Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

The XV Crosstrek hybrid gives you road-gripping Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive in an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle. It's capability with a conscience

6/1/14 12:27 pm chumakdenis 1

Subaru successfully goes green without compromising off-road capability with its XV Crosstrek Hybrid crossover utility vehicle. Though it’s hard to pin down a direct competitor, it’s easy to see why some will find it just right at this price point.

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Subaru sometimes accomplishes amazing things by playing mix-and-match with the limited range of platforms and hardware at its disposal. When this approach works, we get enduring hits like the Outback and WRX. When it doesn’t, the six-star badge travels dead-end roads - see the BRAT, the SVX, or the XT. The 2014 XV Crosstrek hybrid could be one of the latter, playing the niche card to an extreme that might satisfy a handful of brand loyalists but with deficits that could make for a short life cycle.

Consider a few numbers in context. In our hands, this hybrid got 26 mpg. Most folks shopping for a hybrid expect more. It’s a good number, though, for an all-wheel-drive crossover and best-in-class if you make enough allowances to admit the Crosstrek to the Ford Escape/Honda CR-V/Mazda CX-5 group. We don’t. Raising an Impreza five-door on its suspension to get 8.7 inches of ground clearance doesn’t really make it a crossover with the utility of, say, the larger, roomier, quieter Subaru Forester on the same platform. (We will say the XV hybrid is far quieter and feels more solid than the regular model, owing to its extra sound-deadening measures.)

Subaru might expect loyal customers to overlook this fact while embracing the brand's first hybrid, but the $30,120 price tag on our test example might cause a shopper to at least glance across the showroom. We got 19 mpg when we last tested a four-cylinder Forester (it’s not offered as a hybrid), so some might think 7 mpg is worth a few modest compromises.

Compromise goes deeper, though. That Forester got to 60 mph in 8.6 seconds with our test gear aboard; the Crosstrek hybrid took 10.1, a full two seconds slower than the five-speed manual-transmission XV Crosstrek tested last year. The electric motor adds 13 horsepower to the 2.0-liter flat-four’s 148-hp rating, and the 0.6-kWh nickel-metal hydride battery pack accounts for most of the 415 extra pounds of mass the hybrid totes around (3488 pounds versus the nonhybrid XV’s 3073). The performance decline is mostly attributable to the CVT. The hybrid’s electric motor is mounted within it, so there’s no alternative to this device, which embodies all the weaknesses we abhor most in CVTs. It gives you sound without fury, and our performance-testing crew noted it was profoundly unhappy in extended high-speed operation.

Too slow for you?

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Slowness alone isn’t a terminal disease, however. We enthused over the 2.0-liter CX-5, despite modest acceleration, although we like the 2.5-liter version more. But whereas the Mazda’s handling and refinement made up for its power deficit, the Crosstrek hybrid remains a laggard. On a scale from crude to refined, it’s number-two fuel oil. Consider its clunky hybrid system. When introducing the car in Iceland , Subaru took pains to make us understand that its strategic partner, Toyota, made no contribution to this development. Too bad. Toyota’s expertise might have helped a lot.

 

Engine

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Like other hybrids, Subaru’s shuts off the engine at a stop. Creep away at a very slow pace  and it stays all-electric up to a claimed 25 mph. More often, though, the engine restarts in a way that sends a jolt through the car. A few times, it was so severe we thought a car behind us had tapped the rear bumper of the Crosstrek. First-gen hybrids from Toyota and Honda did this, too, but less dramatically, and that was many years ago. There’s no excusing it in 2014, flat-engine layout or no.

Cabin improvement

One of the main complaints about the previous XV Crosstrek was the driving experience: noisy and harsh. Subaru took that to heart and implemented a series of changes to improve the cabin feel, including improved hood insulation, better damping material in the footwells, liquid-filled engine mounts, a thicker front floor pan and a sound-abating windshield, to name a few. Did it work?

Honestly, it was hard to tell as the majority of our time behind the wheel in Iceland included howling winds and the drone of the very necessary snow tires that do not come standard on the car. The heater worked, thankfully.

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Displays

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The high-mounted multifunction display isn't the most elegant, but it does a good job of communicating how the hybrid system is working along with fuel economy performance. The standard (both base and Touring) backup camera is also shown through the multifunction display.

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Standard entertainment for the base trim comes via an AM/FM stereo with a single-disc CD player, Bluetooth connectivity and auxiliary connections. Step up the Touring and you are greeted with a large 6.1-inch LED screen that adds in navigation and voice-activated controls. We are big fans of the Aha smartphone integration found in the Touring as well. It's essentially a cloud-based system run through an application on your iPhone or Android smartphone that provides access to a voluminous library of music. As long as you have data coverage, your music options are almost limitless.

 

Interior

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Inside there's enough room for five and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat enables the Crosstrek to gobble up all your outdoor gear. That folding rear seat could come in handy; storage drops by 0.8 cubic feet to 21.5 cubic feet with the rear seats up, thanks to the space required for the hybrid system's battery packs. Another casualty of the battery is the spare tire, which is replaced by a tire repair kit.

A cloth interior with heated seats is standard for the base trim, while the Touring receives a nice swatch of leather. Even with the leather treatment we found that some of the interior plastics feel a little cheap, but we're not complaining for a $25 000 vehicle.

Disadvantages of an electric-assist steering system

Like the nonhybrid Crosstrek, this model suffers from an electric-assist steering system that lacks not only feel but also consistency. There was some disagreement among our staff as to the quality of the brake pedal, so we’ll just call it okay. But okay doesn’t offset the weight gain, so the car took 181 feet to stop from 70 mph, which was seven feet longer than the nonhybrid version. On the skidpad, the hybrid cornered at 0.78 g, the nonhybrid at 0.81; both cars were riding on the same size Yokohama Geolanders.

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Price

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid base trim will set you back $25 995, with the Touring starting at $29 925 (neither price includes the $825 destination fee). The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is certainly one of the greenest cars you can take off the beaten path, and one that won't leave you stuck when the snow starts falling. And as long as straight-line performance isn't high on your priority list, this could be the car of choice for eco-friendly weekend off-road warriors.

Additional stuff for a car

Those are a lot of sacrifices to make on top of the $3000 additional base price of the hybrid model. The sticker says the EPA estimates the fuel saving will be - aha! - $3000 over five years. Our example was in Touring trim, which asks another $3300 for leather, a sunroof, a six-speaker audio system, and an infotainment setup with navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and satellite radio.

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Subaru’s loyal fan base might embrace this vehicle - we see the nonhybrid all over cities like Chicago - and it’s not hard to find advocates out there who still love the BRAT and the XT. Other hybrid vehicles with all-wheel drive are more expensive models from luxury brands, so you might forgive this Crosstrek’s rough edges if you simply must have a big battery pack and torque to all four corners.

We can’t help recalling, though, that Subaru once let us drive the diesel Crosstrek it offers in Europe. It was far more appealing than this car - actually, it was more appealing than the gasoline Crosstrek. Business cases be damned, the final product says that whatever the company spent developing a hybrid version for North America would have been better invested in certifying the oil burner for this market. “Diesel all-wheel-drive hatchback” looks like a niche worth filling.

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Pros and cons

Subaru successfully goes green without compromising off-road capability with its XV Crosstrek Hybrid crossover utility vehicle. Though it’s hard to pin down a direct competitor, it’s easy to see why some will find it “just right” at this price point. Pros: Best fuel economy of an AWD crossover No compromise of off-road capability Improved cabin experience Cons: Poor acceleration Uninspiring, continuously variable transmission Loss of spare tire

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