2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Driving Impressions

The Subaru XV Crosstrek drives like a car. Though taller and heavier than an Impreza, it still weighs in at a svelte-for-its-class 3100 pounds. If you've driven an Impreza you will find this slightly slower and with minimal added body lean, but otherwise be right at home.

Subaru introduced the XV to the press in a lazy place where 60 mph is the highest posted limit, most traffic moves considerably slower and passing lanes are rare. The 148-hp 2-liter flat-four engine worked just fine puttering around in those conditions, but it will be working when acceleration is called for. We figure the 0-60 time between 9 and 10 seconds, sluggish performance, but the XV's forte is mileage over power.

Fuel economy for the CVT (continuously variable transmission) version that will account for most purchases is an EPA-rated 25/33 mpg City/Highway and 23/30 mpg with the manual transmission. That's good for a cute-ute, though the driver will have far more effect on mileage than loading, roof accessories or which transmission you get. On a 30-mile leg, split amongst 60-mph freeway, 35-mph two-lane through towns, and 15-45 mph off pavement, the 5-speed's trip computer said 26.2 mpg.

Clutch effort is moderate and releases near the floor, and the shifter is adequate; you'll need some revs on to get going, especially with a load, AC, or little break in traffic. The gear ratios have been changed for the added mass, so getting going doesn't change much but 60 mph is already 2700 rpm so trips at West Texas speeds will have engine hum in the background. Despite some steeper inclines than most will attempt and engine speeds less than 1500 rpm, we never stalled it or had to feather the clutch, so it's very tractable. A 6-speed manual would be a big benefit but probably erase some of the XV's low price.

Rather than an old-style CVT that puts engine revs high while vehicle speed catches up, like an outboard struggling to get on plane, this one lifts engine- and road speed similarly. It has six settings to imitate a 6-speed automatic's gears, and paddle shifters on the wheel that are always active. As with the 5-speed manual, mountain passes or overtaking will need lots of revs and all of the 148 horsepower available.

Every XV is all-wheel drive. Manuals use a lockable viscous coupling which splits power evenly front and rear, while CVT uses an electronically controlled clutch pack and can vary the split 100 percent to either end. Both are transparent to the driver, and only if their limits have been reached does the traction control come into play by applying a brake to a spinning tire. Switching VDC off deactivates traction control and we did that off-highway where the last thing needed was braking the four-cylinder's efforts.

Brakes and tires are both larger than Impreza and neither gave us any qualms. For the most part we didn't need brakes as the low speeds could be scrubbed off turning or downshifting.

Although the suspension is raised and has stouter parts, it feels very much like an Impreza that responds to changes in direction perhaps a few percentage points slower. The front antiroll bar is bigger to combat lean, wheels are set wider apart, the rear springs are softer to let the wheels move up and down more for off-highway traction, and the shock absorbers are stiffer, especially in front. The XV has the lowest center of gravity in its class, including the nimble VW Tiguan, so it handles better than almost anything else with nearly nine inches of clearance underneath. Perhaps because of this, the electronic stability control is aggressive, intervening before an XV gets out of shape rather than attempting to correct it once that point is reached.

Electric-assist steering is quite heavy on center, as if to improve directional stability, and lightens up with cornering. It needs 35 feet for a U-turn, which is better than average.

Road noise is moderate, not overly fatiguing but there, primarily from the rear tires on the marginal road surfaces we were on. Wind noise came from the mirrors on Impreza, but as our only venture to speed was during a rainstorm we can only surmise the XV will be the same.

Tow rating is quoted at 1500 pounds, but we've been unable to determine if that is with one person, two, or a maximum load on board. In any case, that's a light trailer, and we wouldn't shop for a Crosstrek if we were expecting to tow. Payload (passengers, cargo, roof load) is about 1200 pounds, equal or more than some full-size 4x4s.

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