2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Manual Review - Field Manual

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole

In 1919, then-Army Major Dwight D. Eisenhower embarked on a transcontinental journey with a military convoy to show off to the country the mechanical might used to conquer the Kaiser.

From Washington D.C. to San Francisco, Eisenhower traversed the Lincoln Highway over 62 days. The going was relatively easy until Kansas, but the hardest part, he wrote, came in Utah.

“Aug. 20 (1919) Departed Salt Lake City, 6:30 am. … Last 6 miles was natural desert trail of alkali dust and fine sand up to 2 (feet) deep, with numerous chuckholes. No rain for 18 weeks and traction exceedingly difficult,” Eisenhower wrote in his journal.

“Aug. 22 (1919) Departed Granite Rock (Utah) 6:30 a.m. … Personnel utterly exhausted by tremendous efforts, and will rest at Black Point. … Reduced morale.”

Admittedly, my journey in a 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek would be less dramatic. In Utah, Eisenhower reported the convoy of 80 vehicles took 7.5 hours to do 15 miles in near-biblical sand in lieu of bad roads. I could manage 80 miles an hour in the diminutive hatchback with 148 horsepower — which likely has more horsepower than the entire 1919 convoy. Resemblance? I have a few.

(At least my five-speed manual, five-door compact wagon was a hue Subaru called “Desert Khaki,” a color resembling a faded, fatigue greenish-brown. That has to count for something, right?)

You could say I was partially retracing Eisenhower’s steps on his formative journey, but I would say I was putting the Crosstrek through the toughest test I could imagine — hauling a 1,000-pound, loaded U-haul over the Rockies. (In fact, I was moving my girlfriend over the Rockies and into Denver, in the least likely tow vehicle imaginable.)

To be fair, I’ve driven an XV Crosstrek through “Jurassic Park” in Hawaii and another through the middle of Iceland in a blizzard. I wasn’t concerned with the Crosstrek’s performance as much as I was worried about my patience: U.S. 6 south of Price has all the visual charm of a sopping wet bath mat.

Interestingly, very few Crosstreks are purchased with a manual transmission. As the automaker celebrates its most successful sales month ever for the Crosstrek in July (more than 8,500 sold in the U.S., nearly three times as many BMW X3s sold in the same timeframe) exceedingly fewer and fewer of them are of the row-your-own variety.

That’s counter-intuitive for a car that has earned a rep for having less strength than the League of Nations. You’d think buyers would want to wring every last drop of horsepower from the busy little mill.

So, appropriate five-speed manual to tow, and fully commanding all 148 horses powered by the Subaru’s horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, I set off along Interstate 80.

The most useful statistic: Seats down, the XV Crosstrek manages 51.9 cubic feet of cargo room, which is less than a Jeep Cherokee and Kia Sportage, but more useful considering its wide rear opening and fold-down seats. That’s enough room to fit a closet full of clothes, a TV, three backpacks, a dog and some snacks purchased in a daze from Harmon’s near the interstate.

Our Crosstrek piled on the extras too: a 6.2-inch multimedia display with Bluetooth, subwoofer, heated seats and trailer hitch with 4-pin connector. The Beverly Hillbilly Special, I believe the package is called.

All that matters very little when you have a 500-mile drive with a 1,000-pound trailer and a 50-pound puppy to haul. The most useful measure? The drama-free interior as your steed chugs along the highway.

From best to worst, the Crosstrek ranges somewhere in the middle when it comes to interior comfort. When it was introduced, the Crosstrek was louder inside than a cramped Louisiana cellblock (don’t ask me how I know), but Subaru has since added more sound deadening material to quiet things down. On the road, hauling a trailer, the Crosstrek managed to keep a subdued drone as we wound through the passages of southeastern Utah.

The hill climb? Well, that’s a different story.

Not exactly retracing Eisenhower’s steps, I opted for Interstate 70 instead of I-80, up over the Rockies, ascending to more than 11,000 feet before descending into the Mile High City.

At altitude, the Crosstrek is straining for oxygen to ignite. Its furious engine is gasping for any clean breath to pull its (probably ridiculous) load up a mountain and back down again. The ability to snatch my own gears with the five-speed manual would be my saving grace, I figured.

I figured wrong. In fact, it wasn’t the engine that kept the Crosstrek from running easily up the mountain and back down, it was my gear searching that proved difficult. The Crosstrek never dipped below 40 mph or second gear, but that figure probably would have improved if I had the benefit of computers working for me. The Crosstrek’s continuously variable transmission may be joyless like a civics class, but at least it keeps the engine constantly in its sweet spot. I can’t say the same for myself.

The results? More than 1,200 miles of driving in two days with a load on halfway and a puppy with a load on all the way, and the Crosstrek managed just over 24 mpg. Oh, and it made it.

Eisenhower could say the same. But his journey took 62 days and was so bad he created the Interstate Highway System in 1956 — which included I-80 — so no one would have to do that again.

The Crosstrek has might. Maybe not enough to win a war, but at least it won this battle.

Aaron Cole
Aaron Cole

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3 of 72 comments
  • Fttp Fttp on Aug 30, 2015

    Are there any reviews of actual CARS on a site called "The Truth about Cars?" Nothing even remotely sporting. I had a Crosstek as a loaner and I'm still having nightmares. All I see are SUVs, pickups and old POS junkyard crap.

    • Steve Biro Steve Biro on Aug 30, 2015

      The "Truth About Cars" is that not all have to be fast sports cars in order to be interesting and/or fun.

  • BobWellington BobWellington on Sep 07, 2015

    I don't know if anyone mentioned it, but that trailer isn't even near level. Try flipping the ball mount around and see if that levels it out.

  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys dudes off the rails on drugs and full of hate and retribution. so is musky.