There are plenty of electric cars aimed at saving the planet on sale today, but one will let you see more of it than the others can.
The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is the only vaguely off-road capable vehicle currently on sale that provides emissions-free driving. At least a little. The all-wheel-drive compact hatchback is a plug-in hybrid with a small battery pack that lets you drive up to 17 miles in all-electric mode after a five-hour charge on a 110-volt home outlet, two hours with a 220-volt charging station.
That’s not much, but you can save it to use anytime you want, so you can get from the road to the trailhead while leaving only tire tracks behind. Customers will more likely be interested in driving to the office or the train station without stopping for gas, but the idea of rolling through the woods in the greenest way possible short of pedaling should appeal to many.
You can’t do it in complete silence, however. The Crosstrek Hybrid emits a pedestrian-friendly hum at low speeds. I’m guessing most wildlife can hear it even better than humans can, so don’t get any ideas about using it as a stealthy hunting rig.
Or getaway car. Regardless of the level of charge available, if you press the accelerator past halfway, or go faster than 65 mph, the powertrain switches to hybrid mode and the 2.0-liter flat-four-cylinder engine kicks in and starts playing that classic Subaru sewing machine soundtrack.
It still manages to deliver 35 mpg combined when it does, which is excellent for this sort of vehicle and 6 mpg more than the conventional Crosstrek can muster. Both versions are all-new for 2019 and share just about everything else, although the Hybrid features some signature blue accents and “Plug-In” badges to visually set it apart.
The re-engineered Crosstrek is much more refined than the original, and just as roomy inside. Heated front seats and steering wheel are on-brand, but there aren’t vents for the rear passengers, let alone USB ports, so make sure your kids bundle up and bring a book.
It comes standard Subaru’s EyeSight active safety system, which includes automatic emergency brakes, lane-keeping assist and radar cruise control. It’s all good until the weather turns bad. While I was driving through some moderate snow it deactivated so often that it was useless. Most of the system’s alerts intervene early when it's working, though, so it appears that Subaru programmed it to play it safe so you won’t be sorry.
I wasn’t sorry to see that snow. It should be a requirement for every Subaru test drive. Especially the jacked-up Crosstrek, which proved to be as sure-footed expected, even wearing a set of all-season tires. It has a limber suspension that's well-damped for the road.
The Hybrid only has 148 hp, which is 4 hp less than the conventional Crosstrek, but that electric motor gives you all it’s got whenever you ask for it, so the Hybrid accelerates more quickly despite weighing 500 pounds more. On a snow-covered trail, it’s a quarter-ton of fun.
Unfortunately, a lot of that weight is due to an inelegantly integrated battery pack, which rises a few inches off the cargo bay floor and steals about 5 cubic feet of space and the spare tire. But the fringe benefits you get with it might be worth the trade-off.
The battery’s capacity is large to qualify for a $4,500 federal EV tax credit, along with additional state incentives and single-occupancy HOV lane access in some places. That goes a long way toward justifying the Hybrid’s $34,995 starting price (not including destination fee,) which is $7,800 more than a comparably equipped Crosstrek without a plug. About $350 in annual fuel savings -- more if you stick to those short electric trips -- further reduce the difference.
The Crosstrek Hybrid is definitely different, but it won’t be for long. Range Rover has a couple of plug-ins on the way that will be chasing it into the forest soon. If you get a head start, you can make them eat your dust without inhaling any fumes.
2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door, all-wheel-drive hatchback
Powertrain: 2.0-liter flat-4-cylinder with electric motor
Power: 148 hp
Transmission: CVT automatic
Fuel economy: 90 mpge with 17-miles all-electric range, 35 mpg combined in hybrid mode