Fitted with a raised suspension, unique wheels and some bold paint colors, Subaru's new XV Crosstrek five-door hatchback gets attention.
But the verdict is out on whether potential buyers will see the Crosstrek as a smartly utilitarian tall wagon or what Subaru officials sought to design — a compact crossover sport utility vehicle.
Basically, the new-for-2013 Crosstrek is a Subaru Impreza that has been raised 3 inches, shod with larger tires on black-and-gray two-toned wheels and mildly restyled.
The Crosstrek uses the same platform as the Impreza, the same 148-horsepower, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine and Subaru's all-wheel drive.
Nearly all the interior is from the Impreza, too.
But where the Impreza, which is Subaru's entry-level car, blends in as a normal and pleasant-looking sedan and a slightly sporty-looking hatchback, the unusual — some might say odd-looking — Crosstrek tends to stand out in a crowd.
Pricewise, the Crosstrek comes in at the higher range of the Impreza models and at the lower end of models of the Subaru Forester compact SUV.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2013 XV Crosstrek is $22,790 with five-speed manual transmission and $23,790 with continuously variable transmission that a driver operates like an automatic.
This compares with $19,165 for a base, 2013 Impreza five-door hatchback with manual transmission and the $22,090 starting retail price for a base, 2013 Forester with manual.
Note that the Forester is heavier, taller and longer in overall length than the Crosstrek, while the Crosstrek is heavier, taller and a tad longer in overall length than the Impreza hatchback.
All Crosstreks come standard with all-wheel drive.
While federal crash testing has not been reported, standard safety equipment on every Crosstrek includes seven air bags — one is for the driver's right knee — along with stability control, traction control, front-seat anti-whiplash head restraints and antilock brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Distribution.
Subaru officials say competitors include compact crossover SUVs, which are vehicles built on car-like platforms that provide a more comfortable ride, rather than a brutish truck-like ride.
Examples include the 2013 Nissan Juke, which has a starting MSRP plus destination charge of $22,440 with all-wheel drive, 188-horsepower, turbocharged four cylinder and CVT. Note the Juke is available with front-wheel drive and CVT at a lower starting retail price of $20,780.
Meantime, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV has a starting retail price of $21,790 with 155-horsepower, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. A base 2013 CX-5 with all-wheel drive has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $24,440.
While the Crosstrek's foreign looks grab attention, it is the vehicle's flexible interior for people and cargo that have enduring appeal.
Cargo room behind the second-row seats measures 22.3 cubic feet, and there's small-SUV-like space of 51.9 cubic feet with rear seats folded down. Best of all, the cargo floor is up some, so people don't have to lean over to load and unload the back.
Headroom is less, in front and back, than in the taller Forester and the CX-5, but the Crosstrek still has a commendable 39.8 inches and 37.7 inches of front and rear headroom, respectively, which is more than what a Juke has.
There's an impressive 43.5 inches of front-seat legroom in the Crosstrek, and while the back seat's 35.4 inches is less than the Forester's, both front- and rear-seat legroom are better than that in a Juke.
The Crosstrek's interior, at least in base Premium trim, appears a lot like an Impreza's. There's considerable plastic trim in there and acceptable cloth upholstery on the seats, with front seats heated as standard equipment. To get leather-trimmed seats, buyers must move up to the Limited model, which starts at $25,290.
For both the Limited and base models, a moonroof and navigation system are options, and a rear vision camera is available only on the pricey Limited.
The 2-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder worked hard to keep up with other vehicles on uphill mountain highway sections and to accelerate.
But mated to a fuel-saving CVT that droned incessantly, the engine's power felt a bit tapped at times in the 3,175-pound tester, particularly when it carried four adults and suitcases.
Peak torque is 145 foot-pounds at 4,200 rpm and compares with 177 foot-pounds starting at a low 2,000 rpm in the turbocharged Nissan Juke. But it's close to the 150 foot-pounds of peak torque delivered at 4,000 rpm in the Mazda CX-5.
Paddle shifters on the steering wheel let Crosstrek drivers manually "shift" the CVT and reduce the droning as the tranny then goes from one to another of six preset gear ratios. Still, this artificial fix conflicts with the real reason to have a CVT, which is to maximize fuel economy by allowing the transmission to manage power delivery itself.
For the record, the test Crosstrek with CVT averaged 27 miles per gallon in combined city/highway travel, which is less than the 28-mpg rating reported by the federal government.
Riding on 17-inch tires, the test Crosstrek surprised with its stable handling.
Despite a ground clearance of 8.7 inches, the Crosstrek test vehicle maintained its composure in sudden emergency maneuvers and remained balanced and flat in corners.
The high ride height provided good views out to the traffic ahead but didn't make the Crosstrek feel tippy.
Best of all, the Crosstrek's seats were well-positioned, so most passengers could just set themselves onto the seats without climbing up or dropping down.
Electric power-assist rack-and-pinion steering felt a bit numb but was acceptable.