What do you buy when you don't want a station wagon or SUV but think most crossovers look a little too suburban? You could do worse than Subaru's XV Crosstrek. Almost identical to the Impreza five-door wagon, the XV Crosstrek adds more ground clearance and styling aimed at making it appear more sturdy.
In that respect, it succeeds. Unique wheels and black plastic wheel-well cladding give it a more rugged look than most other cars in its class. And Subaru's dependable all-wheel drive system and flat-four engine are capable in almost any environment. The one thing this taller, larger-wheeled version of the Impreza lacks is the option of a more potent mill.
The model I tested came with a 148-horsepower 4-cylinder engine mated to a CVT transmission. But the engine isn't rated at full power until 6,200 rpm. Mated with the CVT, its potential never seemed to be reached. Like the Subarus of old (not unlike, but also not as bad, as my own gutless 1987 Subaru wagon), it scarcely had enough power to get out of its own way at times.
However, I can't disparage the XV Crosstrek too much. If I remove my modern expectation of instant acceleration and fall back upon what was normal for the Subarus of 15 years ago, I'm not as disappointed. That doesn't sound like much of an endorsement, but when you count the features Subaru included in this car to make it both utilitarian and comfortable, its value becomes apparent.
Let's start with the cargo area. Its floor space is generous, and when the rear seatbacks are folded down, cargo volume becomes cavernous. Yet the XV Crosstrek is only 14 and a half feet long - a manageable length for those concerned about having to park it in tight spaces. The cargo floor also comes with a rubber trough mat that could come in handy for anyone who has to put dirty things in the trunk and appreciates easy cleaning. Think: greasy parts, potted plants, muddy sporting equipment - anything than would make a mess out of non-removable carpet flooring.
The seats were comfortable and supportive, and the infotainment controls were easy to use. The figurative phrase "the car almost drove itself" applies here because, on both long highway trips and forays along winding New England village roads, the XV Crosstrek's manner was unobtrusive. It made what could have been a tiring journey relatively untaxing. Despite that, and despite its lack of power, the XV Crosstrek was fun to drive in a way American consumers haven't seen since the days when Japanese econoboxes weighed less than 2,500 pounds. (The Crosstrek weighs in at a not-too-heavy 3,100 pounds.) It was easy to whip around corners and didn't feel heavy.
That aside, the car almost did drive itself, as this particular model was equipped with Subaru's EyeSight system, which included adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning. The adaptive cruise control had simple controls and was a breeze to use. It featured a switch to select the following distance that worked like a charm, making it easy to rely on the cruise control, even in heavier traffic conditions.
And then there's fuel economy. Even though it felt like I had might right foot mashed to the floor most of the time trying to keep the car up to speed, the XV Crosstrek always managed to get a little more than 30 miles per gallon, according to its trip computer. Not bad for a car that can easily accommodate five people, along with trunk- and roof-stowed luggage.
For once, an automaker has come up with a color that people actually seem to be buying. Unfortunately, I haven't seen many of the tangerine orange and plasma green XV Crosstreks that make such a splash in the automaker's advertising brochures. It seems most of their customers are more conservative in their color selection. But the desert khaki option, which our test car wore, was a welcome if subtle break from the blacks, whites and silvers covering most cars on the road today. I've seen a number of khaki Crosstreks out on road.
If you live someplace where it snows a lot and don't want to buy a truck, Subaru's cars have a solid reputation as performers in foul weather. The XV Crosstrek, with its improved ground clearance, may be a reasonably priced alternative for people who wish to get a little closer to nature on unpaved roads, too.
By the numbers: 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek
MSRP: $25,440 (includes $850 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 2-liter, 148-hp four-cylinder engine, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy (mpg): 26/34 city/highway
Safety: http://www.iihs.org/iihs/ratings/vehicle/v/subaru/xv-crosstrek-4-door-wagon IIHS Top Safety Pick +
In showrooms: Now