Capsule Review: 2014 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

Winston Braithwaite
by Winston Braithwaite
capsule review 2014 subaru crosstrek hybrid

Subarus shine when the sun does not. That reputation has been built on the back of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive so that in places that freeze, Subarus are everywhere. Given the concerns of the customer base and a corporate commitment to sustainability, a hybrid Subaru seems like an obvious slam dunk. That’s why it’s surprising it took so long to get one, even with some ties to Toyota. The XV Crosstrek is the first Subaru to go hybrid. It’s definitely the Subaru of hybrids.

What that means is that you’ll find a familiar 2.0 liter boxer four and all-wheel drive in the Crosstrek Hybrid. Added to that is a 100.8 volt, 13.5 kW battery pack that tucks .55 kWh of stamina under the cargo area floor. You lose just 1.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats, which is a nice trick compared to what happens in some other hybrid-ized cars. The combination of 2.0 liter boxer with compression bumped to 10.8:1 (from the standard 10.5:1) and electric motor makes the hybrid the most powerful Crosstrek there is. Total combined output is 160 hp vs. 148 hp for the gas-only model. More significantly, the total system torque is 163 lb-ft and you’ve got it all at 2,000 rpm. That beats the heck out of making those opposed pistons flail to 4,200 rpm for the 145 lb-ft of the non-hybrid. The electric motor is cleverly integrated into the AWD system, a move that keeps the center of gravity the same as the gas model and doesn’t cut into passenger space.

The best Subarus are niche Subarus. The rowdy WRX and Crosstrek Hybrid are the gold and silver medalists on the lot. It says something about the Impreza platform’s versatility and quality. I haven’t forgotten the BRZ, it’s just not as good as the other two. The coupe gets a bronze because it’s not as versatile as the other two and still lacks the power it really deserves. Sales have increased every month since January 2014, when Subaru started keeping track of Crosstrek hybrid sales. The model cracked 1,000 in May, and the total sits at 2,700 so far.

The $27,000 price for the the XV Crosstrek Hybrid I drove is close to reasonable. The entry price is $25,995, and with $825 of destination you’ve got the $26,820 bottom line. That’s for a car with cloth seats, no sunroof, and Subaru’s typically half-dismal audio system. If you want the nice stuff like leather and navigation, you’re looking at the $29,295 Hybrid Touring.

The more basic car has got it where it counts, though. It’s not stripped by any means, and the audio head unit easily connects to devices with Bluetooth and streams audio while allowing the steering-wheel audio buttons to control playback. This without stabbing at a touchscreen or dealing with voice prompts. The hands-free isn’t perfect – people I called asked me to repeat a lot of stuff because of audio quality. Three knurled dials give easy control over the HVAC and automatic climate control is standard for the hybrid. The steering column tilts and telescopes, and a rear view camera is also standard. The hatchback layout is useful, with a liftover height that’s easily managed even if you’re shorter, and that’s despite the 8.7” of ground clearance. That’s only 1/10″ shy of an F150 4×4. Other cars this size trading for this price carry more amenities, but none of them are all-wheel drive hybrids.

Interior materials don’t feel $27K nice, but the design and ergonomics of the Crosstrek cabin present well. Visibility out is what now passes for good, and the controls are all easy to operate. Some, like the shifter, feel a little flimsy (wiggle that silvery piece of trim!), but the Crosstrek Hybrid is not a hard car to use, and that’s a happy thing.

Practical matters aside, this is the best driving Crosstrek, and all the changes made to the Hybrid should be mirrored across the range. The suspension has been retuned, which explains its good wheel control and buttoned-down feel in corners. It works well with the quick electric power steering, which is good on weight and direct feel. Other changes include thicker floor sections and increased sound insulation, both measures that increase the feeling of refinement.

The Crosstrek Hybrid is unique in that you’re getting all-wheel drive as part of the deal, and the improvement over gas-only Crosstreks is a bump to 29/33 mpg city/highway from 25/33. Pardon me for feeling like that’s a miniscule increase and that the 30 mpg average I observed is what all Crosstreks should be returning already. There are very few other all-wheeler hybrids, and they’re all more expensive. Luxe options like the Lexus RX 400h and Audi Q5 hybrid or the significantly larger Toyota Highlander hybrid aren’t directly comparable. A used second-generation Ford Escape Hybrid (or Mercury Mariner) is likely the closest actual competitor.

The rest of the Crosstrek Hybrid is bang on with the desires of its target customers. The batteries and motor don’t cut into the usefulness of the hatchback layout. There’s a good-sized cargo area behind the rear seats, and since those seats also fold, you’ve got one useful little tadpole on your hands. Moreover, the space inside the Crosstrek is comfortable for four, a bit squeezy for five. The rear seat legroom is probably the biggest sticking point. A quintet of tallies isn’t going to like it very much, but the Crosstrek is great for three or four average grown-ups. It’s even better for one or two smaller-statured folks with a big ol’ dog fogging the windows.

Another happy thing is the way the electric motor bolsters the 2.0 liter engine’s torque delivery and flattens out bandy feeling you often get from CVTs. The presence of paddle shifters to toggle between fake ratios feels really out of place. That’s money that could have gone into making the door panels padded so your elbow doesn’t fall asleep. At least with torque to go, the Crosstrek doesn’t have to wind up the engine so much to make forward progress. It’s a more relaxed way to get to speed, and it makes for a more refined Subaru. One annoyance, a major one, is the momentary hesitation upon taking off as the system fires the engine. It makes the car feel slow-witted, and it doesn’t build confidence when you’re trying to make a quick move in heavy traffic.

The hybrid system makes distinct shudders when the flame is blown out or fired up. You won’t get very far on electric-only, which generally seems to only operate in traffic jams. Subaru says the hybrid will crawl in an electric-only mode, but I found that the engine fired almost all the time when I wanted to move even a few feet. The Crosstrek hybrid is a few software tweaks away from greatness, but that doesn’t stop it from being good. The chassis feels solid, the steering is well-weighted, and the braking transitions from regen to friction very smoothly.

I was surprised to come away from the Crosstrek Hybrid so impressed with it. I’m not generally a fan of hybrids, and one that’s so obvious about what it’s doing SHOULD have put me off. Instead, it was charming. Clearly, I’m not the only one who’s been taken in by this car’s talents. If only all Crosstreks were this good.

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2 of 63 comments
  • Richard Chen Richard Chen on Jun 10, 2014

    "You lose just 1.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats, which is a nice trick compared to what happens in some other hybrid-ized cars." The spare tire was removed to make space for the battery.

  • Kyree Kyree on Jun 10, 2014

    I like the Crosstrek's exterior...a lot, but I'm not feeling the interior at all. The instrument panel...something that I'd be looking at fairly often. They should have nixed the fixed-segment display in the IP, and instead put the color display from the center stack in the IP. To me, the Crosstrek just screams "cheap for no reason". It doesn't seem to have gotten with the fact that small cars should no longer feel like econoboxes. Moreover, the interior looks like it could have come from a 2005 model, an instant fail in my book. And maybe the design and materials choices work for Subaru's loyal customer base, but...well...that's why I'm not a Subaru customer.