doesn't have that. Hence the required additional sound deadening."

In practice, the Crosstrek Hybrid does a good job of quelling noise on the highway when the engine is off. When it fires up, the signature flat-four burble sounds distant. Overall, I can't say the Crosstrek Hybrid's interior approaches luxury levels of tranquility, but it's decent for a mainstream vehicle.

A notable downfall compared with the standard Crosstrek is cargo space. There's only 15.9 cubic feet behind the second row and 43.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, compared to 20.8 and 55.3, respectively, for the non-hybrid model. As a result of all the space the battery occupies behind the rear seats, the Crosstrek's cargo hold is smaller than many subcompact crossovers. The plug-in, with its 1,000-pound towing capacity, also pulls 500 fewer pounds than the gas-only model -- of course, not many folks tow with the Crosstrek, so this downfall is likely negligible.

The plug-in Crosstrek features a commendably stiff chassis and well-tuned suspension, but the steering lacks precision and is devoid of feel.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Demure on-road

Keep a light foot on the throttle and you can get up to 65 miles per hour in electric-only mode. A heavier foot and speeds higher than 65 mph will make the plug-in Crosstrek operate as a conventional hybrid. If you want to save the all-electric range for later, engage the battery save mode that locks the Crosstrek Hybrid out of full-EV operation. There's also a battery charge mode you can use to charge the battery while driving. Over the course of 60 to 90 minutes, charge mode will burn an extra gallon of fuel to fill the depleted battery to 80 percent or about 13 miles of EV range.

Tooling around town in EV mode is a pleasant experience. There's an artificial, pedestrian-alerting whirr, and I actually find it a fun accompaniment to the otherwise-silent motoring.

This Subaru is a simple, high-riding commuter. With 148 horsepower of total system output and the instant 149 pound-feet of torque from just the electric motor, its acceleration is nothing to write home about. To the Crosstrek Hybrid's credit, though, it's about a second quicker to 60 miles per hour than its gasoline-only counterpart, which takes about 10 seconds to get to 60.

Meandering along Santa Barbara's Highway 154, I learn that mountainous sweepers are not the high-riding hybrid's forte. Elevated speeds uncover a lack of directness in the steering. I often have to dial in some mid-curve corrections to track an accurate line. It's also unfortunate that the steering lacks even a whisper of feedback. In tighter sections of road, however, where my inputs are more deliberate, the steering's lack of precision and feel is less of an issue as the Crosstrek Hybrid's slightly stiffer chassis starts to take center stage. Tackle a corner quickly and you can feel the braking force on the inside front wheel lending a hand to keep you safe; this brake-based, front-axle torque vectoring is equipped on all Crosstreks.

The Crosstrek Hybrid can achieve up to 35 mpg combined as a hybrid, or up to 90 MPGe in EV mode.

Michael Shaffer/Subaru

Dynamically, I'm ultimately a fan of the Crosstrek Hybrid's suspension. At over 3,700 pounds, the plug-in is about 500 pounds heavier than the conventional Crosstrek, necessitating some suspension tweaks. Yet despite its extra weight, the Crosstrek Hybrid exhibits minimal body roll while offering the type of ride that keeps bumpiness at bay. If you're traveling over a rutted section of tarmac, you know it's there, but it never seems to upset the Crosstrek or your spine.

Also because of the added weight, Subaru has upgraded the Crosstrek Hybrid's brakes to vented discs out back, compared with solid discs for the standard model. Under braking, it's mostly the regen -- not the brake pads -- slowing you down. Some hybrids exhibit touchiness with their regenerative braking, but the plug-in Crosstrek has next-to-seamless stopping feel regardless of pedal pressure.

Electrifying off-road

The plug-in powertrain doesn't hinder any of the Crosstrek's off-road ability, as this electrified version retains the standard model's generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance. As soon as the pavement ends, I hit the X-Mode switch, which maximizes traction while also incorporating hill-descent control at speeds under 12 mph.

Instant electric torque is remarkably satisfying off-road. Over larger obstacles that call for heavier throttle, the 2.0-liter, flat-four-cylinder gasoline engine will kick in, but it never needs to rev high to deliver torque because the electric motors have that covered all the way from 0 rpm. As a result, the PHEV system makes the Crosstrek Hybrid feel more confident off-road than its conventional counterpart, and you can be more gradual with throttle applications, given the instant EV power.

This electrified Crosstrek feels more at home on unpaved roads.

Manuel Carrillo III/Roadshow

Is it worth the extra money?

The Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid's $34,995 MSRP represents a hefty $7,800 price premium above the top-level, gas-only Crosstrek 2.0i Limited, at $27,195. How much your fuel savings will counteract the Hybrid's markedly higher MSRP will vary depending on how you drive and the length of your commute. More importantly, that $7,800 premium could be reduced after accounting for the $4,500 federal tax credit, not to mention other local and state incentives. In California, for example, when all available credits are factored in, the Hybrid's premium could be reduced to as little as $1,800.

The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid goes on sale closer to the end of 2018 and will be available in 10 states that comply with California emissions at first, while possibly expanding to other states after that. Customers in the other 40 states where the Crosstrek is not yet available in dealerships, however, will be able to specially order them at participating retailers.

Ultimately, the Crosstrek Hybrid is a smidge quicker, just as capable off-road and significantly more efficient, albeit less spacious for cargo than the gas-only Crosstrek. The extra price premium is definitely something to consider, but in most key areas, the plug-in powertrain only makes the already-good Crosstrek even better.


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