It’s hard not to like the Subaru Crosstrek – it’s a great looking small crossover, based on the equally likeable Subaru Impreza and it combines a nice compact size with good off-road abilities, and most of the friendly traits that make Subaru an agreeable brand.
It has been hard to love the Crosstrek, though. It’s always felt a little underpowered, and the lack of power seemed to highlight the CVT transmission in a negative light. In short, a good vehicle looking for a better engine. Well, Subie heard our wishes, and for 2021, a more powerful 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder replaces the 2.0-liter in Sport and Limited models. Is this enough to create a love affair? Let’s find out.
On the outside, the lines are familiar, but look cleaner with a new front bumper and grille that’s tasteful and simple. The profile remains familiar – if you look up crossover in the dictionary, a Crosstrek should be there. A handsome 5-door hatchback, with black fender trim, a tall ride height and on our tester, handsome and unique 18-inch “throwing star” alloys give a capable look.
Out back (not to be confused with the Outback!), the lines are crisp and angular, and squared-off taillights make it instantly recognizable as a Subaru. Finished off in a tasteful Horizon Blue Pearl, our tester was one handsome little beast.
For those looking for more beast, there is an all-new Sport model, which looks extra rugged with unique wheel arch moldings, special dark gray 17-inch alloys, and gunmetal finish on the grille, mirrors and badging. Nice!
Inside, the Crosstrek is familiar Subaru fare, less flashy and more functional, but everything is easily found and operated. It’s a no-nonsense vibe that’s appealing with so many others trying to look like digital pachinko machines.
There are nice clear analog gauges with a customizable TFT driver display. The 8-inch touchscreen is bright and clear, and feature Apple CarPlay, Android Auto along with Subaru Starlink Apps. Our tester had the optional Navigation powered by TomTom with sweet-sounding Harmon Kardon audio system. It also includes a nice moonroof that bathes the cabin in light.
Also lightening our mood, the audio has both volume and tuning knobs (Huzzah!) and works easily. Typical of Subaru, there’s also a small display above the infotainment that serves up key info including the Subaru EyeSight Driver Assist Technology.
The Limited is the top of the line model and adds some lux to the functionality with gray leather with tasteful orange stitching, a 6-way power driver’s seat – which has no lumbar support, but is so well contoured, you don’t miss it – and nice stuff like a fat leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather wrapped shift knob and convenient keyless entry with push-button ignition.
The seating position feels more SUV than raised Impreza, and we like the excellent visibility and comfortable seats. For a relatively small vehicle the rear seats are impressively roomy, and they fold down to create a large cargo bay that is deep and long. Overall, everything looks well built to handle years of use and abuse – which is probably how most Crosstreks will be used.
Smart and sensible, this Subie.
Putting the Trek in Crosstrek
The big news for 2021 is indeed big news as the Limited and new Sport trim feature a larger 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine, and it is a game changer. While the standard 152-hp, 2.0-liter 4 cylinder was okay, and the Plug-in Hybrid was better, they often felt like you had to work them hard to get performance out of them.
The new 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder pumps out 182 hp, and a healthy 176 lb.-ft. of torque, and it’s just what the doctor ordered. Pull away is smooth and easy, and if you use the CVT transmission’s paddle shifters, you get a good sporty response that makes the Crosstrek feel like a little rally car. We preferred the SI-Drive which creates a Sport Mode that gives better response and higher shifting points.
The motor’s extra power also makes the CVT feel more like an automatic – it doesn’t need to hang on rpms to get the vehicle to move – and it’s a much more livable and enjoyable experience. Freeway on-ramps and passing feels much more composed as well – nice, because we know plenty of Subie owners who like to take their Crosstreks camping, off-roading, and more.
That extra power also lets you take advantage of the wonderful all-wheel-drive, and you can power out of corners with a big grin on your face. We didn’t do any 4-wheeling, but the extra torque and 8.7-inches of ground clearance will surely be appreciated there as well. All this, and you only lose one mpg, going from 30 mpg combined on the smaller engine to 29 mpg on the 2.5-liter.
If you are an avid off-roader, we’d point you to the new Sport model, with the unique dual-function X-MODE® with Hill Descent Control with SNOW/DIRT and DEEP SNOW/MUD selectable settings to optimize AWD performance for difficult weather or road conditions.
The rest of Crosstrek goodness remain. We love the long-travel suspension that gives a creamy ride, glides over speed bump, and handles bad conditions with ease. And we also love the overall dimensions of the Subie as well – perfect for zipping into smaller parking spaces that larger SUV’s would have to double or triple back-up to fit.
Subaru is also leading the charge for safety, and the Crosstrek is a prime example. CVT-equipped models feature the EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which for 2021 adds new Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering to Auto pre-collision braking, Land Departure Prevention, Rear Seat Reminder and more.
All-weather capable, all-around protected. It’s a good feeling in a Subaru.
Bigger Motor, Bigger Money?
Well, of course – but it’s not a bad deal. Your most basic Crosstrek starts at $22,245, and considering it has All Wheel Drive, Starlink Multimedia with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and Climate Control, it’s a bargain. Especially if you like the idea of a standard 6-speed Manual transmission – which on this engine, we do. The only downer, if you want EyeSight driver assist, you’ll have to pony up for the CVT transmission.
Our money, we would step up to the all-new Crosstrek Sport model starting at $26,495, which features the new, larger 2.5-liter engine which we highly recommend, a bunch of sporty exterior attire, unique Dual-function X-mode, Keyless Entry and CVT transmission (sorry, no manual).
The other way to get the new engine is in a Limited Model like our tester. Starting at $27,995, you get leather upholstery, Starlink Multi-media Plus, 18-inch rims, and standard Blind Spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. Our tester had the optional Moonroof + Navi+ Harmon Kardon Audio package ($2,395) as its only option. Add in $1,050 for Destination, and we rang the bell at $31,440.
The nearest competitor is the all-new Mazda CX-30. Comparably equipped, it comes in at $31,645. They are very different vehicles to us. The Mazda feels very much a tall sports sedan with enhanced visibility and utility. The Subie much more a small off-roader designed to tackle rugged conditions. We love them both – you just need to decide what your tastes and needs are.
Adding the 2.5-liter engine to the Crosstrek is the missing ingredient that creates a delicious small crossover. Stylish, capable, smooth and comfortable, it’s a superb all-around vehicle!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.