With rare exception, there are two kinds of drivers in this world. There are the enthusiasts who change their lives to accommodate their cars, and there are the rest of us who change our cars to accommodate our lives. Construction workers need trucks, painters need panel vans, and multi-child families need minivans and crossovers with third rows.
For the outdoorsman – the hiker, camper, cycler and trekker in each of us – one carmaker has the market nearly cornered. That brand is Subaru.
It may be easiest to look at Subaru as a blend of two separate divisions: one focused on sports cars like the WRX, STI and BRZ, the other focused on outdoor adventure vehicles.
While the sports car side of equation produces some fantastically enjoyable daily drivers (See our reviews of the new WRX and WRX STI), Subaru makes most of its money with its go-anywhere wagons, the Outback and the Forester.
The brand’s mission is simply to build fun, reliable cars that will take people where they want to go, even if there isn’t a road.
“Our owners are people who already have active, sporty lifestyles,” said Michael McHale of the Subaru PR team. “They’re dirty. They’re muddy. They like to do outside stuff, and they’re three times more likely to cycle, three-and-a-half times more likely to hike, and four times more likely to own a pet.”
For a brand that offers family cars with standard all-wheel-drive and enough ground clearance to occasionally drive off the pavement, the customer retention is high. Very high. Even in the midst of economic recession, Subaru remained one of only two brands that stayed in the black, and the company’s repeat customer roster is one of the most enviable in the industry.
The first two days of this particular trip focused on the activities that Subaru owners are known to do. We jumped on jet skis to splash around the island, stood on paddleboards to cruise quietly over the waves, and hopped into kayaks for a tour of the key mangroves.
Most interesting is that these adventures all lend themselves to the Subaru lifestyle. Want to take your jet ski to the lake? Just attach it to the tow hitch; the radiator is built for hauling small loads.
Subaru makes most of its money with its go-anywhere wagons.
And, paddleboards? No problem. The hatch opens with such a wide aperture, that you could squeeze a lazy boy recliner back there, too.
That’s likely the point, though; these cars are designed to accommodate the things you want to do – whenever and wherever you want to do them – and there’s something reassuring about knowing that you can always be self-sufficient behind the wheel.
We also had the chance to prove that the XV Crosstrek could handle nearly any terrain, and the Subaru team took us to an off-roading course filled with steep dirt inclines, suspension-articulating holes, and lots of gravel-drifting opportunities. No problem.
XV Crosstrek Hybrid
The XV Crosstrek debuted as a 2013 model, and filled a void so small, that only Subaru could see it.
The Crosstrek is a taller, slightly more rugged variant of the compact Impreza wagon. It’s the smallest crossover in the brand’s lineup. Designed with more ground clearance, more suspension travel, and a larger radiator for towing, the XV fits somewhere in the market between the Nissan Juke and the Mazda CX-5. However, it isn’t quite as tall or exciting as either, but it’s more capable and rugged than both.
In the traditional model, power is derived from a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine, which is mated to either a five-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) and symmetrical all-wheel drive.
As a result, the XV Crosstrek has become a quirky-looking, fun-but-not-necessarily-thrilling, practical, accomplished vehicle for folks who live in snowy states or down gravel roads. And thanks to its affordability and Subaru’s reputation for reliability, the XV has also become a knockout in terms of sales.
The Hybrid model is new for 2014, and it addresses one of Subaru owners’ biggest complaints: fuel economy. It replaces the Crosstrek’s spare tire with a hybrid battery pack, and gains as many as six MPG in the city by doing so. While the base XV is rated at 23 mpg city/33 highway, the hybrid earns 29 mpg city, while highway ratings remain the same.
These cars are designed to accommodate the things you want to do–whenever and wherever you want to do them.
Inside, the gauges are trimmed in blue, a power meter displays the hybrid system’s energy flow, and push-button start allows you to pocket your key for the entire ride. Base models get cloth seats, while Touring models add leather, a sunroof, and the brand’s lackluster navigation system.
Under the hood, the Crosstrek Hybrid earns more sound deadening materials to hush the ride, increased rigidity in the body and suspension for ride comfort, and a 16-hp electric motor that increases peak output with the engine to 160 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque.
The hybrid system is considered a “mild” hybrid system, meaning that it disengages the engine at stops, and aids the engine while traveling down the road. There is no electric-only driving mode at this point in the game.
Generally speaking, the XV provides a very compelling package, one with ample passenger and cargo space, a smooth, comfortable ride, and the ability to play off-pavement.
The interior materials look and feel well crafted, and the driving position gives you full view of the road without any noticeable blind spots.
As hybrids go, it’s easy to fault the Crosstrek. It looks more like a wagon than an SUV, and it earns nearly 20 mpg less than the Toyota Prius. However, it’s not likely you’ll find many Prius owners trying to climb to the mountain’s peak in their cars. The XV Hybrid does earn better fuel economy than the comparable Toyota Highlander Hybrid. And at that point, the Subaru costs $20,000 less, too.
At the end of the day, this little green car may attract a few hybrid shoppers to the brand for the first time. Priced from $26,000 and loaded for just over $30,000, it’s an affordable hybrid at any trim level.
However, it will definitely appeal to existing Subaru shoppers who simply wanted to decrease their time spent at the pump. That’ll be important, too, since there aren’t many gas stations in the middle of the woods.
- Go-anywhere versatility
- Excellent cargo space
- Affordable, regardless of trim
- Excellent fuel economy for a Subaru
- Infotainment system in Touring model
- Lackluster fuel economy for a hybrid