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Executive wheels: Subaru’s Mary Poppins mobile

Jeff Rundles //September 10, 2014//

Executive wheels: Subaru’s Mary Poppins mobile

Jeff Rundles //September 10, 2014//


Earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to drive the 2014 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport, a test drive that I had anticipated with much enthusiasm because I tend to like Subarus. I was completely disappointed – I gave the Impreza a one-wheel rating (out of four) – mostly on the basis of two issues: cheap interior and excessive road noise.

Recently, I had the opportunity to drive the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid and again I was enthusiastic because I have seen them on the streets and liked the look.  I spent the test-drive week very impressed (with a couple reservations), and then upon further examination, I got confused.

The Crosstrek began life at the 2012 New York Auto Show as the Impreza XV Crosstrek, a regular Impreza with a raised suspension – a sort of beefed-up version. But, apparently, as it has taken on a life of its own, Subaru has somehow made the noisy, cheap Impreza hiding in this car less noisy and less cheap. Perhaps that’s how they justify the base cost difference: the Impreza at base, with the base gas same engine (2.0-liter 4 with 148 hp), goes for $17,895, whereas the base price here for the lowest priced gasoline model is $21,995.

In any case, this Crosstrek seems beefier, roomier and quieter and drives better. I really disliked the Impreza; I fell in love with this Crosstrek almost right off the bat.

One of the failings of the Impreza – or rather two failings, as they are linked – was the 2.0-liter 4 banger engine with 148 hp coupled with the CVT transmission. Very underpowered engine – it lacked get-up-and-go – and CVT transmissions, which automakers use for fuel economy, makes cars sluggish.

In the Crosstrek, they wisely used hybrid technology to boost power. So here you have the same 148 hp, 2.0-liter gas engine and then an electric powerplant that ups the hp rating to 160. It feels like a lot more; this car has not only more oomph than the Impreza, but more torque, which means it is faster off the line, faster in acceleration and quicker on the highway.

And much quieter.

The only thing I didn’t like was the start/stop technology. A lot of cars – BMW chief among them – have come to employ start/stop where the engine basically shuts down at stoplights then restarts automatically when you take your foot off the brake. Most of these systems are startling, although I recently test-drove a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee with start/stop that is as smooth as silk. And most hybrid cars have a sort of start/stop in that the gas engine tends not to be in use at very low speeds then kicks in when you get to about 10 mph or so.

The Crosstrek feels like it has both these systems – and it does. It starts and stops the gas engine all the time – too often for my tastes – and the starting and stopping here is rather jolting. I thought I would get used to it over a week, but I didn’t.  

But having said that, I still very much liked the Crosstrek, and I believe that if I was in the market for one – and I just might be – I would go with the hybrid rather than gas only since I wasn’t was fan of the 148 hp gas engine.

This is a rather basic vehicle in that they don’t go much for over-engineered climate and sound system controls at Subaru. They had knobs and basic operational stuff so you can concentrate on the driving, which is fun. In the Crosstrek line there are five trims – all of them AWD, as per usual with Subaru – with three of the trims – a manual, a CVT and a Limited – featuring the same gasoline engine – and two of them – the Hybrid and Hybrid Touring – going with the same gas engine and the hybrid system. The mileage ratings on the gas-only models is 23 city/30 highway in the manual and 25/30 in the automatics. On the hybrids the rating is 29/33.

I drove the Hybrid Touring model, and it was delightful – and the best part is that all of the stuff is added on as standard so there’s no confusing packages and the like. For $29,295 plus $825 in destination and delivery (a total of $30,120) you get: keyless entry and start, advanced hybrid monitoring system, raised roof rails and a cargo area with a built-in rubber mat, leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, power moonroof, touch-screen and voice command navigation on a 6.1” LCD screen, Sirius Satellite Radio, Aha smartphone integration, heated seats and mirrors, front wiper de-icers, and the start/stop tech.

Another of the odd things is that the rear camera displays the picture in a second screen higher up in the dash than the 6.1” LCD, and this little screen is too small to see what’s behind in an easy manner. Not good design.  

Still, the XV Crosstrek is a handsome, impressive vehicle. It’s a little on the pricey side, and Subaru needs to make a couple of adjustments (smoother stat/stop and a better rear-view camera) to have a real winner on its hand. This 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid Touring is very, very close to perfect.