Subaru's 2013 XV Crosstrek rides a very fine line. It is, most certainly, a Swiss army knife of the automotive world: a jack of all trades. But being a jack of all trades runs the obvious risk of being master of none. This may or may not be the case with the XV Crosstrek.
The Crosstrek, after all, does solve some eccentric problems.
For example, should you be in the perilous circumstance of finding conventional crossover SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape too macho and the standard Subaru Impreza too vanilla, it's possible that the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is, in fact, your ideal car.
What Is It?
The Crosstrek replaces the Outback Sport in Subaru's lineup of pumped-up spin-offs. It is, however, a more capable off-roader than the Outback Sport, which died with the last-generation Impreza. The XV sits some 4.1 inches taller than the standard 2013 Impreza thanks to a lifted suspension and taller tires. Combined with genuinely fat fender flares and a big fender gap, the look is a combination of bravado and utility, with a little Birkenstock thrown in for balance. Also, it doesn't hurt that the wheels match the body color on our black test car.
Though Subaru does a better job concealing the platform's roots than in past examples, the XV Crosstrek is all Impreza hatchback underneath. Its powertrain options are the same, too. There's one engine available: a 2.0-liter flat four-cylinder good for 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. Limited models like our tester come only with the continuously variable transmission (CVT), but a five-speed manual is available on Premium trims. The CVT, however, affords the all-wheel-drive system a clutch-type center differential, which can bias torque heavily to either the front or rear.
A survey of the XV's specs reveals the full extent of its utility. There's a significant 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which might not mean much until one realizes that the 3.5-inch-taller 2013 Toyota RAV4 offers only 6.3 inches. Departure angle, too, is a full 5 degrees more aggressive than the Toyota, thereby saving you the opportunity to call on your dealer's body repairmen.
So, in one sense, the notion that the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is less manly than a RAV4 is, well, just that.
With this knowledge we headed for our local Subaru proving grounds in the Santa Monica Mountains to test whether the XV's hardware could deliver. Indeed, its torque distribution paid off with a unique ability to extricate the hatchback from wheel-lift scenarios that would strand many of its cute-ute competitors. Turning ESC off allowed wheelspin when needed, and leaving it on redirected torque in creative ways that made stopping the XV more difficult than we imagined.
Otherwise, its height is a liability as it creates pitch, roll and dive — all of which are far less pronounced in the less, uh, enhanced Impreza. Also, there's no denying that you're driving a CVT, as there's pronounced engine drone when accelerating to freeway speed. There are paddle shifters that provide engine braking on demand and yield effective overall control of the powertrain.
Steering, though electrically assisted, isn't utterly numb nor is it particularly good at transmitting road feel. We can't help but miss the more connected responses of past Imprezas. Mainstreaming, though it adds practicality, has stolen some of the Impreza's soul. And whatever numbing was effected in that move is only amplified in the Crosstrek's tall, soft character.
By the Numbers
Acceleration is relaxed by the standards of the segment but not embarrassing. Sixty miles per hour is achieved in 9.9 seconds (9.6 seconds with a 1-foot rollout like on a drag strip), and the quarter-mile disappears in 17.3 seconds at 79.6 mph. This is not fast. Honda's relatively slow CR-V, which is known to win Edmunds comparison tests, requires 9.4 and 16.8 seconds, respectively, to hit the same milestones.
Being both car-based and carrying its mass low, however, pays off in rapid transitions like our slalom test, where the XV beats the CR-V, Ford Escape and RAV4 with a 64.7-mph performance. It sticks pretty well, too. With a skid-pad performance of 0.79g, the XV holds its own. Among these rivals, only the Escape is better.
Most contenders in this segment require between 125 and 130 feet to stop from 60 mph. The XV is no exception, recording a 126-foot performance with a straight and true attitude and a medium-soft pedal.
Perhaps the most important bit of our measured data is fuel economy. The XV produced a 26.5-mpg average during more than 1,000 test miles. With EPA ratings of 25 city/33 highway and 28 combined mpg, our numbers are marginally off the mark. Measured against its rivals in the real world, however, the XV can easily compete. Our past tests of the 2013 RAV4 and 2012 CR-V produced 23.6 and 27.7 mpg, respectively.
Interior Like Its Brother
By utilizing the same design and materials, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is all Impreza inside. There are heated leather seats and automatic climate control on Limited models like our tester. The 4.3-inch LCD screen displays navigation and audio information as well as the rearview camera display.
Nobody will accuse the XV of being luxurious, but it's also not cheap. Materials and controls feel decent and (on our long-term Subaru Impreza, at least) seem to last. The 60/40-split rear seats fold nearly flat, though cargo space is considerably less than full-fledged crossovers. At 51.9 cubic feet, the XV's total cargo area can't measure up to the RAV4's class-leading 73.4 cubes. Still, it is no less useful than other compact five-doors from Japan or Korea.
Rear passenger space is sufficient for large adults, and it's possible to comfortably fit rear-facing child seats in the rear while front-seat passengers remain comfortable: if they're under 6 feet tall, that is.
The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek's biggest strength is its pricing. Our fully loaded Limited test car tallied $27,290, including the $2,000 Navigation and Moonroof package and $795 destination fee. This is thousands less than its comparably equipped rivals, which are hard-pressed to come in below $30 grand when fully loaded.
Whether the Impreza-based XV will sufficiently substitute for a RAV4 or CR-V depends on two factors: how badly you need the extra space they provide, and how badly you want the added visibility their height provides. Because in every other way (including off-road ability) this funky Subaru gets the job done.
It's not hard to be more interesting than a standard Impreza. And it's not a big ask to be more macho than a RAV4 or CR-V. So even though the XV finds itself in the largely unoccupied space between compact five-doors and crossover SUVs, it will, no doubt, be the perfect solution for many.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.