The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is a solid all-rounder. This small SUV is pleasant enough to pilot, even if it's not the best-driving crossover around. Its interior is spacious and premium enough to not elicit feelings of remorse. Plus, the Crosstrek's available technology is intuitive and mostly functional. It's more balanced than a nutritionist's diet.
To keep pace with the Joneses, or rather, the Hondas, Toyotas and Fords of this world, Subaru enhanced the Crosstrek for 2021, adding more technology, a new engine and even a dash of updated styling. None of these enhancements are earth-shattering, but they further burnish an already respectable product.
Arguably the biggest change is under the hood. A new 2.5-liter boxer-four is offered in Sport and range-topping Limited models. Smooth and reasonably responsive, this engine delivers 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque -- 30 and 31 more, respectively, than the base 2.0-liter H4. Matched to a standard continuously variable transmission (a six-speed manual is offered with that base engine), my top-shelf Crosstrek has adequate acceleration. Yet In a world where so many vehicles feature turbocharged engines, which typically provide ample low and midrange torque, this Subaru's performance is a bit disappointing. Even with this slight boost in power, a little more oomph would certainly be appreciated.
The CVT's behavior is also less than ideal. In general, I've made my peace with these transmissions, even if other gearheads despise them. Automakers like Honda and Nissan have, for the most part, figured them out, but the Crosstrek's CVT feels a bit odd. Not only does it seem less responsive than competing units, when it mimics gearchanges -- a trick these transmissions often employ to reduce engine droning during acceleration -- the simulated shifts feel coarse. My tester also features paddle shifters, which allow you to rifle through eight simulated 'gears' for a bit more driving enjoyment.
Gripes aside, this Subaru's powertrain is at least economical. The EPA says it should return 27 miles per gallon city, a figure that's goosed by a smooth and swift stop-start system. Expect 34 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. Driving the Crosstrek with a heavy right foot, I've averaged 30.1 mpg according to the trip computer, an impressive score, especially for something with standard all-wheel drive. Aside from four-corner traction, the Crosstrek also has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, more than a Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V or Nissan Rogue, meaning it should be a reasonably capable off-roader. All variants fitted with the CVT also feature X-Mode, a driver-selectable setting that enhances traction and provides hill-descent control.
The Crosstrek's steering is unremarkable. That's not to say it's bad, not at all; it just feels like practically any other car-based utility vehicle out there. The ratio isn't too slow and it has decent heft, but don't expect scalpel-like precision or any road feel.
Supporting the driver and front passenger are a pair of good bucket seats. They're comfortable and accommodating, but like many other aspects of this Subaru, fall short of greatness. Even in Limited trim, my tester lacks any adjustable lumbar support, which is a bit annoying. The backseat is quite airy for adults, offering plenty of space for legs, though a whisker more headroom would be nice. All of the Crosstrek's seats feature slightly elevated lower cushions, which are roughly chair-height off the floor. This makes getting into and out of the vehicle feel very natural.
As for the rest of this Subaru's interior, it's actually quite nice. The leather used on the seats and steering wheel feels decent, the soft plastics are low in gloss and applied liberally, and the overall design is straightforward. Most of the switches and knobs feel sturdy and I appreciate the tasteful use of a contrasting color. Orange stitching livens things up, and a bit of this energetic hue even shines through the perforations in my tester's leather-covered seats, a nice touch.
Interior storage space could be improved, however. The door pockets and bin under the center armrest are all rather small. Of course, cargo space is far more generous. With its rear backrests up, this Subaru provides 20.8 cubic feet of space. Drop 'em like they're hot and that number grows to 55.3 cu. ft.
Crosstreks fitted with a CVT come Subaru's EyeSight suite of advanced driver aids. This includes goodies like automatic emergency braking, lane-departure prevention and more. A noteworthy addition for 2021, adaptive cruise control with lane-centering is also included, though, regrettably, it's something of a mixed bag. The cruise-control portion of this works well, smoothly accelerating or decelerating based on traffic conditions, bringing the vehicle to a complete stop as necessary, even if it only stands still for a couple of seconds before forcing the driver to intervene. The lane-centering system, however, has proven to be quite annoying. On several occasions during my testing, it's jerked the wheel randomly, causing the vehicle to swerve abruptly. Yeah, not good. It also seems to allow the Crosstrek to wander a fair amount in its lane, and when you go to correct this it fights you. Ultimately, I had enough and just turned the lane-centering feature off.
This Subaru's infotainment system continues the theme of being good but not great. My Limited tester has a generously sized 8-inch touchscreen that's colorful and easy to reach (lesser models feature a 6.5-inch display). The Starlink software running on it is decently responsive, and pinch-to-zoom on the navigation map is OK, however, rearranging icons on the home screens is a bit frustrating and there are some weird input delays while using Apple CarPlay, which, along with Android Auto, is standard equipment on every Crosstrek. Likewise, this vehicle's available eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium sound system is nothing spectacular, though it's far, far better than what's in our Subaru Outback long-term tester. I've heard wax-cylinder phonographs that provide better sound quality than that.
Further sweetening the pie, Limited models also come with loads of other goodies, from automatic high beams and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert to adaptive headlamps and keyless entry with push-button start. There's plenty of equipment to get excited about here, especially at the price.
An entry-level Crosstrek with a manual gearbox and no frills starts at a little more than 23 grand, including the requisite delivery fees, which in this case are $1,050. The range-topping Limited model tested here is, naturally, a bit richer than that, though it's still eminently affordable. With the $2,395 power package, which includes that 8-inch infotainment screen, a moonroof and the uplevel sound system, it checks out for an incredibly reasonable $31,440.
The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is a good middle-of-the-road utility vehicle. It's OK to drive, has an agreeable interior, offers a decent amount of tech and is plenty refined. Is it my favorite SUV on the road today? No, not at all. But it is an undeniably sensible option, one that's also an excellent value.