Subaru has been an exceptional success story over the last few decades, and somehow seems to move from strength to strength while always marching to a slightly offbeat, uh, beat. Two decades ago taking their Legacy wagon, adding some cladding and a slight suspension lift to make an Outback labeled version has been a masterstroke with nobody else seeing anywhere near the same success by attempting the same thing. More recently they’ve attempted a second act of the same formula by taking the Impreza hatchback, adding cladding and a lift, and renaming it the Crosstrek (known as the XV elsewhere). This too has been a resounding success even though it has been repeatedly criticized by the press for not having enough power. That aspect seemed to matter little to actual buyers over the years, resulting in sales numbers well in excess of 100,000 for each of the last four years in this country.
At this point Subaru is several years into the second generation of Crosstrek and for 2021 has attempted to silence those critics by offering it with a larger engine in the top two of four trim levels. Subaru has always seemed to do more with less, and rarely offers more than is really needed even though they certainly have the capability and knowhow to do so. Always keep the audience wanting just a little more and they’ll keep coming back seems to be a winning formula. And so it came to be that Subaru sent us an example of the new Crosstrek Sport with the larger 2.5liter engine.
Here in the U.S. Subaru offers five lines – the BRZ sports coupe, the Outback/Legacy lineup, Forester, Ascent, and the Impreza/Crosstrek. Remarkably, none would really be considered a direct competitor in the small CUV category when compared to the rest of the market, but Subaru takes large bites out of it with multiple models and attacks it from all angles with vehicles that are far more capable than one might assume.
For example, take a glance at this Crosstrek Sport. Some might initially say that it’s just a normal hatchback with a bit of a lift. Look a little closer and realize that the ground clearance is 8.7 inches, easily on par with most offerings in the smaller CUV classes. AWD is full time. Dual Function X-Mode offers various settings including Hill Descent Control and programs for mid, snow, and dirt (the other Crosstreks offer regular X-Mode without the terrain settings).
It’s no surprise that Subarus can be seen in settings far from the mall parking lot. The real surprise is that none of the competition with hatchbacks that have failed here over the last few years tried to jump into the segment, just like with the Outback being more than just a lifted wagon, clearly there is more to success here as well.
Or is there really? Perhaps it’s just a fact that Subaru has a very well-honed reputation for what it does best. After decades on the rally circuits of the world and much time spent honing its products to provide good value and a reputation for durability, reliability, and safety that keeps owners coming back for more, Subaru has earned a loyal following.
The Crosstrek uses the same bodyshell as the Impreza hatchback, adds cladding all around, equips it with chunky alloy wheels in every trim level, and offers it in numerous colors. Starting at just over $22,000 with standard all-wheel-drive and offering the best resale value in its class, it’s no surprise these are all over the roads (and trails) here in Colorado.
The Sport version offers an interior draped in water resistant materials (which really means vinyl instead of cloth seats, leather is standard in the even higher Limited trim). The seats are two toned, similar to those the Subaru Outback Onyx Edition we tested a few months back, and feature embroidery and yellow stitching.
The stitching continues throughout the cabin as a yellow accent theme including a colored lower spoke on the steering wheel. While perhaps not to everyone’s preference at least the cabin can’t be described as dour or coal-bin like and does work well with the Horizon Blue Pearl Exterior paint applied to this example, although the Plasma Yellow Pearl exterior color seems like it was made for it.
The seats are well bolstered and cushy with various manual adjustments including height but no adjustable lumbar support, however I quickly found a comfortable position. The headrests for once were logically placed as to not intrude. The sunroof didn’t cause any issues with headroom for me and the front pillars are on the slimmer side as well.
The steering wheel and shifter are leather-covered and fall readily to hand. While the steering wheel is not heated, the seats are via two-position rocker switches that seem to not have changed form in a couple of decades, rocking into position via a satisfying thunk but not the silky soft smoothness of some more high-falutin’ makes. When something works, leave it alone, especially as it gives off an aura of durability.
Gauges are clear and crisp (and few in number). There isn’t even a temperature gauge, instead when the engine is cold a little thermometer graphic lights in blue to indicate that it isn’t warm yet. However there is a small screen between the larger gauges that displays information selected by a few switches on the steering wheel, as per usual I kept it in the fuel economy display setting. The fuel gauge is at the bottom displayed as a small electronic bar chart instead of a traditional gauge. At least there is an easy to read distance-to-empty display.
The center console featured an optional 8″ touch screen (6.5″ is standard) that in this case was mainly used for the audio system and backup camera. Graphics were of a good resolution and surprisingly the system included a slot to play CDs, a feature lacking in more and more vehicles. Not everyone is a streamer.
However, the system is of course Bluetooth enabled and also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The audio system was surprisingly good, as Cannons’ “Fire For You” happened to play on the SiriusXM system I turned it up and it delivered strong bass response with clear highs that precluded any additional desire for an expensive branded system as offered on many competitor’s vehicles.
Up at the top of the windshield is Subaru’s “Eyesight” system that uses dual cameras to provide inputs for the safety systems including the adaptive cruise control that can keep a set user-defined distance behind the car in front up to a user-defined speed. Subaru does things a bit different with the speed setting, hit the toggle once for a 5-mph increment bump or hold it to change it in 1-mph increments. This seems a bit backward (I was afraid by holding it it’d rapidly increase like an electric clock time setting function, the other way would seem to make more sense) but worked well in the end, with regular use would likely become second nature.
Below this are the dual zone HVAC controls that were intuitive to use and at the bottom a bin for a phone or other oddments. There was not a wireless charging pad but there are four USB ports as well as a 12V outlet for charging and/or inputs. And an honest-to-goodness manual parking brake, a delight to use with instant positive feedback.
The back seat was also comfortable with enough space for my 6’1″ frame with 32″ inseam. There was enough kneeroom even when slouching a little to avoid brushing my head on the roof. Comfort would be good for two adults of my stature, but three would be a stretch, more to do with the width than anything else. Three kids would be no problem besides the issues associated with proximity, temptation and the confluence of both.
What was sorely missing in the backseat though were vents in the rear of the center console, so no way to direct a distinct stream of air. Also, besides bottle holders molded into the door pockets, there were no cupholders in the back seat area and no center armrest whatsoever. Bottle holders work fine for bottles and alright for cans but not so much for takeout cups with lids, especially with kids involved. This is a bit of a surprising miss for Subaru.
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