Apparently I’m a stereotypical Subaru shopper. I’m in my 30s and live on 9-acres of redwood forest in Northern California where I run a small organic egg farm. My nearest neighbor is a mile away and the closest concrete or asphalt driving surface is a 3 mile trek through the woods. During the winter I value AWD and high ground clearance, not because I need it (my 2005 Jaguar XJ has never been stuck) but like most Americans, I feel safe and secure by having a larger margin for error. I also have a special place in my heart for station wagons. It was therefore no surprise to my neighbors when I drove home one day in the Outback’s little brother, the XV Crosstrek.
If the XV looks familiar, you’re not imagining things, you have seen this body before. This is an Impreza 5-door with off-road body cladding, black wheels and a lift kit. If that sounds like the old Outback Sport, you’re half right because this time Subaru went the extra mile when “offroadifying” (like my new word there?) the Impreza. Instead of confusing shoppers with an Outback and an Outback Sport that have little to do with one another, they renamed the Impreza crossover utility wagon (CUW) for 2013 to end the confusion. In addition to the name change it gets real dirt-road cred an SUV-like 8.5 inches of ground clearance. (The Outback Sport made do with a trifling 0.2-inch height increase vs 3 in the XV.) Subaru’s corporate design elements are all at play on the XV and while it may seem plain to some, it’s unlikely to offend, except for the shocking orange paint our tester wore. (You can get your XV in shades other than orange but regardless of the hue, the wheels are always black.) Instead of the sashless windows Subaru has long been known for, the XV gets standard doors with window frames making them feel more substantial than Subaru models of the past.
Think of the XV as the Impreza’s outdoorsy brother. You know, the one that moved to the country, wears flannel on the weekend but still commutes to a day job in the city. Early crossovers had a similar mission, but demand for a car-like ride has caused the current crop of CUVs to return to car-like ride heights while warehouse shopping excursions demand minivan-like cargo holds. That’s not to say CUWs are “true off roaders,” that much is obvious by the size of the front overhang, long wheelbase and on-road tires. Instead, the mission is to provide an efficient, civilized ride for that outdoorsy brother on the way to downtown and the ability to ford that low-water-crossing on the way to his organic farm.
The XV shares interiors with the $17,895 Impreza from the seats to the soft-touch dashboard. While plastics aren’t as nice as the Outback, they do represent a significant step up from the last generation Impreza and Outback Sport and aren’t out-of-place here. The XV is $1,700 more than a similar Impreza 5-door but when you factor in the standard 17-inch wheels, body cladding and lift kit the cost difference is minimal. Starting at a reasonable $21,995 and ending at $27,290, the XV is one of the best AWD values going. Oddly however, the 2014 Subaru Forester starts at exactly the same price.
The base XV is the “Premium” trim which sports durable fabric seats in black or ivory. Ivory lovers beware, interior color is dictated by exterior color and ivory is only available with black, red, blue and white paint. Limited models spruce up the cabin with leather seating surfaces, single-zone automatic climate control and heated seats.
I found the driver’s seat extremely comfortable on my long commute, but shoppers should spend time in the car before buying as the seat’s don’t offer adjustable lumbar support and the front passenger seat doesn’t offer the same range of motion as the driver’s. I heard a number of forum complaints about the leather seats feeling “mushy” in reference to the padding but my short stint in a dealer provided vehicle left the same impression as the cloth models in my mind. Perhaps there were some early production quality issues? All models feature a manual tilt/telescoping steering wheel with a good range of motion and CVT equipped XVs get attractive shift paddles attached to the wheel, not the column.
Rear seats in the XV are firm and the seat bottom cushions are low to the floor which should be fine for children but can be tiresome for adults on long trips. Because of the XV’s mission as a mud-rut crawler and stream-forder, the door sills are high to prevent water intrusion meaning you have to lift your feet higher than you’d expect to gain entry. That combined with the sloping rear profile made me feel like I had to contort myself more to get in the XV than I had expected, and certainly more than vehicles like the RAV4 or CR-V. Once inside, headroom proved excellent for my 6-foot frame and legroom was adequate even with a taller driver up front. If you have kids or regularly schlep folks in the rear, pony up for the Limited model, in addition to leather being easier to wipe-up than cloth, it’s the only way to get cup holders in the rear. If you don’t opt for the cow, you’ll be left with only the rear door “bottle holders” which should never be used for drive-thru style sodas.
The XV is only a few inches shorter than the Escape, CR-V or even its cousin the Forester, but the cargo area is considerably smaller thanks to the wagon profile. Our tester’s 22 cubic foot cargo area easily held a foursome’s weekend luggage as long as camping wasn’t on the agenda. While that’s a significant step up from most sedans that XV shoppers may be looking to trade out of, it’s two-thirds the cargo area provided by the Forseter or Escape. Why am I comparing these non-wagons to the XV? Because they are all a similar height and length. How is that possible you ask? Because the XV trades cargo space for ground clearance. Pick your poison.
Infotainment has long been an area where Subaru lags behind the competition and the XV is no different. Because the XV is positioned above the Impreza, things start with the optional audio system from the small Subie. The 6-speaker system features a single CD player, USB/iPod integration, Bluetooth phone integration with audio streaming and a 3.5mm AUX input jack. Limited trim XVs get Subaru’s display audio system with a 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen. The display upgrade also brings a backup camera, improved iPod/USB control, HD Radio and a greater suite of voice commands. For some reason this middle-ground head unit is not available at all on the base trim of the XV.
For $1,200 as a stand alone option on the XV Premium, and $2,000 as a bundle with the moonroof on the XV Limited model, Subaru offers an optional 6.1-inch touchscreen navigation unit. (The moonroof is a stand alone option on the Premium but only comes with the nav on the Limited.) Unless you’re buying the Premium model and want the sunroof, just save the $1,200 and spend it on an aftermarket system. While the unit isn’t as outdated as some systems on the market, the interface is strangely unintuitive, the on-screen buttons are small and the low-contrast color scheme makes it difficult to find what you’re after. On the bright side, perhaps because of Toyota’s minority investment in Subaru, the system uses the same voice command interface as Toyota and Lexus’ current product line including voice commands to control your media device.
Subaru’s fascination with boxer engines and AWD is nothing new, but the 2.0L DOHC engine under the hood is. The smaller mill replaces the old 2.5L SOHC four-cylinder found in the last generation Impreza and Outback Sport.Power drops with the displacement reduction from 170 HP to 148 at 6,200 RPM while torque takes a similar tumble from 170 lb-ft to 145 at 4,200 RPM. The smaller mill isn’t any quieter or more refined than the older engine, but it is 28% more fuel-efficient when equipped with the same manual transmission and a whopping 36% more efficient when you compare the new 2.0L/CVT combo with the old 2.5L/four-speed automatic. EPA numbers for the XV come out to 23/30/26 (City/Highway/Combined) for the 5-speed manual and 25/33/28 for the CVT. On my mixed commute I averaged 29.4MPG over 475 miles of mixed driving, 0-60 testing and soft-road shenanigans.
The three-pedal XV makes the power reduction seem more obvious while the CVT’s infinite ratios help mask the loss in power more than you might think. While AWD is standard, the AWD system is different on manual and automatic models. The 5-speed is mated to a mechanical viscus center coupling that can neither be fully coupled or uncoupled allowing a torque split range from 80/20 to 20/80 (front/rear) and normally apportions power 50/50. The CVT uses an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch pack to apportion power 60/40 under normal circumstances with the ability to completely lock when wheels slip, or when the car’s computer feels like it.
Jack anything up three inches and handling will suffer, even an Impreza. Fortunately, the XV is unusually light at 3,164lbs. In a sea of overweight crossovers, this helps the XV feel more nimble than the usual suspects but it does taker a toll on ride quality with the XV feeling less “polished” than the Outback or the heavier small-CUV competition. On the downside, a light vehicle can sometimes feel cheap, and the XV’s noisy cabin doesn’t help. Being pragmatic, I would rather spend the money on a robust AWD system than sound insulation, but on long trips the noise can be tiresome. Despite the robust AWD system and boxer engine, the XV cuts a very tight rug with 34.8 foot turning radius, something important when you’re trekking off the beaten path.
In general journalists despise CVTs but this is a hatred I have never fully understood. On my daily commute I climb a 2,200ft mountain pass, a perfect demonstration of how CVTs make less powerful cars more drivable. Cars with a typical automatic suffer from the slow down, downshift, speed up, upshift, slow down, rinse, repeat problem on steep mountain passes while CVTs maintain a constant speed and vary the engine RPM as required. Yes, the 2.0L boxer engine is vibration free but unpleasant sounding and the CVT has an uncanny ability to keep the engine at the most annoying harmonic. Even so, if given the choice I would take the CVT over a 6-speed automatic on an engine this small. Bolt a turbo to the 2.0 and I’d want the 6-speed slushbox. Speaking of speeds, all CVT equipped models come with sexy shift paddles that attempt to mimic an automatic transmission but the shifts from one ratio to another feel mushy and slow.
Designed to carve unpaved corners on weekends and paved corners on weekdays you’ll find an inherent compromise in every corner. On true dirt roads, the street rubber (Yokohama Geolander H/T G95A) lacks lateral grip allowing the rear of the XV to feel a little light (in a fun sort of way) and on pavement the tall springs allow the body to roll more than a traditional wagon shopper might expect. Despite the lean, the XV never lost its composure even when pressed to 9/10ths, a place few owners will take their granola-hauler. The always-on nature of Subaru’s AWD system makes the XV feel more confidant off-road than the sip-and-grip systems found on the competition, but there is less of a difference on road. Back on the asphalt, most of the competitor’s systems allow partial lock-up from a standstill thanks to improved electronic systems and honestly the difference in snow performance for most driving conditions is going to be fairly small.
For some reason we expect SUVs and CUVs to deliver a less exciting driving dynamic but we expect wagons to handle like sedans with a tailgate. If that describes you, the XV will disappoint. If however you’re looking for the utility of a crossover with better road manners and a low center of gravity, the XV delivers in spades. There’s just one problem: Subaru’s new Forester is the same price and staring at you from across the Subaru dealer’s lot.
- Subaru AWD reputation.
- Well priced and well equipped base model.
- I’ve always been a fan of CVTs for hill climbing.
- Black wheels.
- The lack of gadgets, gizmos and options is a bummer for my inner nerd.
- The cabin is noisier than most small crossovers.
- Not everyone loves CVTs as much as I do.
Subaru provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 3.3 Seconds
0-60: 8.7 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.8 Seconds @ 81.5 MPH
Average Fuel Economy: 29.4 MPG over 475 miles