If you were to define an ideal Subaru, a compact crossover would be high up the list. Practical, capable and built to maximize the benefits of four-wheel drive, it's also compact enough to rekindle memories of Subaru's notable rally racing successes.
Subaru used to call such a model the Impreza Outback. Now that idea has been reincarnated as the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek but it's been designed to seduce a different audience. Subaru reckons it's built for "urban adventure" and that it's more likely to be found curb-hopping in Manhattan than powersliding around on a dirt road. It's self-consciously trendy, which is presumably why Subaru chose to launch it in a loud shade of orange and add the "Crosstrek" moniker for the U.S.
Although we tested a production-ready model, it won't be coming to the U.S. until next fall. Subaru America Inc. admits it didn't initially plan to import the XV Crosstrek at all and that by the time it had changed its mind, most of the early production had been spoken for by other markets. So our "urban adventure" will just have to wait. Will it be worth it?
So What Is XV Crosstrek Exactly?
Beneath the lurid paint scheme, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is pretty much the latest Impreza in high heels and a posh frock. The mechanicals and even the interior are carried over largely intact, which places a keen emphasis on the exterior styling.
Subaru's engaging design chief, Masahiko Kobayashi, reckons the car was inspired by the North Face brand. "The jacket can survive Everest, but people also wear them in town," he told us. "We are seeing practical things becoming more fashionable. Cameras used to only be available in black, but now you can have one in a range of different colors without sacrificing its functionality." This, says Kobayashi-san, is the thinking behind the design of the XV Crosstrek. It is "defined by function and is not just designed for the sake of design."
OK, so what does that look like? The hexagonal grille and "hawk-eye" headlights are Subaru signatures and echo the 2012 Impreza, but the rest of the car veers off in a different direction. The A-pillars have been pulled forward by 7.9 inches compared with an Impreza to maximize cabin space and, says Kobayashi, to give the car a more dynamic stance. The dramatic 17-inch starfish alloys and stylized fender flares emphasize the body's "pumped up" aesthetic.
Familiar Under the Skin
In Europe, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek will be offered with a choice of 1.6- or 2.0-liter gasoline engines, or a 2.0-liter turbodiesel. All are from the new FB family that debuted in the Impreza and all remain true to Subaru's tradition of horizontally opposed "boxer" engines. Subaru has been flirting with introducing diesel in the U.S. for some time, but isn't yet ready to commit. The 1.6 is deemed too puny so for now at least, only the 2.0-liter will be offered here.
We've always had a bit of a fetish for Subaru's boxer units, but the new 2.0-liter isn't the finest example of the breed. Despite variable valve timing designed to flatten the torque curve, the boxer still needs to be worked hard to deliver a decent punch. Ultimately, an engine developing 148 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 145 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm feels no more than adequate when asked to push along an all-wheel-drive car weighing just over 3,000 pounds.
Two different transmissions are on offer for now, a six-speed manual and a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which Subaru calls Lineartronic. The latter is expected to account for more than 90 percent of sales in the U.S. Around town it's a fine companion, slipping easily through the ratios. At low to moderate engine speeds you'd be hard-pressed to tell it apart from any other automatic. Indeed, it's only when you ask for maximum attack that the familiar monotone CVT drone becomes tiresome. This problem can be alleviated by using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles that control six preset ratios. In this mode, the transmission takes on the feel of a competent but somewhat lethargic auto.
The manual transmission is the only real choice for anyone looking to extract some fun out of the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek. It offers six speeds but the shifter on our test car made it much too easy to select 5th from 2nd instead of 3rd. It's also somewhat long of throw and lacks the precision of the WRX shifter, which isn't saying much.
Choosing the manual makes little difference to its actual performance. Subaru says it's marginally faster from zero to 62 mph — 10.5 seconds versus 10.7 seconds — but neither figure should be a source of pride. The top speed of both models is identical (116 mph) but the manual consumes more fuel (40.9 mpg against 42.8 mpg) on the European cycle. The latter, though, is boosted by a stop/start system that's standard in Europe but won't be offered in the U.S. as Subaru strives to keep the base price down.
The Inside Story
Given the extrovert exterior, it's disappointing to discover a cabin that's on the dreary side of dull. It's shared with the Impreza, and Subaru has made no attempt to distinguish the crossover from the sedan.
It's an odd choice given the XV Crosstrek's "urban adventure" pretensions. Even a new steering wheel would have helped. Subaru could learn something here from Audi, which has perfected the art of just doing enough to distinguish the Allroad models from the humdrum wagons on which they're based.
At least it works well enough. The layout is simple and the quality is much improved over the previous-generation Impreza, although it's still not quite up to Volkswagen standards. There's also a decent amount of space. A crew of 6-footers will have no trouble sitting in tandem and the trunk measures a handy 44.8 cubic feet.
The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek shares its basic setup with the new Impreza, with struts at the front and double wishbones at the rear. All-wheel drive is standard but the system differs according to your choice of transmission. Lineartronic models feature an electronically controlled multiplate clutch with torque split 60/40 front to rear as the default. Manual models have a bevel-gear-type center differential with a viscous-coupling limited-slip differential. The standard torque distribution here is 50/50. Coupled with a minimum ground clearance of 8.7 inches, both systems should prove useful when the snow falls.
On our launch drive Subaru was expecting bad weather, so it fitted all the cars with Yokohama Ice Guard IG30 winter tires measuring 225/55/R17 all around. The various company officials on hand were quick to point out that the tires were a far cry from the tires that will be used on the production versions headed to the U.S.
We will reserve final judgment until we've driven the car in U.S. conditions, but we'd be surprised if the slightly wobbly ride quality is completely cured by a set of summer boots. The handling is capable rather than inspired and while the electric power-assist steering is pleasingly linear in response, it offers little in the way of driver feedback. Overall, the XV Crosstrek's dynamic performance is inoffensive, but enthusiasts should not expect anything approaching a pseudo-WRX.
When it arrives next fall, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is likely to start at around $18K, pricing it beneath the Forester and alongside the Impreza. Subaru expects to sell around 30,000 a year, or roughly half the number of Imprezas it sells.
Most customers are likely to be new to the Subaru brand and we won't be surprised if they've never even heard of the WRX. They'll consider it because it's a compact crossover that's good-looking, spacious and undeniably competent. Can't blame them for that. We just wish that it was a little more inspiring from behind the wheel. Then we might be interested, too.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored press event to facilitate this report, which originally appeared on insideline.com.