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Subaru Crosstrek: If you need a hatchback, but don't like the look

Overall Rating
This is an easy-to-look-at, pleasant-to-drive and practical alternative to more conventional crossovers or hatchbacks. You’ll like this vehicle if: you want a compact hauler that can handle a Canadian winter.
Looks Rating
Not a serious head turner, but a neat-enough take on the hatchback/crossover theme.
Interior Rating
A bit on the bleak side, but comfortable and functional.
Ride Rating
Firm springs muscle you around a bit, but overall ride comfort is fine.
Safety Rating
The Crosstrek scores a top safety pick rating from the U.S. IIHS.
Green Rating
Good fuel economy numbers, but real-world results aren’t brilliant.

Sometimes a new vehicle clicks into a happy place in your consciousness like a neatly selected gear.

This was the case with Subaru's new Crosstrek, a 2013 model-year update on the Impreza-based Outback Sport, which has been absent from Subaru Canada dealerships for half a dozen years or so.

First impressions are always important and I immediately liked the styling, an in-between hatchback and crossover mix that doesn't make it look like a mongrel, but is an attractive, slightly different, evolution of both.

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I even liked the odd Desert Khaki colour the tester came in, which might camouflage it in a real desert, but makes it stand out among the dune-like rows of cars at the local mall.

I also liked its practicality and utility. You can squeeze five in, but there's more than enough room for four to travel comfortably. And with four up, this leaves a useful 631 litres of space behind the rear seatback, 1,469 litres with it folded. This is actually 16 litres less than the hatchback Impreza, but let's not quibble, it's enough to make both useful haulers of stuff.

If you've got more serious inner-space needs, though, you'll want to make a comparison between the Crosstrek and Subaru's compact Forester crossover.

The Crosstrek's interior isn't quite as easy to like. It's a bit stark visually with only a few aluminum-look trim pieces to provide eye relief from a lot of black plastic. But the instruments, with back-lit white numerals, look good, the controls are functionally laid out and the front seats are fine, offering firm enough support under your backside and good lateral support. The latter keeps you stable when the firm suspension reacts to road heaves to toss you about a bit.

The base Crosstrek Touring with manual five-speed has a starting price of $24,495 and our tester with CVT automatic lists at $25,795, so you'd expect it to have a reasonable level of standard equipment, and it does. On the list are a fully configured audio system, Bluetooth, a tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio controls in the spokes, cargo cover, 60/40-split rear seats, automatic climate control, cruise and an info display.

Overall, it's livable in comfort and convenience terms, and on the road there's just a little hiss of wind noise, plus a hint of motor going uphill at highway speeds.

I had no problem liking how the Crosstrek drives, including the performance delivered by its 2.0-litre, horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine, which a number of road testers have found lacking in enthusiasm.

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Its output of 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque admittedly don't make the Crosstrek quick, but they provide enough power to make it easily drivable in traffic and a near-enough match for many of its peers.

In AJAC Canadian Car of The Year testing, the Crosstrek showed it could get to 100 km/h in 10.8 seconds, compared to the Mazda CX-5 at 10.7, the Honda CR-V at 9.8, the 1.6-litre-engined Ford Escape at 9.9, the Chevy Trax at 10.3 and the Hyundai Santa Fe at 10.1. It was the slowest, but only by two-tenths of a second or so, in the 80 km/h to 120 km/h sprint.

I didn't "like" the continuously variable type automatic, they just aren't my favourite transmission flavour, but it can't be said the Crosstrek's doesn't work effectively. It makes the most of the engine's output, and delivers it smoothly to the vehicle's all-wheel-drive system. Paddle-shifters let you select six virtual "gears."

I'd have preferred to like its fuel economy better. The Crosstrek was competitive in its AJAC class in fuel economy. Its ratings of 8.2 litres/100 km city and 6.0 highway put it near the top in this field. After a week of highway and rural driving, I recorded an average of 8.8 and, on a highway drive, a not a not-particularly-good 7.8.

The Crosstrek's Impreza-based suspension, tuned to deal with its 75 mm of extra ground clearance, and its nicely linear and firm-feeling steering, make it one of the more pleasant-to-drive crossovers. Body roll is minimal and well controlled. It's not as agile in quick transitions as the hatchback would be, due to that higher centre of gravity, but owners will benefit from the additional clearance in deep winter snow.

If you're of the anti-hatchback persuasion, the Crosstrek provides all the advantages of that body-style while offering trendy crossover looks. The only serious arguments against buying one might be those presented by the Forester.

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But I liked it.

Tech specs

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Touring

Type: Compact crossover

Base Price: $24,495; as tested, $27,773

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/torque: 148 hp/145 lb-ft

Transmission: CVT

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/6.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Rogue

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