2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive review

Subaru's new Crosstrek crunches gravel with the best of them

The all-new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a dramatic improvement over the outgoing model. If you like the Crosstrek, you’ll love this new model.
The all-new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a dramatic improvement over the outgoing model. If you like the Crosstrek, you’ll love this new model.
The all-new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a dramatic improvement over the outgoing model. If you like the Crosstrek, you’ll love this new model.

Highs

  • New platform is 70 percent stiffer
  • New suspension is confident, smooth, and responsive
  • Available Harmon Kardon sound system
  • Available Subaru EyeSight system
  • 6-speed manual makes great use of available power

Lows

  • Acceleration with the CVT is frustratingly slow

The Subaru Crosstrek occupies the same space that the Subaru Forester did 15 years ago. When the Outback and Forester grew fat in middle age, the company wisely brought out the Crosstrek — a new bantamweight competitor — back in 2012. The Crosstrek is a truly compact crossover SUV, or tall wagon if we’re being completely honest.

The Crosstrek has become a favorite of people who have to haul groceries and a bit of stuff around town, as well as those who lug camping or sports equipment on the weekend. As our 2018 Crosstrek first drive review shows, this is the perfect vehicle for people who want to go (almost) anywhere, but who don’t want to drive a bulldozer every day.

What’s new

According to Subaru’s declarations, 95 percent of the 2018 Crosstrek is new, including the body panels — and most importantly, the platform. The Crosstrek now joins the 2017 Subaru Impreza on the new Subaru Global Platform, which is 70 percent stiffer than the outgoing Impreza-based chassis.

The suspension is also new, with an improved design and Stablex shocks that handle road bumps smoothly and quietly, while maintaining control and offering more precise steering. Active torque vectoring uses the brakes to help the new Crosstrek turn smartly, and you’ll notice the difference. Subaru has given the new Crosstrek quicker 13:1 steering, and it feels great. The new suspension also gives the 2018 Crosstrek 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is great for going off-pavement.

Inside, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is much quieter than you’d expect for a vehicle of this size. The climate controls are quieter, and there’s less road and engine noise thanks to the suspension, insulation, and sound-reducing windshield. The seats are comfortable in cloth or leather, and there’s a new infotainment system at every trim level.

In the drivetrain department, a six-speed manual transmission is standard on the base and Premium trims, with CVT available on all trims and standard on the top Limited trim. The engine gains direct fuel injection and 4 horsepower over the outgoing model.

Trim levels & features

There are three trim levels to choose from – Base, Premium, and Limited. The Base trim is pretty good at $22,710 including all fees. You get a 6.5-inch display screen with rear-view camera, support for Bluetooth as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 17-inch alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, TPMS, and tilt-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, among a long list of standard features. You can order the CVT for an extra $1,000.  If you get the CVT, you also get X-Mode for all-terrain driving, with hill descent control.

Outside, you probably won’t notice the difference until you see the 2018 next to the last generation.

If you bump up a little bit to the Premium trim at $23,510, you get some great extra features, starting with the all-weather package with heated front seats and outside mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer. That’ll be handy across most of North America. The tech is upgraded with the Starlink connected services safety package and two more speakers. You get the sound-reducing windshield, fog lights, automatic on/off headlights, and more. The CVT is still an extra $1,000, but you get seven-speed paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

If you choose the top Limited trim, you’ll pay $27,210. That’s a big price jump but you get the CVT with paddle shifters as standard equipment, leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, LED headlights and driving lights, push-button start, power moonroof, automatic climate control, and an 8-inch touchscreen system with a bunch of Starlink apps like navigation, radio, parking, and so on.

Outside, the Crosstrek hasn’t changed much. You probably won’t notice the difference until you see the 2018 next to the last generation. It still looks like a Crosstrek, which was always better looking than the closely related Impreza.

Technology overview

Subaru is generous to give you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support in the base trim. That effectively provides navigation, data apps, and all the goodies to almost everyone with a smart phone. (Apologies to Windows Phone and Blackberry bitter-enders, but there’s no hope on the horizon.) The basic stereo plays AM/FM radio and USB music through four speakers. You get two USB ports in the center console and a 12V power port. The Premium trim adds two more speakers to the 6.5-inch touchscreen, and you get access to the Starlink emergency safety system, which allows you to call for help if you’re stranded or in a crash.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek first drive - nav
Alex Kalogiannis/Digital Trends
Alex Kalogiannis/Digital Trends

The big difference comes with Limited trim. There you can choose the optional 8-inch screen with native navigation, SIRIUS/XM radio, voice activation, hands-free texting, a whole bunch of apps like parking, calendar, iHeart Radio, weather, and similar things. You also get the Harmon Kardon stereo with this option. Finally, your multi-function display on top of the dash goes video with a bunch of nifty stuff like pitch and roll monitoring when you’re off-road.

Interior fit & finish

The interior of the new Crosstrek is a significant step up from the outgoing model. This car is comfortable, supportive, and well made. And it’s quiet inside, as mentioned before. But it’s really quiet in there, so if that’s important to you, you’re going to want to test-drive the Crosstrek on your own city streets to experience it for yourself.

Short people can easily camp (or whatever) in the back of a Crosstrek.

If you buy the Limited trim, you get a nice leather interior, with sporty contrast stitching. You also get a 6-way power driver’s seat and a moonroof.

The Crosstrek offers a lot of cargo carrying capacity for its size. With the rear seats up, you get 20.8 cubic feet. The rear seats fold almost completely flat, and you’ve got 55.3 cubic feet back there with them down. With the rear seats flat, you’ve got a little more than 64 inches of length back there. So short people can easily camp (or whatever) in the back of a Crosstrek.

With the rear seats up, you can carry four adults in comfort, or five if the people in back are smaller or really good friends. Subaru added some wheelbase to the new model, and used the extra length to give the rear seat passengers more legroom. It was a good call.

Driving performance & MPG

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek really drives well. It’s got a great ride and responsive steering. It’s fun on a gravel road and both comfortable and confident on the highway. But it’s slow. The revised 2.0-liter boxer engine is now direct injected, which added 4 horsepower. That brings the Crosstrek to 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. Those numbers are light, especially with a power-hungry CVT behind the engine, and a curb weight of around 3,200 pounds in Limited trim.

The saving grace is the six-speed manual transmission, which is fun to drive and lets you get the most out of the engine. The paddle shifters in the CVT help, but if you can drive three-pedal at all, that’s the way to go.

According to the EPA, the Crosstrek with a CVT will get up to 27 MPG city, 33 MPG highway, and 29 MPG combined. That’s about what we saw, give or take a bit for spirited gravel driving. Subaru had to sweat the details to get those numbers up, and we appreciate that. Choosing the manual transmission drops the fuel economy to 23 city, 29 highway, and 25 combined. In my opinion, it’s a fair trade for the increase in performance (here’s how to drive manual, if you need a refresher course).

Safety

The biggest news in the safety department is that you can get the EyeSight system on the 2018 Crosstrek in Premium or Limited trims, if you have the CVT. EyeSight gets you adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane departure warning, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.  If you spring for the Limited trim, you can add reverse automatic braking and automatic high beams to the list of EyeSight features.

However, the most critical safety feature on any Subaru is the symmetric all-wheel-drive system. That will keep you in control under almost all conditions in the first place, so you don’t have to rely on the fancy electronics to fix any problems you created. There’s a reason Subaru owners are fanatical about their cars, especially in winter.

Our Take

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a great improvement over the outgoing model, and among the best compact crossover SUVs on the market. With more engine power, the Crosstrek would be a world-beating crossover. If power is important to you, then your Subaru dealer will gladly accompany you to the WRX and STI section of the showroom, where you’ll find enough horsepower and torque to satisfy just about anyone.

But apples to apples, the new Crosstrek keeps everything you ever liked about the previous generation and adds so much new goodness that we have to give this car the seal of approval. If you go out and drive all the compact SUVs on the market, you’ll find that many of them are pushing $40,000 by the time you get all the features you can get on the Crosstrek. Plus many automakers are so busy shoehorning three rows of seats into their compact SUVs that they’ve forgotten to make them fun to drive.

The Crosstrek remains what it is – a truly compact and capable crossover that works as well in the city as it does on the trail or in the snow. And Subaru has kept the Crosstrek affordable and packed with features that deliver good value for your money. That’s more than enough reason to put this vehicle on your short list.

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