I had a plan. I was going to buy a new Ford Bronco Two Door, with the 7-speed manual, for off highway exploration. Then I was going to travel all over the West pulling my little trailer, maybe exploring the Washington-Oregon Coast for starters. In my imagination it was hard to picture going on adventures without another big friendly Newfoundland-Lab cross dog accompanying me as one had in my younger days. Alas, sometimes life and competing priorities get in the way of aspirations, resulting in me ending up with a dream-dashing Subaru Crosstrek for the next while at least.
Like most of us reading this, I have a personal list of things I don’t like in a car. Firstly, it shouldn’t be a Subaru. Next my car shouldn’t be a CUV, should not have a CVT, nor touch screen controls, no driving assist and it shouldn’t be gutless either. I think I already mentioned the not a Subaru thing. So just how did such an unfortunate occurrence happen? One daughter had a fantastic opportunity for a co-op so I lent her the Fiesta for the winter. Then the other daughter ended up needing to be out of town a lot for another opportunity so she took the 2016 F-150 for 3 days a week. I was right in the middle of doing work on the old white F-150 when it got too cold to work outside and finish the job. I could bicycle to work easy enough, but this situation certainly pointed out the need for another vehicle. And in late 2022 they were very hard to come by around these parts. I figured that this situation may persist, so it was time for a new car.
Bronco production was still very slow. As it got colder, 4 Door soft tops were available, but that seemed like a stupid choice in our climate. The cost of them was getting up there as well. There were very few 2 Door 7-speeds around and none available to buy.
I thought about what other cars were available on the market with some kind of AWD or 4WD with a manual transmission, and all I could really find was the Crosstrek or the Jeep Wrangler. I have a very strong dislike of on-demand AWD systems for real snow and ice driving, so much so that I overcame my innate Subaru antipathy, just to avoid an AWD system that needed slip to activate and then kick out at 20 miles per hour like most of them do. I want AWD all the time. So I talked with a Subaru Dealer who took my deposit on a plain 6 Speed manual 2023 Crosstrek. Two months later he phoned to say the order was cancelled as the manual had been discontinued and 2023 production was done. More out of weariness than anything else I changed the order to a new for 2024 Limited, in some blue colour as I figured may as well get the bigger 2.5 engine if I couldn’t have a manual anyways, and when the salesman got back to me I said orange would be an alright substitute.
Incidentally during one car shortage weekend, I reserved a Chevy Spark rental and was given a Wrangler instead. Other than its inability to go in a straight line and the gymnastic efforts needed to get into the seat I could picture driving one for exploring. It managed to use more gas than my big F-150 though which was a bit of a turn-off. Maybe this was a slight clue that a small off roader wasn’t for me.
And then a few months earlier than expected the dealer phoned with the news that an orange Crosstrek was in. American 2.5s are built in Lafayette Indiana and came later, but Canadian 2.5s are made in Gunma Japan so I got this before any US Limiteds were sold. These are a fair bit cheaper than Broncos in the real world, which is an important detail in this story. I wasn’t the only one in the household who had dreams of adventures, so by us getting a relatively inexpensive Crosstrek, my wife could get something she wanted as well, resulting in two more boxer cylinders arriving in the late summer attached to a BMW R18 Transcontinental.
I flew to Vancouver to pick up the Crosstrek and within 2 hours of leaving the dealer, I was in a spring snow storm on the Hope-Princeton. The car was on the all seasons it came with, but it seemed to be pretty solid anyway in the snow and slush.
Being that it is a Subaru. I was pretty mindful of following the break-in procedures so the inevitable oil-burning doesn’t start too early in its life. If I can save on oil it will mean I have enough money for head gaskets later, which is another certainty according to the internet.
I guess someone might be in the market for one of these, so I can give a few driving impressions. It feels like an absolute dog leaving a stoplight with the CVT, until maybe 20 miles an hour or so, and then it seems to accelerate normally. I’ve driven the 2.0 version which feels poky all the time, so the 2.5 is a bit of an improvement. The ride is nice and supple and it’s quiet inside. I’ve driven it all day multiple times and found it comfy on a long trip. I like the steering and handling, it’s not as squishy as I expected with the tall ride height.
The Eyesight driver assist system is quite intrusive and always nagging me about something. I leave it on though, as technically I should drive between the lines, not back into things, not tailgate or look away from the road all the time. The car alerts me with beeps or cutting the stereo or nudging the steering when it doesn’t like my driving which happens fairly often. I get a pretty decent break on the insurance because of the safety hardware. As hostile as my wife was to getting a Grandma car like this, she seems to have accepted it now as it has a heated steering wheel and seats, making cold mornings more pleasant. The family have named it Uba, Japanese for nanny, which seems appropriate.
There’s a giant iPod looking display in the dash. I don’t hate it. It’s nice for navigation and I think as my eyes get older I will find it easier than little displays and menus. I miss physical buttons, but at the same time, I can live with hitting a screen to change the fan. It’s dual zone climate anyways so I rarely have to alter it.
The main reason I wanted a Bronco was to further my hiking, snowshoeing and photography adventures. Plus spending less time trying to turn the F-150 around on those trips. Subaru advertises Crosstreks as being mildly capable, so I started putting that to the test pretty much immediately. And within reason, the car works as advertised. I have to take it a lot slower than with the big F-150, where my technique for smoothing the bumps out is to just go a lot faster.
One of the things that is pretty cool about Crosstreks is they have quite decent, 8.7 inch, ground clearance which is as much as some trucks and more than all the other little CUVs. I am considering a skid plate under the engine but I haven’t hit anything yet underneath. The front overhang is too long for some cross ditches.
The small size means I can avoid most obstacles. And it turns on a dime so chickening out is easy if I think the road is too rough.
It’s really nice not using much gas on the highway going out to the trailhead. Off road it is a bit thirstier. There are a few places I go where I think the EcoBoost F-150 actually uses less gas, as it can go up hills at low revs in high gear. One problem that I anticipated with the Subaru that it doesn’t actually have, is that its lowest ratio seems to have the power for obstacles. Odd, considering its poor initial acceleration.
It has decent traction for the most part. X-Mode distributes the power to where it needs to be. Since X-Mode goes along with the CVT I’ll make allowances for the strange feeling transmission.
Articulation is about nil. Where the F-150s keep their tires well planted to the terrain the Crosstrek will lift a wheel. X-Mode figures it out but it’s still disconcerting the first few times.
But most roads I go on are not really that rough, so for the most part it has been a good way to go on adventures. Between this, my truck, my bike and my feet I can get to anywhere I’m going.
I have to admit some things are pretty useful on these fancy new cars. I’m old school enough that I still carry a compass in case my Garmin GPS dies, but this would have been a dream come true in my forestry days to have a satellite image display on a big screen.
I know Subaru wants people to feel the love and maybe I will one day. Uba scans my eyes with infrared sensors and says hello when I get in and goodbye when I leave. I’ve gotten over myself a bit, and have adapted my thinking so that I can put up with this for a while. I have been eating more lentils and less processed foods as well which I believe is what Subaru owners do. I think I will be a bigger fan after winter especially since I sprung for some Michelin X-Ice winter tires which seem to grip very well indeed.
As I usually do about this time in my stories, I run out of things to say about the car so I’ll finish up with where my life is today. I’m still going to be working for a while at the health-killing desk job as I have a few years left until I retire. Despite the substitution of a Crosstrek for a Bronco, life is short so I still went exploring down the Washington and Oregon Coast. Obviously, I could have just taken my pick-up but that wasn’t in my vision.
Gas was more expensive in Washington than it was in BC, so I was very glad of the big fuel tank and good mileage. The many twisty roads were a happy place for the little Crosstrek.
I love the ocean and it was nice to be in the clear air away from all the forest fire smoke at home.
I packed light and brought a tent. And the same old Coleman stove that had accompanied me 30 years ago in the bush.
I don’t know that my trip would have been any better in a Bronco. I may not have looked as cool but once you get to the second half of your 50s I think that “looking cool” is well in the rearview mirror anyways.
And part two of my dream which was the Newfie-Lab cross to accompany me on my adventures? Well I got a big surprise early birthday present a few months ago.
We hike or walk every day. There is room in the Crosstrek for a dog cage which keeps her out of trouble while I’m driving. The whole Subaru and dog thing.
She found the remains of this Datsun this morning on our walk. I’d never seen it out there before so I guess she has a nose for the classics.
So that’s it for now. I’m surprised I have had so few cars as I always seem to be shopping for them. I’m probably not done, as I still think I could make a good home for an old Toyota Pick Up or Dodge W150 or a 2026 Bronco or a SkiDoo Tundra or a Yamaha TW200 or a Fiat 128 or……. Maybe not a Jaguar, but now a BMW is sitting in the carport who knows.
I really want to thank Paul for creating such a great site and Rich for patiently solving my early technical difficulties. And of course, thanks to all those who wrote such insightful, informative and positive comments. That made a rewarding experience even more so. I’m a bit sick of me, so I really look forward to the next writer’s COAL series. I do hope to provide an update or two in the future, maybe even involving that very stupid snowmobile I own.
East Kootenays, British Columbia. November 2023.