I see a lot of the Subaru Crosstrek. After spending a week behind the wheel of one, I finally understand why they’re so numerous in my area despite the fact there’s no Subaru dealer nearby.

The Crosstrek proved itself equal parts practical, efficient, and rugged during my weeklong test drive. It’s fitting that Subaru does so much advertising targeted at dog owners. The Subaru Crosstrek was as lovable as a golden retriever, as ruggedly handsome as an Alaskan malamute, and as stoic as a Weimaraner in the face of difficult conditions.

Design Notes

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LED accents on the headlights are attractive and useful for making the Crosstrek more visible to other drivers in the daytime.

Taken a whole, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek comes across looking kind of like a three-quarter scale Subaru Outback.

Up front, there’s a lovable face with Subaru’s Stars of Pleiades badge and a lightly sculpted front bumper and hood. It doesn’t lean too far into muscular or mean, but it’s not anonymous looking, either. This kind of design sense has long been a Subaru hallmark, and I was glad to see it remains intact with the Crosstrek. LED accents on the headlights are attractive and useful for making the Crosstrek more visible to other drivers in the daytime.

From the side view, the Crosstrek has an attractive sculpting line that starts at the headlight on the front fender and flows back to the tail light on the rear fender. It gives the car a sense of motion even when it’s sitting still. There are two other creases — one above and one below — that make the design a little busy. Plastic cladding around the fender arches and on the rocker panel give it a little more “crossover” edge, along with the 8.7 inches of ground clearance that’s noticeable from this angle.

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From the rear, the Crosstrek has a wide glass and Subaru signature tail lights.

Cargo space between the rear seats and the hatchback might look impractical from the outside, but that’s a visual trick caused by the arching profile of the side windows. In truth, there’s a useful 20.8 cubic feet of hauling space back there.

From the rear, the Crosstrek has a wide glass and Subaru signature tail lights. The hatch has a little bit of a high liftover — thank you, ground clearance and independent rear suspension. The bumper cover looks tall because of this. A tiny spoiler tops off the hatch.

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Subaru’s Starlink infotainment screen is directly below that, followed by a traditional three-dial HVAC control panel and the center console

Inside, the Crosstrek is typical Subaru. There’s a mix of interior finishes that sometimes seems incongruous. The front seats sit relatively low to the floor, like many Japanese cars used to — including Subarus. The chunky steering wheel is pleasant to use and features a full complement of controls for infotainment and trip computer functions, which take some time to get used to because of their layout. The center stack is topped by Subaru’s trip computer display that looks a little bit like a throwback to the ‘80s. Subaru’s Starlink infotainment screen is directly below that, followed by a traditional three-dial HVAC control panel and the center console that features the gear lever and a real handbrake, thank goodness, not an electronic parking brake switch.

Drive Notes

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Subaru said there was 20.8 cubic feet of hauling space behind the rear seats, which balloons to an impressive 55.3 cubic feet when those rear seats are folded flat.

Subaru says the 2018 Crosstrek is built on the new Subaru Global Platform. The automaker says it provides world-class collision safety, better interior packaging efficiency, and better maneuverability thanks to improved suspension geometry.

Thankfully, I did not have occasion to test its collision safety. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek a Top Safety Pick, noting it achieved the top score of “Good” for small-overlap front crash tests that have proven difficult for many cars in this size category.

I did have a chance to test out its interior usefulness and handling, however.

The interior was pretty good at hauling my family of four. That’s one of the benefits of SPG, according to Subaru: maximized interior space. Subaru’s specs said the Crosstrek has 100.9 cubic feet of passenger volume. That puts it on par with compact SUVs that on the outside seem much larger and bulkier, such as Toyota’s RAV4 and GMC Terrain. Cargo space was ample behind the second row, too: Subaru said there was 20.8 cubic feet of hauling space behind the rear seats, which balloons to an impressive 55.3 cubic feet when those rear seats are folded flat.

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I took it over every rough, construction-choked road I could find, and the four-wheel independent setup just soaked it all up.

Crosstrek’s suspension was well-sorted. I took it over every rough, construction-choked road I could find, and the four-wheel independent setup just soaked it all up. That story remained the same when I took the Crosstrek up a rutted gravel logging road with a steep incline. It even performed admirably when I went off-road in the tall grass of a pasture for a photo shoot. I was thankful, in that case, for the 8.7 inches of ground clearance and Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive.

Admirably, this soft suspension was not mushy when driven on a good ribbon of curvy pavement. There was surprisingly little body roll, and body motions remained well-controlled. That said, it took me a couple of days to get used to signature Subaru quickness of steering and throttle, both of which are more aggressive than other entries in the compact SUV segment.

Subaru is famous for its “boxer” engines, and the Crosstrek is no exception to the rule. Powering my tester was a 2.0-liter gasoline flat-four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection and dual overhead camshafts. It was rated at 152 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 145 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 RPM. This power was routed to the ground via Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, though a six-speed manual is available in some trims. As CVTs go, Subaru does them better than most manufacturers.

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Powering my tester was a 2.0-liter gasoline flat-four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection and dual overhead camshafts

The engine retained some of that trademark agricultural sound for which Subarus have long been known, but that was mostly noticed during hard acceleration. During idling, relaxed acceleration or highway cruising, the engine was smooth and unobtrusive.

Which is not to say the Crosstrek was luxury-vehicle quiet. A fair amount of cabin noise is present at highway speed. I suspected some came from the moderately aggressive Yokohama Geolandar all-season tires. Doors shut with a tinny feel typical of compact Subarus I have driven. The Premium trim, which I tested, has a sound-insulating windshield that is supposed to cut down on wind noise. I still wanted to layer the inner door skins and floor pans with Dynamat.

The Starlink infotainment system, while improved over the last version I experienced, still disappoints in some ways. I was thankful it had Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, but its response to my inputs outside of those ecosystems was frustratingly slow. Sound quality from the six-speaker audio system was underwhelming, too. If I ever own a Crosstrek, trust that I’ll install a good aftermarket infotainment setup, including speakers, at the first opportunity.

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Not only did it haul my family and its cargo with plenty of room and a comfortable ride, but it also returned an impressive 35 MPG over more than 300 miles of mixed driving

Those are minor gripes for a vehicle that did everything else so well. Not only did it haul my family and its cargo with plenty of room and a comfortable ride, but it also returned an impressive 35 MPG over more than 300 miles of mixed driving. If I were shopping for a new family vehicle right now, it would be a strong contender despite my criticisms. This is a crossover that gets the fundamentals right in a way few others do. Subaru was arguably the originator of the car-based crossover utility vehicle, and in the ways that really matter, the Crosstrek shows the scrappy Japanese company is still capable of shaming the me-too efforts of much larger automakers.

Competitors

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

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The Golf Alltrack has a sportier drivetrain, with more horsepower and torque than the Subaru

Crosstrek is perhaps the most carlike entry in this segment. With that in mind, I’ll start my comparisons with the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.

While the Alltrack has more cargo room due to its basis on a station wagon (30.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats vs. the Crosstrek’s 20.8), it is similar in overall size to the smallest Scoob crossover, and the Crosstrek has more passenger space (100.9 cubic feet vs. the Golf Alltrack’s 94.3 cubic feet). So unless you haul a lot of bulky cargo, you may find the Crosstrek’s division of passenger and cargo space to be more useful.

The Golf Alltrack has a sportier drivetrain, with more horsepower and torque than the Subaru. Alltrack puts down 170 horses at 4,500 RPM and 199 ft-lbs of torque at 1,600 RPM thanks in large part to turbocharging of its 1.8-liter TSI gasoline engine. Its six-speed DSG automated manual transmission also feels sportier, by far, than Subaru’s CVT. The Golf is quicker, no question.

The Golf is thirstier, though. VW says it is rated at 22 MPG city, 30 highway, 25 combined. Compare that to Crosstrek’s 27/33/29, and you can see you’ll probably spend more on fuel if you choose the VW.

The Golf Alltrack undoubtedly has nicer interior finishes and a better infotainment system. But VW pricing for the Alltrack is quite a bit higher, too. The Crosstrek starts at $21,795 MSRP, while the Golf Alltrack starts at $25,955. Fully loaded, the advantage widens for Subaru, with the Crosstrek Limited going for $26,295 and the Alltrack SEL listing at $35,660. That’s a considerable difference in price.

German car fans will disagree with me here, but the Crosstrek wins this comparison every time for me just on practical considerations. I’d be giving up a little cargo space, luxury, and sportiness for a much lower purchase price and better real-world fuel economy. I’ll make that trade every time.

Read our full review on the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

Nissan Rogue Sport

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Off-road or in less-than-ideal conditions, Subaru’s all-wheel drive system will walk away from the Rogue Sport without looking back

With similar pricing and footprint, Nissan Rogue Sport and Subaru Crosstrek target a similar audience.

Despite its name, the Rogue Sport isn’t sporty at all. It has leisurely acceleration and uninspiring handling. And though both Nissan and Subaru are fans of CVTs, it’s the only option you have in the Rogue Sport — at least Subaru does offer a shift-it-yourself option. Rogue Sport’s horsepower (141 at 6,000 RPM) and torque (147 ft-lbs at 4,700 RPM) are competitive with the Crosstrek’s figures, but they’re motivating a slightly heavier — and definitely worse-handling — vehicle.

Off-road or in less-than-ideal conditions, Subaru’s all-wheel drive system will walk away from the Rogue Sport without looking back. Though Nissan offers all-wheel drive, it pales in comparison to Subaru’s rally-bred all-wheel drive.

Cargo room is slightly better in the Rogue Sport than in the Crosstrek, but passenger volume suffers for it, where the Nissan feels — and is — tighter than the Subaru.

Pricing is similar between the two, with the Rogue Sport starting at $22,110 and the Crosstrek starting at $21,795, but remember the Rogue Sport is front-wheel drive at that price. If you want all-wheel drive to make it more comparable to the Crosstrek, you’ll spend a considerable amount more: $23,460. The top Rogue Sport SL AWD starts at $28,540, which is undercut by the Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited at 27,210.

Once again, the Crosstrek wins for me.

Read our full review on the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport

Jeep Compass

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Compass feels bigger and clunkier, even though its size isn’t all that much different.

If it’s off-road chops you’re after, Jeep Compass is your huckleberry. It’s got all sorts of off-road driving modes selectable by a dial in the center console. This selector will optimize the drivetrain and traction control systems for sand, snow, mud, and more.

On the road, the Jeep Compass isn’t as nice to live with, in some ways, as the Subaru Crosstrek. Compass feels bigger and clunkier, even though its size isn’t all that much different. It has a larger, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, but it feels a lot slower despite its nine-speed automatic transmission that should, in theory, result in faster acceleration. Several magazines have compared these two models and found the Subaru to be faster.

After spending a week in the Compass and a week in the Crosstrek, I vastly preferred the driving experience of the Subaru. But for fans of more traditional, American-feeling SUVs, the Compass has a lot to offer. Its interior is well screwed-together even if materials feel cheap, its Uconnect infotainment system is easy to use, and in everyday driving, the Compass drives more like a truck-based SUV from the ‘90s than just about anything in this segment. Trust me, I mean that in a good way.

Those who need to tackle tough off-road situations on the regular will love the Trailhawk version of the Compass. But most of us who only occasionally need to traverse rutted gravel roads or snowy highways would be equally well-served by the Crosstrek, and I’d argue the Subaru is more pleasing to drive for a number of reasons, not least of which is its real-world efficiency. When I tested the 2018 Compass, I experienced 27 MPG. Putting the Crosstrek through the same routine in similar weather, I got 35 MPG. That’s a pretty big difference.

Jeep holds an advantage in pricing, but like Nissan Rogue Sport, the Compass is not all-wheel drive by default. So the base price of $20,995 for a Compass is for a 4x2 model. Adding the 4x4 option brings the price up to $22,495, slightly more than a base Crosstrek. Part of the reason: If you take 4x4 in the Compass, you also have to ditch the standard six-speed manual transmission in favor of the nine-speed auto. Compass Trailhawk sits at the top of the range with a starting price of $28,695.

Read our full review on the 2017 Jeep Compass.

Conclusion

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Subaru has a winner with the Crosstrek. Now that I have spent a week driving one, I understand why so many people in my neck of the woods travel a couple of hours to find a Subaru dealer to buy one.

References

2018 Subaru XV Crosstrek
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Read our full review on the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek.

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