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Test Drive: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

 

Subaru has this down to a science.

Take one of its cars, jack it up a couple of inches, add some plastic body cladding, a roof rack and, Voila…soft-roader.

The Impreza hatchback is the latest to get this treatment, and while it’s a little more involved, that really is basically the gist of its transformation into the $22,805 XV Crosstrek.

But I can’t help wonder if the process wasn’t done the other way around. While the design of the Impreza is a little bit on the awkward side, it looks just right as a high rider. And the XV Crosstrek is definitely that.

The little 5-door has 8.7-inches of ground clearance, more even than a Jeep Grand Cherokee, although it sits lower and is easier to get into than a conventional compact crossover. Chunky wheels with a blocky spoke design combined with unique front and rear bumpers help give it the appearance of a space buggy, especially when finished in its signature Tangerine Orange Pearl paint.

The interior is identical to the Impreza’s, which means plain, but appointed with excellent visibility and lots of room for the compact class. The main difference is a standard rubber cargo tray for hauling mucky gear in the back.

Not too much of it, though, as the 2.0-liter flat-four-cylinder engine only has 148 hp. All-wheel-drive and a five-speed manual transmission are standard, but with the CVT automatic the vast majority of buyers will choose, the XV Crosstrek is a little slow getting up to speed on the highway.

The tradeoff is that once you are there it delivers 33 mpg, which Subaru says is best in class for all-wheel-drive crossovers, even if the XV Crosstrek barely qualifies as one. Unlike many cars today that come up short on real world fuel economy, I saw as much as 35 mpg on a couple of runs.

One of them took me to a snow-covered dirt road where, even on all-season tires, the XV Crosstrek kept me out of the woods. The Vehicle Dynamics Control is not subtle about saving your sorry self, the system loudly rat-tat-tatting individual brakes to keep the car going straight whenever you start getting out of line. Treat it like the buzzer in a game of Operation and it can be a very good lesson in vehicle dynamics.

Slippery surfaces or not, the XV Crosstrek’s suspension does a great job in the rough stuff, soaking up the deepest ruts with nary a shock to the spine, but is a little bouncier than ideal on paved roads.

As with many “gearless” CVT transmissions, the XV Crosstrek has a manual mode and paddles behind the steering wheel that allow you to use it like a virtual six-speed. Normally very silly, this feature actually comes in handy off-road by giving you more direct control over the power delivery and some engine braking when heading downhill.

As a slightly more extreme alternative to the Impreza, the XV Crosstrek offers a nice package. But don’t waste its time unless you plan to get a little dirty now and then, or at least live where the snow gets deep. Subaru didn’t go to the trouble of making it for the likes of you.

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2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Base Price: $22,805

Type: 5-door, 5-passenger hatchback

Engine: 2.0-liter flat-4-cylinder

Power: 148 hp, 145 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 5-speed manual or CVT automatic

MPG: 25 city/33 hwy