Subaru is on the march as one of the hottest selling brands in the automotive business. Part of that success was the Crosstrek, an entry-level, compact crossover that brought a lot of adventurous outdoor types into showrooms. It wasn’t without its faults, but the 2018 edition — based on the all-new Subaru Impreza — addresses almost all of them.
Every single media launch is exactly the same: A string of PR reps, engineers, marketers and product managers cough up a litany of numbers showing what’s bigger, lighter, stronger, stiffer and quieter than the last version. Everybody in the audience has probably driven the last edition for a week or so, and has to rely on their seat-of-the-pants memories to try and figure out if the new car has improved at all.
It’s kind of ridiculous for any “automotive journalist” to fly to a distant location, drive a model they’ve driven for six hours and talk knowledgeably about how the car has improved. I’ve never owned a Crosstrek, I’ve never considered buying one, and I’m not really the target audience.
So, I got in touch with people who DO own Crosstreks, who HAVE seriously considered buying one, and who ARE the target audience. I researched the XV Crosstrek Forum, and I joined the XV Crosstrek Owners group on Facebook, and Car Talk shared the questions I asked of the owners on its Facebook page. The idea was to get a good idea of what I should be looking for before I got on an aircraft, and figure out — from an owner’s perspective — whether or not the car had improved as much as Subaru hoped it did.
In general, the owners were asking questions that broke down into five categories:
The outgoing Crosstrek has a 2.0-liter, normally aspirated four-cylinder that’s good for 148hp, which it has featured since it arrived here in 2012 as a 2013 model. The general consensus among Crosstrek owners was that the engine simply didn’t provide enough power. “Many people want more horsepower (or better responsiveness below 30 mph) in the next iteration of the Crosstrek,” one owner responded. While it offered decent fuel economy at 50 miles per hour, once you cranked it up to legal highway speeds — especially in the western states that allow 75 mile per hour-plus travel — fuel economy took a major hit.
The numbers on the 2018 Crosstrek don’t provide a lot of encouragement, with the same 154hp, 145-lb.ft. Boxer four as the Impreza. It’s an improvement, but it’s certainly not dramatic. Regardless which Crosstrek trim you choose, this is the engine you’ll get, at least for 2018. You do have a choice of transmissions in both the 2.0i and the 2.0i Premium trims, which offer a six-speed manual, or a CVT automatic transmission.
I’m an old-school manual transmission devotee, and I’ve been a vocal critic of most continuously variable transmissions, so it was surprising to figure out that the CVT did a better job of keeping the 154hp four on the boil. With the six speed in the 2.0i Premium trim in the hills of South Dakota — running somewhere around 5,500 feet in elevation — I had a hard time selecting the right gear to maximize the engine’s torque. The CVT took advantage of the engine’s maximum torque at all times, and simply did a better job than I could. The six speed is fun to drive on winding roads, but in changing elevations, especially at lower speeds, it’s kind of a chore.
Infotainment/Bluetooth Connectivity and Performance
This might seem like a minor inconvenience, but as every manufacturer leans on technology, poor performance can lead to significant problems in owner satisfaction surveys. Crosstrek owners had problems with both connecting to their devices, and the sound quality of the hands free phone operation in the car. According to a 2014 Crosstrek owner, “Love the car HATE the Bluetooth!! As soon as I reach speeds of 40mph+ it becomes impossible to hear me on the other end. Great for ending conversations when you don’t want to have them, horrible if you do!”
Listen and Subscribe to the BestRide Podcast!
On both fronts, the Crosstrek has improved considerably. I paired three different Apple devices (my iPhone 5SE, my driving partner’s Apple 4S — yeah, I know — and an Apple iPad Mini). All three paired instantly, and the pairing procedure was intuitive and easy to navigate on the touch screen.
To test the quality of the Bluetooth microphone, I had my driving partner drive on numbered secondary roads at over 50 miles per hour while I made a call from the passenger seat. The voice activation is fair. It took two tries to get the number dialed correctly. However, the sound quality on the other end was reportedly clear and easy to understand at speed, even with me doing most of the talking from the passenger seat.
Interior Sound Level
This was my biggest problem with the original Crosstrek when it first arrived here. All-wheel drive is nice, but even in New England it only snows a handful of times every year. Meanwhile, a loud, tinny interior is a major annoyance every single day.
The layman’s solution is simply to stuff the car full of sound deadening. “Also how about some Dynamat in the floor? Would be nice to have some sound dampener on the floor,” responded one owner. But insulation is only part of the answer, and it’s one that manufacturers are more and more resistant to relying on because it adds weight. The real answer to making the interior quiet is to build a stiff, solid structure. In every measure, the Crosstrek is stiffer, and it results in less noise and vibration inside the cabin. The number of pass-throughs for wires and cables from the passenger cabin to the engine bay were reduced, and the remaining openings were sealed more effectively.
The very first quarter mile out of the camping area we used as a base was a rough, rock-strewn two-track trail, and immediately, we got a sense that the 2018 Crosstrek was stiffer and quieter. At all speeds, the cabin was quiet and comfortable, and all of the tinniness of the outgoing car had been eliminated. If there was a single, vital improvement made to this model, this was it. Even in the 2.0i Premium trim, the quietness of the interior was a dramatic leap forward.
Along with the interior sound level, uncomfortable seats are a daily reminder that your car isn’t what it could be. Several Crosstrek owners asked for “Better seat construction. Have had my seat seem to sink in [over time.]” It’s hard to say whether the Crosstrek’s seats are going to hold up for any length of time, but I spent about 2.5 hours in both the driver and passenger seat of a 2.0i Premium and a 2.0i Limited Crosstrek, and both cars were much more comfortable than the original Crosstrek I remember.
The 2.0i Limited featured leather seats with contrasting red stitching. The aesthetic improvement is nice, but the real test is how the feel after a few hours. I had no discomfort, and neither did my driving partner, after several hours on the road. The seats aren’t heavily bolstered, but you wouldn’t expect them to be in a car of this price. We swapped out of the 2.0i Limited into a 2.0i Premium to not only sample the six-speed manual, but to spend some time with the cloth seats. More than 50 percent of the Crosstreks sold are going to be the 2.0i Premium trim, so comfortable cloth seats are a must. In a way, they’re even more comfortable than the leather seats are, especially in warmer temperatures. Both the cloth and the leather seats are heated, but they’re not cooled the way a premium car would be. The cloth seats seemed to be able to dissipate the heat more effectively than the leather seats did.
This was a tough question to answer, and it’s one that’s going to require a lot more investigation. In both the Crosstrek Owners group on Facebook and the Crosstrek Forum, many owners said that their top complaint was with the paint, especially how susceptible it seemed to stone chips on the hood and the nose.
That’s not something I can answer in a drive like this. I did ask the question, and I got no definitive answer from the Subaru folks I talked to regarding any change in the paint process. However, over half of the drive was conducted on 30 mile per hour dirt roads in South Dakota, which are littered with acorn-sized stones everywhere. Throughout the course of the day, I kept an eye on the hood to see if any chips were evident and I never saw any. That’s not an adequate test, though. It takes a couple of harsh winters after road crews have spread sand all over the highway to really see if a car holds up to that kind of scouring.
The best solution I can offer to prospective Crosstrek owners is to find a 3m Paint Protection Film installer in your area, immediately after purchasing your car. For around $700, this material not only protects against stone chips, but scratches and UV rays, too.
A few other items of note: The Crosstrek isn’t an off-road vehicle, but it’s got most of the capability that an average weekend warrior would be looking for. It has more ground clearance than anything in this category, for example. Another advantage of selecting the CVT is the X-Mode, which comes standard on all CVT-equipped trims. X-Mode was previously available on Forester and Outback models. Depressing the button on the console:
- uses lower gear ratios to generate extra power at the wheels that have grip;
- deactivates the transmission’s lock-up clutch to better direct power to slipping wheels;
- employs Hill Descent Control, allowing you to keep your foot off the brake, to avoid locking the brakes when descending steep slopes.
We used it on a trail in a quarry and it certainly helped when climbing hills, and was instrumental in getting us safely down the other side on descent. But what the Crosstrek really needs to make the best use of its ground clearance and Hill Descent Control is a decent set of tires. The Yokohama and Falken tires on the Crosstrek (depending on trim) are fine highway tires, but if you’re expecting to make the best use of all-wheel drive, traction control and Hill Descent Control any time it’s wet, you’d be wise to select something a little more suited to the task.
I was never sold on the Crosstrek in its original form. Again, I wasn’t the target customer, but to me, it seemed like a hastily prepared, cynical attempt to fill a vehicle segment with the bones of an existing car. Nevertheless, people bought them and have been happy with them from the moment they were introduced. With the exception of the engine power, everything that Crosstrek owners complained about has been rectified in the 2018 edition. It’ll be interesting to see if Subaru can maintain the Crosstrek’s sales momentum in the face of increased competition in this category.
PRICING FOR 2018: