As far as timing goes, it was perfect. I was picking up the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Sport a day before one of the worst winter storms in southern Ontario this season. We’re talking “call in the army” kind of snowfall – at least, by Toronto standards. Exactly the kind of conditions to test what Subaru is most famous for: its symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.
Symmetrical meaning – at least to Subaru – that the power to all four wheels is always on, as opposed to a part-time system that senses when a wheel slips and adjusts torque to that part of the car. With most Subaru models equipped with the CVT gearbox (like this Sport model), the system normally runs a 60/40 torque ratio front to back, but when conditions get slippy, it adjusts further to accommodate. And conditions during the week of this test were certainly slippy.
But too greasy for the Subaru? Pshaw. Equipped with a set of Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, the Crosstrek handled the thick snow on Toronto’s streets as if it were a light dusting, instead of the 20 or so centimetres covering the city. Of course, travel is slower, and yes, there was still just a little shimmy in corners, but overall, it gets through the worst of it where other cars would be left spinning their wheels. Subaru’s symmetrical AWD is famous for a reason.
So then, traction is sorted; you won’t do any serious off-roading with the Crosstrek, but you’ll know it will get you there and back in the worst of weather. But that was then, and this is now: springtime in Canada, and the snows are receding faster than the public’s confidence in our government. Is the Crosstrek still worth it?
Short answer is yes, especially if you’re not sure if you want a compact hatchback or a crossover. This is the second generation of the model and built on Subaru’s Global Platform architecture – the same as the Impreza, though surprisingly, the Crosstrek has a litre less in interior cargo capacity, at 1,565L with the rear seats down and 588 with them up. But the Crosstrek has more ground clearance at 220 centimetres and rides taller, hence its more crossover appearance.
It also shares a 152-horsepower, 2.0-litre Boxer four cylinder with the Impreza, good for 145 lb.-ft of torque and the only engine available here. While peppy enough for around town, it doesn’t exactly light the road on fire, especially with the optional CVT (there is also a six-speed manual on offer); more horsepower would be appreciated to add a bit of sport to this crossover.
One thing that does differentiate the Crosstrek from the Impreza, however, is a tow rating, which the latter doesn’t even have. The Crosstrek can pull 1,500 pounds – the difference isn’t engine power, obviously, but instead a beefier locking centre differential, and a big difference between the two models if towing is a part of your life.
Optional on this Sport model (the penultimate of four different trim levels) is Subaru’s EyeSight suite of safety systems – it adds almost $2,800 to the Sport’s base price of $27,895, but includes pre-collision braking, lane departure warning, reverse automatic braking and lane sway warning, just to name a few systems. Full disclosure: while I think these are worth the added cost, some driving aids – such as lane assist – did not work in heavy snow.
While the Crosstrek isn’t perfect, it is capable, comfortable and adventurous – but perhaps its greatest strength is that it’s out of the ordinary. How many other compact crossovers and hatchbacks are out there that offer the kind of AWD mechanicals and safety technology in this kind of unique package? If not perfect overall, it may be at least perfect for our Canadian roads.
The Crosstrek is taller with more of a rugged look than a normal hatchback, yet still not as big as an all-out SUV or crossover. Standard roof racks are handy, and the black plastic around the wheels adds to its off-road appearance. Overall, it’s got good lines.
Never known for its stylish cabins, the Crosstrek is at least a practical and clean design inside, with a logical layout and switchgear falling easily at hand. The cloth seats with orange stitching are not only a nice touch but also comfortable – though I wish the seat bottoms were a little longer.
With 152 horsepower, you’re not going to win many drag races, and the CVT has that typical drone under acceleration. Handling is sufficient, though it tends more toward understeer; the ride is quiet and comfortable, especially with the longer suspension travel that soaks up heavier potholes. With the CVT, fuel economy is rated at a reasonable 8.8 litres/100km in the city and 7.2 on the highway.
The EyeSight package is one of the best in the industry – because the two forward cameras are mounted behind the windshield, they stay clean even in the worst of weather (you’ll still have to clean off the rear camera and other sensors, though). The Sport comes with a six-speaker Bose sound system contained in an 8-inch display that also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It’s disappointing, though, that you need to go to the top Limited model for navigation.
Strange how it has (slightly) less cargo area than its Impreza brother, but it still offers very usable space for a compact crossover.
The Verdict 8.0
Subaru has always been just a little different from other automakers, and the Crosstrek typifies that: it’s not quite a hatchback, but not your typical-looking crossover, either. If not the best of both worlds, it’s at least worth a look if you’re in the market for either of these segments.
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