Mix a love of hatchbacks with a need for AWD and you have the recipe Subaru has nearly perfected in its 2021 Crosstrek.
I’ve loved hatches for years and really, if you think on it, isn’t that what all crossovers are? But crossovers aren’t very slick looking as a class, so thank goodness for Subaru and the tall hatchback design of its revamped Crosstrek, tested in its top-level Limited trim.
The first thing, beyond its sporty looks, that everyone should want to talk about for 2021 is its new engine that gives it 30 more horsepower. A little oomph is always welcome. The engine itself isn’t new, already powering Subaru’s Forester crossover, but it’s new to Crosstrek, now standard in its Sport and Limited trim levels.
A 2.0-liter 152-horse 4-cylinder remains standard in base and Premium trim levels, hooked up with a 6-speed manual, although a CVT automatic is optional.
The horsier 2.5-liter Boxer 4 in the Limited is a big improvement. Tromp the accelerator now and Crosstrek will hustle up to highway speeds much more easily. Sadly there remains the Boxer growl that sounds like it’s working pretty hard under heavy acceleration, but that’s a Subaru (and Porsche) thing. There’s no denying the new Crosstrek feels stronger and with its already nimble, precise steering aided by AWD being standard gives it more authority on the road, wet or dry.
However, and I know I prefer power to not, but a little more power still would make the Crosstrek more fun to better compete with the likes of Mazda’s spiffy CX-30. It has fewer horses by the way, but feels sportier and more lively.
I should note that the Limited does include the SI-Drive performance system. It’s a bit like drive modes on other makes where you punch a button to increase low-end torque. Here that’s the S setting while I is for Intelligent, meaning torque is smoother and more fuel efficient. S will help boost acceleration some, so, if like me, you prefer power, keep that on most of the time.
Still, this is really more hatchback than crossover, outside of the AWD and X-Mode that engages via a console button to engage for more serious off-roading. X-Mode may sound like a Marvel superhero, but it locks the transmission into lower gear ratios to aid in off-roading, and adjusts the stability control system for muddy romps. It also adds Hill Descent Control to help you crawl effortlessly down steep off-road gravel and dirt. For the record, the Crosstrek has 8.7-inches of ground clearance.
While handling is nimble and fun on the highway and around town, the ride is good too. Many cars with smaller (less than 106 inches) wheelbases ride like buckboards. Not the Crosstrek, it handles big bumps and small craters well, just a little jostle, not a tooth loosening rattle. Bravo!
Helping on both fronts may be the standard 18-inch tires here. 17-inchers come on the other three trim levels.
Another big plus are the sight lines, something Subaru excels at. No fat A-pillars in Crosstrek and the mirror is placed back from the door’s front edge so you can see behind it when looking to the side. Not sure why most other car makers can’t figure this arrangement out, but it’s a safety plus.
Naturally there are a bunch of electronics to aid safety. EyeSight, Subaru’s driver assist system, is standard and now has added smart cruise control to its features such as blind-spot detection, lane change assist and cross-traffic alert. Note though that smart cruise is not part of the base and Premium models with 6-speed manual gearboxes. A CVT is required.
Inside, the Limited is sharp looking with gray and black leather seats with orange stitching. That stitching carries over to the steering wheel and black dash with satin silver trim on air ducts, knobs and a bit of the dash. Fake carbon fiber trim enlivens the door panels a bit. It all looks sophisticated and youthful.
Standard on this trim are paddle shifters behind the wheel, and an 8-way power driver’s seat, although it needs adjustable lumber support. There’s also a simple 8-inch touchscreen that I actually find easier to use than the giant vertical screen in Subaru’s latest Outback, plus it isn’t as reflective. Below that are three large climate control knobs.
My only additional wishes here would be for a dual climate control system and heated steering wheel, maybe a flat-bottom one, at least in the Sport model.
There already are heated and cooled front seats that are well shaped and comfy. While overhead you’ll find an SOS system and lane-departure control button. The rest of the bevy of radio and most other buttons are on the wheel hub. A few are on the dash to the lower left of the wheel.
This handsome Horizon Blue Pearl test car (new color, but very similar to past Subaru blues) also added an option package for $2,395 that includes a power sunroof and manual shade. In addition, the bigger spiff was the touchscreen with navigation and an impressive Harman Kardon sound system that will help you pump up the jams as needed.
While this appears a small hatch there’s actually good passenger room front and rear so that four adults could easily travel in Crosstrek. Making it even more attractive is a sizeable 20.8 cubic foot cargo bay under the manual hatch. And yes, there’s a small spare under the floor.
If you need more cargo room just fold the split rear seats down. Both fold flat.
Another plus is decent gas mileage considering AWD and such generous storage room and amenities. The EPA rates Crosstrek at 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. That highway figure is actually 1 mpg better than the rating for Crosstrek’s 6-speed manual models, while the city number is 1 mpg lower. I managed 25.4 mpg in a fairly even mix of driving. The trip computer was only slightly more optimistic.
And then there’s price. Working folks can afford the Crosstrek as the base lists at $23,295 with the manual transmission and $24,345 with the CVT. Remember, both have AWD to help in winter. In fact, not many crossovers or hatches in this price range even offer that. Usually you have to move to a higher trim level, or even another model to find AWD.
Here the Premium with manual transmission starts at $24,345, same as the CVT base, or you can get the CVT-equipped model for $26,695.
If you have some room for price creep the Sport and Limited models offer more amenities and both come with CVT standard along with AWD and the smart cruise control. The Sport lists at $27,545 and touts more rugged looking wheel arches for off-roading, and water-repellant gray StarTex seating with yellow stitching that also appears on the wheel and dash.
All models have new wheel designs this year and refreshed grille and nose cladding and bumper.
Finally, the tested Limited lists at $29,045, including delivery, so under $30,000 while the average price of vehicles today is about $37,000. With its sunroof and premium sound system this one hit $31,440, still a bargain in my book.
There are other small crossovers such as the Honda H-RV, Nissan Kicks, Chevy Trax and Jeep Renegade, based on a Fiat. However, AWD costs extra on all those, when available.
To me this market boils down to the new Crosstrek and Mazda’s AWD-equipped CX-30, which leans more heavily toward the sporty side.
Hits: More power than in past, nimble handling, AWD standard and good ride. Excellent sight lines, hot/cool seats, easy touchscreen function, fancy stereo, sunroof, sporty looking interior and roomy, plus good cargo space. Solid safety equipment.
Misses: Still could use a bit more power, a heated steering wheel, dual climate controls and lumbar adjustment for driver’s seat.
Made In: Japan
Engine: 2.5-liter Boxer 4-cyl., 182 hp
Transmission: Lineartronic CVT, automatic
Weight: 3,338 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.9 in.
Length: 175.8 in.
Cargo: 20.8/55.3 cu.ft.
Tow: 1,500 lbs.
MPG: 27/34, 25.4 (tested)
Base Price: $29,045 (includes delivery)
Major Options: Power moonroof, Starlink 8-in. multimedia w/nav, Harman Kardon amplifier/speakers, $2,395
Test Vehicle: $31,440
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.