The rise of Subaru could be used as a case study in business schools to show the power of effective marketing. The Japanese carmaker that started off as an oddity in the U.S. market has transcended its niche status to become one of the top-selling auto brands in America. Much of this growth is based on the rugged, earthy image that Subaru so doggedly (pun intended) projects to buyers looking to explore their more adventurous side.
Subaru Through and Through
While the Legacy, Outback, and Forester have grown larger and more mainstream in recent years, the Crosstrek still channels the weirdo spirit of O.G. Subaru. Although it essentially shares its body with the Impreza hatchback, the Crosstrek has a jacked-up ride height that combines with a creative use of black plastic cladding to create a distinct aesthetic, one that looks unabashedly funky on the road—especially in our test car’s Sunshine Orange paint.
There’s some weird stuff going on under the hood, too, in the form of Subaru’s 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder boxer engine. It’s the only engine of its type in the Crosstrek’s class—or any class, excepting Porsche’s flat-fours and -sixes—but in this instance, being different doesn’t necessarily mean being better. The flat-four is unrefined and noisy, and although the extra four horsepower compared with the previous Crosstrek isn’t evident in daily driving, the new model slogged from zero to 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, a 1.1-second improvement over a 2015 Crosstrek we tested with the automatic transmission.
The continuously variable automatic transmission exacerbates these tendencies when compared to the manual-transmission version we tested last year, even though the two cars’ accelerative performance was nearly identical. Subaru has yet to completely figure out how to tune a CVT to be unobtrusive. It drones annoyingly even when driving less than spiritedly, and the faux “shifts” that can be made to simulate seven gear ratios when using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles are slurred and unconvincing. The CVT purports to offer better fuel economy than the manual, and this Crosstrek did score 32 mpg compared with the 31 mpg of our manual-transmission test car on our 75-mph highway test. However, our overall average fuel economy was 23 mpg in the CVT-equipped car and 25 mpg with the manual.
If you’re not trying to hustle, the Crosstrek acquits itself well on the road. Like the Impreza with which it shares Subaru’s new platform, the Crosstrek imparts a stable, planted feel and exhibits a firm, controlled ride quality. It changes direction ably, although the steering is perhaps too heavy for this class of vehicle. Braking is a particular strong suit—the pedal is firm underfoot, and the 3302-pound Crosstrek came to a stop from 70 mph in a solid 165 feet. Those owners who venture down the less beaten path (or who want to seem like people who do) will appreciate the generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance—which is more than even a Jeep Compass Trailhawk offers—and Subaru’s standard all-wheel-drive system.
For our range-topping 2.0i Limited test car’s steep price of $30,655 (including a $3455 package with the EyeSight bundle of active-safety features, a premium audio system, a sunroof, and navigation), the interior looked and felt somewhat downmarket. Its black plastic creates a dour environment, despite efforts to jazz things up with orange stitching. Simple HVAC controls are much appreciated, however, and the StarLink infotainment system (with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) is easy to use. The lack of pizazz inside is much more forgivable in lesser Crosstreks hovering in the mid-$20,000 range.
When viewed as a whole, Subaru’s entry-level crossover doesn’t do much to stand out from today’s crowd of small SUVs. Like many of its competitors, it’s slow and mostly unexciting to drive but offers a spacious interior and a modicum of all-terrain ability. The Crosstrek’s main standout feature is its Subaru-ness, which—given the brand’s power in the marketplace—seems to be enough of a force to ensure its continued success.