2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid review

The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is everything a Subaru should be: rugged, versatile, practical, a bit odd, and a bit fun to boot. Just don't get it in “electric pistachio.”
The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is everything a Subaru should be: rugged, versatile, practical, a bit odd, and a bit fun to boot. Just don't get it in “electric pistachio.”
The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is everything a Subaru should be: rugged, versatile, practical, a bit odd, and a bit fun to boot. Just don't get it in “electric pistachio.”

Highs

  • Spacious and well laid out interior
  • 8.7 inches of go anywhere ground clearance
  • Lives up to its EPA-rated mileage
  • Well-sorted driving dynamics
  • Versatile Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive

Lows

  • Relatively high price
  • Low mileage for a hybrid
  • Cheap feeling trim pieces.

DT Editors' Rating

Hybrids used to be oddball outliers.

Heck, when the Prius first hit the streets it looked like a concept car making its escape from an auto show. And it drove about that well, too, balky, jumpy and everything but smooth. Now though, hybrids drivetrain are in everything from luxury sedans to the highest end hyper cars.

Even so, the Crosstrek Hybrid is something new.

This is no dull, lumpy economy box, or shiny luxury toy; instead it is a rugged, do-everything compact that could only come from Subaru.

Color me bad

Appreciating that fact means first overlooking the color. My test Crosstrek Hybrid came in a color Subaru calls “Plasma Green Pearl.” Though, I think “Electric Pistachio” would be more fitting.

In reality, this car is no neon nut, but essentially a rougher, tougher and taller Subaru Impreza complete with Subaru’s world-class Symmetrical-All Wheel Drive.

A quick look at the exterior styling shows that Subaru’s designers were thinking, not just about looks but also about space. The body, despite its angles and indents, is essentially an eminently practical box.

The Crosstrek avoids the problems of other hatchbacks by using a relatively flat rear end ensuring maximum height in the trunk. They even managed to tuck this mild-hybrid’s battery pack into the spare tire well, meaning they different have to compromise the class leading 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

This same practical thinking is present at the front end of the vehicle. The long wheelbase and compact engine packaging means that the passenger cabin extends deceptively far forward in the vehicle, meaning the Crosstrek has more interior room than larger crossovers like the Ford Escape.

Despite all of this size scrimping the Crosstrek is still a handsome little car. The slightly flared wheel arches, roof rack and black trim give the Subaru the look of a vehicle that is ready for anything.

A go-anywhere hybrid

This impression is hardly let down in the driver’s seat.

Driving the Crosstrek Hybrid is a pleasant experience.

Driving the Crosstrek Hybrid is a pleasant experience. Thanks to its Impreza heritage, the Crosstrek handles the road with surprising confidence for a tall car like the Crosstrek. The suspension is a nice balance between communication and comfort.

Despite the fact that the Crosstrek has more ground clearance than a standard Jeep Grand Cherokee, the car manages to stay remarkably flat and composed even when taking a corner hard, or suddenly change lanes.

I would have loved to take the car out on some gravel roads and see how suspension and AWD held up to amateur rallying. However, I judged that a bad idea, as Subaru seemed to want more than just most of the car back.

That being said, this is not a performance car. Power comes from a 2.0-Liter, 148-horsepower BOXER engine, complimented by a 13-hp electric motor. That powertrain combo and the relatively small 0.6-kWh nickel-metal-hydride battery make the Crosstrek a mild – as opposed to full – hybrid.

Take into account the roughly 3,500-pound curb weight and it is no surprise that the Crosstrek Hybrid limps to 60 in well over eight seconds.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid front engine

Because of the small electric motor and limited volume battery, the car is rarely able to run on electric power alone. In fact, the motor can only propel the Crosstrek up to 13 mph. Still, trying to keep the little green EV light on does make for a fun game in bad traffic.

The transition between electric and gas power isn’t as smooth as some other hybrids. This shouldn’t be surprising, though, as the Crosstrek is Subaru’s first entry into the hybrid market. Yes, it might be lumpy, but it is light-years ahead of the bad old days of the first- and second-generation Prii. Those were about as smooth as getting a piggyback ride from an old man with gout.

The EPA rated mileage doesn’t hold up well with other hybrids on paper. The large Toyota Prius V manages a combined 42 mpg, compared to the Subaru’s anemic 31. However, unlike many other hybrids the Crosstrek can actually achieve that rating in the real world.

In fact, during long stretches of highway driving, I averaged closer to 37 mpg – four more than the EPA highway rating. It is worth noting that when driven with a lead foot, things will go south quickly; the small BOXER engine just has to work too hard to go fast.

Above all else, be practical

The interior of the Crosstrek Hybrid isn’t just big for its size, it is also well thought out. The cloth seats not only look surprisingly nice, but they can probably withstand the loving attentions of even the daftest Labrador. The rear seats fold easily, to create a cargo area big enough to carry the Labrador and enough bags for a trip to the mountain. Thankfully, the rear cargo area is protected by a removable rubber mat, which should be easy to hose off.

The interior of the Crosstrek Hybrid isn’t just big for its size, it is also well thought out.

The cabin is a fairly straightforward arrangement of soft touch black plastic and simple, easy-to-use controls. The main techie feature on my car was the vehicle info and climate-control screen mounted at the top of the center stack. For the most part the interior seems to be built to withstand the tests of toddlers and time.

The only let down, in what is otherwise a really tough seeming interior, was some of the plastic trim. The wraps around the base of the seats were only really anchored at one side, and seem destined to rattle or even fall off.

What’s worse, the driver’s side floor mat would come loose every other time I got in the car. This was easy to fix, but a bit of a safety concern given the potential for getting wrapped up in the pedals.

But the real issue when it comes to the inside of the Crosstrek is value for money. The car starts at nearly $26,000, which is a lot, especially considering the relatively small amount of standard equipment.

The nearly $27,000 model that I tested lacked a navigation, or even a true infotainment package. Nav comes on the $29,000 touring package. That’s not an unreasonable amount of money for this car, but it is a worry. For nearly $30,000 there are an awful lot of alternatives.

Niche or nice?

It is hard to point to exact competitors for the Crosstrek, given its somewhat distinctive tall wagon packaging. Well equipped crossover SUVs like the Mazda CX-5 or even a Honda CRV can be had for about the same money. Those vehicles get similar mileage and are even bigger on the inside than the Subaru.

Oddly enough, though, despite their SUV looks, the Mazda and the Honda are less capable all-terrain vehicles than the Crosstrek. Also, even though they’re bigger on the inside, they have to be much bigger outside to get there. Meanwhile the little Crosstrek is easy to park, and doesn’t take up much space on the road.

This makes it ideal for people like me who live in the Pacific Northwest. City dwellers by day, we will appreciate the ridiculously high city mpg. And on the weekend, the Crosstrek can be driven up to the mountains even if there is a foot of snow on the road.

Highs

  • Spacious and well laid out interior
  • 8.7 inches of go anywhere ground clearance
  • Lives up to its EPA-rated mileage
  • Well-sorted driving dynamics
  • Versatile Subaru Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive

Lows

  • Relatively high price
  • Low mileage for a hybrid
  • Cheap feeling trim pieces.
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