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Review: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

2013 Subaru VX CrossTrek (4)

Remember when Subaru used to make affordable, small, quirky cars? I do too, and I have some great news – this XV Crosstrek fits the bill of what we once knew as a Subaru. It’s relatively small by modern standards, it start at $23,000 which is cheap these days, and, pending your tastes, it can be quite quirky.

The most significant thing, however, is the combination of all these things resting on a solid, fun to drive chassis which translates into a very decent package. It’s not perfect, but as far as fuel-efficient all-weather hatchbacks go, it may be one of the best ones on the market.

The jacked-up stance gives the XV interesting proportions. Think of it as the old VW Golf 4×4 Country; a small hatchback that’s jacked-up, and fitted with a set of all-terrain(-ish) tires. It’s likely at that this little guy maybe as capable off-road as a Range Rover, as demonstrated by this unaffiliated YouTube video.

2013 Subaru VX CrossTrek (11)

Back on the road, or more specifically, moderately challenging off-road trails that are the streets of Boston in the winter. The XV rides smoothly and does a great job absorbing even large potholes and uneven pavement. Puddles of melted snow, salt, and sand do not do anything to upset the steering feel of the car. In fact, what makes the XV so much fun to drive is you feel like a pseudo-rally driver, just powering through all those obstacles.

Speaking of power, there is not much of it, but that does not really matter. Like the Miata, the XV Crosstrek (awful name, by the way), is a slow vehicle that likes being driven fast. Yes, the 305hp STI engine would turn this into an amazing machine, but with proper driver involvement (looking ahead, predicating), it is not bad. What is bad is the continuously variable transmission and the noise it makes, but the XV is available with a proper 5-speed manual too. It is beyond me why the CVT even comes with paddle shifters.

2013 Subaru VX CrossTrek (5)

From the driver’s seat, visibility is superior. Most new cars have thick A-pillars, but somehow the little Scuby does without those. The little not-a-vent window helps too, as does a short hood. Visibility towards the back is good too, with minimal blind spots. A simple optional back-up camera aids in tight parking situations. The seat is comfy but not overly supportive.

Complaints, there are a few: the ignition key pokes the driver’s knee, and the heated seats buttons are still placed way out of the way. Biggest complaint would be the engine and wind noise – it’s just loud, like all Imprezas. Also, it has a wimpy horn – peep!

2013 Subaru VX CrossTrek (9)

Two clear gauges, a segmented fuel level display, and a useless economy gauge are all there is to the gauge cluster. Since there is no engine temperature gauge, Subaru installed a “cold engine temp” idiot light – it has no other meaning than to say that the engine is cold. I don’t understand it, I chalked it to up being one of those things that Subaru just does.

The climate control is a thing of beauty and simplicity – three large knobs with a button on each one. That’s it, and that’s all that is required to adjust temperature, direction and speed of incoming air. Things change dramatically for the infotainment unit. The thing has only one knob and three buttons. The rest is controlled by small soft keys on the touch-screen, operation of which is rather slow. There is voice control too, if you like that sort of thing, and simple steering wheel controls.

2013 Subaru VX CrossTrek (8)

The rear seat is surprisingly accommodating, offering good leg and headroom – at 6’2” I could sit behind myself comfortably. Wide opening rear doors with a square window frame are a welcome bonus for those of us who have to wrestle with child seats and their occupants. The hatch offers plenty of access to a somewhat small trunk which comes equipped with a standard rubber mat. Rear seat is split 60:40 and it folds flat, without the need to remove headrests. Completing the functional/outdoorsy theme of the XV are standard roof rails.

The car is great daily driver, especially where roads are not ideal. It’s comfortable, easy to drive and efficient. Perhaps at this point in my life I am more impressed with what I get for my money as opposed to the best things money can buy. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with the XV Crosstrek because $23,000 does not buy much car these days, and the XV, and its lower Impreza sibling, deliver damn good value. 

Currently there are "21 comments" on this Article:

  1. muthalovin says:

    I like the XV, and if I had a longer commute in a more inhospitable local, I would absolutely look into getting one. I love the wheels, and would take one in orange.

  2. CABEZAGRANDE says:

    I test drove one of these recently helping my mom look for a new car. It's kind of fun, but desperately needs more power. It's not horrible when you can keep momentum up, but if you're in stop and go, this thing is no fun. I just hope they hurry up with a turbo version. Give this thing in the 230-250 hp range, and it'd be one of the most fun little cars on the market.

  3. Hopman says:

    I have a friend who just bought one of these (in orange with a stick) to replace his '04 Outback. He absolutly LOVES it, as he is the type of guy who this car fits perfectly. If there's an outdoor mountain sport, he's all over it!

  4. Tanshanomi says:

    I traditionally don't love Subarus or small crossovers.
    But I'm sort of digging this.

  5. Maymar says:

    At the very least, I know Toyota uses the Cold Engine warning light too.

    I am a little jealous though – inexplicably, Canada doesn't appear to get that blue on the Crosstrek, so you're left with either a half-dozen non-colours, or the orange (which I could live with). I'm also a little torn – I live in the city, and the extra ground clearance isn't a selling feature for me, but this just sort of looks better than the regular Impreza hatch (which, to its credit, looks better than the shoe-shaped car it replaced).

  6. marmer01 says:

    I thought "Cold Engine" was for manual-transmission cars, so you know not to hoon it within an inch of redline until the fluids warm up. Autoboxes usually won't let you do that.

  7. eggsalad says:

    Many years ago, I had a hand-me-down Cadillac with no temperature gauge, and only an idiot light to indicate overheating. The thermostat stuck open at some point. I had no idea the engine was running cold, but the EFI computer knew. Because the brain knew the engine was cold, it kept making the fuel mixture extra rich. Long story short, that plugged up the catcon, and it wound up costing me a lot more than a "cold" light, or a real gauge, ever would have cost.

  8. PotbellyJoe says:

    The Toyota Echo had a cold engine light. I can't speak for the XV Crosstrek, but for the Echo it meant something.

    I worked at a Toyota dealer on a 55 mph road in the basin of two somewhat steep hills. Cars coming down at us, and I had to accelerate up hill away from them.

    When that light was blue, that already meager 103-hp 1.5L motor only delivered about 70 hp due to adjusted timing from the VVTi, lower RPM shifting and all of that stuff.

    So as a salesman, If I knew I had an Echo shopper, I would start the car and let it run for at least 5-10 minutes while I scrounged for things to talk about in a stripped out, crank windows economy car until that little light went off.

    So the blue light to me meant, "No sale."

    • TurboBrick says:

      The Mitsu MIVEC system wouldn't let you go beyond 5000rpm until the engine was up to normal temp. I thought that was a great idea to keep owners from nuking their engine.

      • PotbellyJoe says:

        I agree, i thought it was a smart way to preserve a motor, but the light meant you couldn't get that car to 55 without screaming a plea to the Blessed Lady of Acceleration.

        Once you knew what it did, you could work around it, but many a rookie salesperson didn't and couldn't figure out why the little car felt pokier than usual.

  9. CalculatedRisk says:

    Sat in one this weekend at the AutoFair. I was impressed by the forward visibility, especially in this age of mile thick A-pillars. The seats were kind of a let down. I found those in the Impreza to be much better. Definitely the coolest looking mini-SUV-wagon thing around for the money. Love those wheels!

  10. wisc47 says:

    I hear you on the CVT. I've driven my Mom's CVT equipped Legacy and it's pretty sluggish. The gear changes in M mode take forever and the noise is absolutely awful. I was driving a friend home and she asked me if there was something wrong with the car. My response? "Technically, no…"

  11. B72 says:

    Assuming the climate control is still the same as what they had in the Forester back in '08!(sounds like it is), it's simple and intuitive. My grumble with it is that the min temp for the cabin is 65. Get in the car with your coat on because it's sub freezing, and start driving, and you realize pretty quickly you would have been more comfortable if it were say 55, or maybe even 50. For some of us 65 is borderline T shirt weather. Are you never supposed to wear a jacket in this thing?

    A little more range would be nice.

    • PotbellyJoe says:

      I'm reading this in a house set at 64 degrees while wearing a t-shirt.

      Your point is well made.

    • Kamil_K says:

      That would the automatic climate control, which this XV was not equipped with.

      I agree tho, those temp setting are off on most cars. Often the auto climate controls can't even keep a steady temp and constanly cycle between air temps. I find this annoying, especially on longer drives.

  12. Rover 1 says:

    And the Europeans love them,the XV has knocked the VW Golf off the top spot and become the No.1 selling car in Switzerland for the first time since the Golf displaced the Mercedes W123. http://www.autoblog.com/2012/09/19/subaru-is-curr

  13. myleadfoot says:

    The UK motoring press has been making a HUGE fuss about the fact Subaru have announced they'll no longer be selling the Impreza here (if you watch Top Gear, you'll know what I mean) because the base model has always sold miserably in Britain. All of course conveniently forgetting, in a Daily Mail sensationalist fashion, that this exists, and is still for sale. Not to mention the WRX/STI have been their own model line for a year now and OBVIOUSLY when they launch the new version, it'll come to the UK.

  14. streetpedaler says:

    I really like this one, but the lack of umph and the fact that you can only get the manual trans on the base model have me on the fence. No way would I go for the CVT, and I'm not thrilled at how the base is packaged. When I look at how it's optioned out for the european market I only get more depressed.

  15. calzonegolem says:

    There must've been some hvac trade agreement with Toyota. This is the 2013 Yaris. Can you find other similarities?

    <img src="http://images.newcars.com/images/car-pictures/cc-large/2013-Toyota-Yaris-Coupe-Hatchback-L-3dr-Liftback-Interior.png"&gt;

  16. failboat says:

    Compact hatchback/wagons seem to have nearly identical profiles anymore, when I first saw images of the subie I immediately thought it looked like a lifted ford focus with some additional body cladding. Not that thats a bad thing.

    Focus has some very similar looking optional wheels
    <img src="http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/08/Focus-SE-front-quarter-550×412.jpg"&gt;

  17. James H says:

    I actually own this car. Bought it three weeks ago to replace a 2005 Toyota Matrix XR with 250,000 miles. The Matrix fought way above its weight. Great car. It would've gone 400,000 miles were it not for the drunk driver that ran into it and totaled it.

    This concept of this car speaks to me. I like the idea of what it represents. I need a small wagon. I want AWD. I like having extra clearance. I don't want an SUV. I need as high a fuel economy as possible with an 84 mile round trip commute each day. So the concept of this vehicle works.

    Execution? M'eh…. I want more secret storage cubbyholes. The Matrix had almost a dozen. The Subaru has TWO. I want plastic-clad seat backs fold flat. And a rear cargo floor that also is plastic and flush with the seat backs when folded. Nope. Not this car. I want a engine temp and oil pressure gauge. Nope. Not this car.

    I can live with the anemic engine. It's a commuter car. But the transmission noise takes some getting used to. Also, the dashboard and door panel don't like my knees. The stereo is just plain sad. Anything with deep low freq base notes at hight volume bring out literally DOZENS of buzzes and rattles from the interior. On a car with 1,050 miles on it. WTF subaru?

    At start up the engine or transmission is a symphony of disturbing metal on metal sounding clacking and rattles. It goes away with building oil pressure, but it's scary the first time you hear it.

    Mileage so far had been better than predicted. I drive hyper-miling style, with very measured throttle inputs and relatively low cruising speed (yep, I own the right lane. Go around me.). So far, despite the engine not being fully broken in, I'm still getting 33.6 mph average on a 80% highway commute. That's higher than expected, and will get even better with engine break-in and summer gasoline.

    This car has big, giant shoes to fill to replace the Matrix. I hope it will be successful.

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