Subaru XV Crosstrek: The Impreza gets hiking boots

Subaru Crosstrek front three-quarterWhen you’ve done the obvious, where do you go from there? Car companies love to develop niche models that exploit more esoteric, and less competitive markets. Sometimes these cars are just plain crazy, like the Hyundai Veloster or Nissan Murano Cross Cabriolet. With its bright orange paint, the Subaru XV Crosstek assaults the eyes like a convertible SUV, but it’s much more practical. The new Subaru, which made its North American debut at the 2012 New York Auto Show, is also harder to define.

According to Subaru, the Crosstrek is a small crossover, meant to slot into the Subaru lineup below the Forester. However, a closer look reveals some familiar sheetmetal. The Crosstrek is not an entirely new car, it’s a new version of Subaru’s compact car, the Impreza. To make a Crosstrek, Subaru takes a 2012 Impreza hatchback and raises the suspension. The Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the same as an Outback and more than many purpose-built SUVs. It also gets plastic body cladding, to make the car look tougher, and new wheels that look like the eyelets on a trail running shoe.

Since this is a Subaru, a boxer engine lives under the hood. The Crosstrek has the new 2.0-liter (four cylinder) version that debuted on the 2012 Impreza. It makes 148 horsepower and Subaru claims it will return 25 mpg city, 33 highway, and 28 combined. Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or Subaru’s second generation continuously variable automatic.Subaru Crosstrek rear three-quarter

So the Crosstrek is a small car with SUV trappings, but what’s the point? Crossovers and traditional SUVs did not become popular because of their off-road abilities; people liked sitting higher. Maybe the Crosstrek will appeal to those people. It also makes more of a statement than the Impreza, unlike other faux SUVs, the raised ride height and body cladding suit the regular Impreza’s styling pretty well. It’s kind of silly, but kind of fun at the same time.

Thanks to high fuel prices, crossovers are getting smaller. Witness the BMW X1, Mini Countryman, and Nissan Juke: the downsized crossover trend is taking off. By starting with a compact hatchback, Subaru didn’t have to engineer a new platform to create a smaller crossover.

The Crosstrek also makes sense because it is a Subaru. The company has been building four-wheel and all-wheel drive vehicles for 40 years, and many of those cars resembled the Crosstrek. The early Subaru wagons, and most generations of the Outback, were just regular cars with all-wheel drive. In its current generation, the Outback got a lot bigger, so there’s plenty of room in Subaru’s lineup for a smaller car-like crossover. Maybe the Crosstrek isn’t a niche vehicle after all.