Subaru has been in the catbird seat when it comes to the crossover frenzy sweeping the States. It’s provided the right-sized, all-wheel-drive formula for years. We all caught on, and Subaru is now reaping the well-deserved rewards for its patience. Celebrating 50 years in the U.S., Subaru’s current reputation for safe, outdoorsy, and reliable SUVs is enjoying a sales streak, and the new 2018 Crosstrek aims to maintain that momentum set by its top-selling Forester and Outback. “If it’s not a nut, bolt, or fastener, it’s all new,” said a Subaru representative about the Crosstrek at the drive event in South Dakota’s Black Hills. We see no reason it won’t continue to satisfy active, outdoorsy, types—well, maybe one reason.
Our all-day drive in both a Premium and Limited trim levels left us mightily impressed. We can only think of one or maybe two other manufacturers with the guts to put us on gravel and dirt roads for half of the 100-mile route. This is, indeed, a genuine all-wheel-drive adventure vehicle with hardware to match its rugged looks—something we cannot say of all similarly positioned vehicles. With its all-new body and platform (shared with the 2018 Impreza), the Crosstrek’s solid foundation really shined on the drive. Standard torque vectoring (with brakes) across the line made the gravel roads a joy to drive with its playful and sure-footed agility. With this newfound rigidity, the Crosstrek’s new suspension soaked up all manner of ruts and bumps without a squeak or rattle. What’s more impressive is that it does so with very little upset to the occupants. “One and done,” we like to say. To show off how well the available X-Mode with hill-descent control worked, Subaru convinced a quarry owner to let us amble up and down various 100-foot-tall piles of loose egg-sized shale/rock. With 8.7 inches of ground clearance (and 18/29 degrees of approach/departure angle), the Crosstrek’s intelligent all-wheel-drive system and off-road calibrated ABS put fears of ever getting stuck in anything less than rock-crawling situations to rest. The way the Crosstrek effortlessly accepts its mission is remarkable and nearly seamless.
On-road manners were equally impressive with a new (and quicker-ratio) steering rack, smaller-diameter steering wheel, and the same “I got this” attitude and capability. It felt tight and composed regardless of the path we were on. Again, competitors with similar market positioning cannot say the same. The Crosstrek is a true crossover extraordinaire.
I’m givin’ it all she’s got, Cap’n!
Our base camp (it was literally a camp site with deluxe tents) for two days sat some 5,000 feet above sea level. Although this altitude wouldn’t affect the engine performance of a vehicle with, say, a turbocharger(!), the Crosstrek’s 2.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-four really felt the thin air’s effects. We were told the engine itself is 80 percent new and now features direct fuel injection, which bumps the horsepower from 148 to 152 (but 145 lb-ft of torque remains). The optional continuously variable automatic transmission was also revised with a greater spread of available ratios on either end portending quicker low-end response and low-rpm highway cruising. We’ll have to get one in for testing to validate these claims. For the automatic, EPA-estimated fuel economy gains 1 mpg in the city for 2018, with 27/33/29 mpg city/highway/combined figures. Towing capacity remains at a healthy 1,500 pounds regardless of transmission.
Despite these changes (and essentially the same curb weight), attempting to pass slow-moving tourists on the way up to Mount Rushmore was harrowing. Part of it is owed to the CVT’s programming (inserting power-sapping stepped “shifts” at wide-open throttle) and part of it is merely a lack of power—exacerbated by the thin air. The Crosstrek “wants” to have 200 horsepower. The last time we tested a 2015 Crosstrek (with 148 hp), it sauntered to 60 mph in 10.3 seconds—or 1 to 3 seconds behind its main competitors, the Honda HR-V, the Jeep Renegade, the Mazda CX-3, and the Nissan Juke. It also needed an eternal 5.6 seconds to accelerate from 45 to 65 mph. Nevertheless, that Crosstrek handily won our Big Test: 2015/2016 Subcompact Crossovers. Our biggest complaint then—and what we’ve heard owners repeat since its 2012 introduction—is the same as it is now. Give it a turbo, please. Isn’t there a 2.0-liter turbo elsewhere in your lineup, Subie? One that makes 268 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque? Please make this an optional engine. We beg you.
In essence, everything else. Subaru quotes the 2018 Crosstrek is 90 percent new. The new chassis affords about an inch more wheelbase and an inch wider track; the overall width shrinks by 0.9 inch, and length grows by 0.6 inch. The base 2.0i trim ($22,710) gets a new six-speed manual (previously 5M), resulting in a 1-mpg improvement. This six-speed is also newly available on the midlevel Premium trim (which might be the savvy buyer’s choice in the lineup). The aforementioned X-Mode has new Low Shift mode programming, or in Premium or Limited trims with the CVT a “seven-speed” manual shift mode with paddles that we used conspicuously to keep the engine on the boil. A standard multimedia system now includes a 6.5-inch high-resolution touchscreen (with rearview camera display), iPod control, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming. The new interior rivals class leaders in terms of layout, quality, and materials choices. It retains the open, airy cabin feel of its predecessor and has excellent sight lines and ample room for four to five people. Rear legroom has grown from 35.4 to 36.5 inches, and maximum cargo capacity has grown from 51.9 to 55.3 cubic feet. The only option is the CVT ($1,000).
For 2018, Premium versions ($23,510) add auto headlamps linked to wipers, a sound-insulated windshield, individual-wheel tire pressure monitoring, and Starlink connected safety services (first year free), which includes SOS emergency assistance, enhanced roadside assistance, automatic collision notification, maintenance notifications, a monthly vehicle health report, and diagnostic alerts. It’s upgradable to also include stolen vehicle recovery service, alarm notification, remote lock/unlock, remote horn/lights, and vehicle locator. At this level, Subaru’s EyeSight safety suite is available. It includes adaptive cruise control, automatic precollision braking, lane departure warning/assist, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and so on.
The 2018 Crosstrek Limited ($27,210) adds 18-inch wheels, a CVT automatic, an intelligent key (entry/ignition), a six-way power driver’s seat, adaptive LED headlamps, an upgraded 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with voice control, hands-free text capability, satellite radio, a CD player, cloud apps, and a free four-month subscription to Sirius/XM Travel Link. Options include automatic high-beam control, reverse automatic braking, SD-card navigation, and a premium 440-watt eight-speaker Haman Kardon audio system.
Back to the Future
It’s no wonder the Crosstrek is gaining traction in the subcompact crossover segment. The added features will only make it more desirable at a like-for-like added cost of about $100. For those who want the off-road capability and upscale features of either a Forester ($23,710–$37,005) or an Outback ($26,810–$39,605) but in a smaller package at a more manageable price, the Crosstrek follows where the Legacy Outback wagon or Outback Sport once blazed the trail before it grew to become a bona fide SUV in 2015. We’ve always loved the idea of an off-road-able compact wagon, and Subaru hit the bull’s-eye again with the 2018 Crosstrek. If you loved the last one, you’ll love this Crosstrek just the same or even more. Just don’t be in a hurry to get to the slopes, lake, or stream. From the post-drive debrief with its engineers, we know Subaru is considering a turbocharger. It can’t come soon enough.
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