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2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: A space that a mudder could love

Rugged crossover hearkens back to automaker?s rally roots

A nine-kilometre stretch of looping, undulating gravel and a good friend?s cottage road is as close as it gets to all-wheel-drive nirvana. Virtually uninterrupted from one end to the other ? with the exception of errant wildlife for the unwary ? it?s eight minutes of heart-hammering, counter-steering slides flanked by primordial swamp and towering pines.

For years, my learned friend has been unquestionably loyal to his Subaru wagons ? the only vehicles that fit equally well into his erudite lifestyle as they do on the cottage road. But when it comes to all-important fuel economy ? even a loyal fan had to admit that his beloved Subies were falling behind and recently he?d been doing the unthinkable: considering other brands.

So it was with great interest, after hearing of reports of its fuel-sipping frugality, that my friend awaited the verdict on the recently driven XV Crosstrek (known simply as ?XV? in markets outside North America).

Subaru?s image has traditionally swung from one end of the spectrum to the other, without much in between. On one side is the WRX STi, star of the world rally stage, often pictured with all four wheels in the air, snout bristling with an arsenal of spotlights. On the other, the Outback and Legacy wagons with their outdoorsy air of academia, are as comfortable and familiar as a pair of Birkenstock sandals ? and about as stylish too.

Over the last couple of years, the quirkiness so embraced by Subaru loyalists has slowly given way to vehicles that are more mainstream and generic ? much to the dismay of their legions of fans.

But the newest addition to the Subaru lineup marks a return to its roots, with blocky styling and wheels as chunky as a favourite pair of hiking boots.

With the introduction of the new XV Crosstrek, Subaru is hoping to attract an ?upwardly mobile, urban and suburban? customer ? a conquest vehicle to lure buyers away from more ?mainstream offerings.?

It isn?t Subaru?s first foray into the traditional utility vehicle market ? although they?d probably rather forget (and that you did too) the ill-fated full-size Tribeca, whose controversially styled snout gained it infamy ? and not much else.

The XV Crosstrek?s compact size, fuel efficiency and more sophisticated cabin space allow it to move comfortably within an urban environment, but with Subaru?s much-lauded asymmetrical AWD system, rugged black cladding and 220 mm of ground clearance ? it?s capable of venturing off the beaten path. Essentially, an Impreza on tiptoes with some butchy cladding, the Crosstrek will cost slightly more than the larger, boxier Forester, but its better fuel mileage will probably result in some cross-platform sales scavenging.

Although it?s available in three trim packages: Touring, Sport and Limited, the Crosstrek is powered by one engine ? a 2.0 L Boxer four-cylinder mounted low in the snout, resulting in an excellent centre of gravity. That sense of security is amplified by a solid suspension setup of McPherson struts up front, a double-wishbone rear setup and 24 mm stabilizer bars. We clambered over some pretty rugged forest roads in the Blue Mountain woods, and were impressed with its stability over rocks, bumps and gravel.

With its output of 148 hp and 145 lb.-ft. of torque, the Crosstrek manages fine during daily runabouts, but protests noisily when pushed hard. There?s a choice of either a continuously variable transmission (a $1,300 extra) or a five-speed manual gearbox. The five-speed, with its nice firm clutch take-up and short, notchy throws, is delightful to shift, but it really becomes apparent that a sixth gear is needed to make up for the droning labour at highway speeds.

Never a fan of continuously variable transmissions, I?ll grudgingly admit nonetheless that this one is smooth and linear with none of the rubber band lagging or moaning usually inherent in CVTs. It doles out power seamlessly, making the most of the boxer engine?s modest power output ? and delivered an overall 7.2 L/100 km fuel consumption during a drive that included plenty of uphill off-roading. Steering seems initially light, but proves accurate and responsive on the curvy roads.

Virtually identical to that of the Legacy, the Crosstrek?s cabin is a bit more upscale than the wagons of old, yet there are still enough plasticky bits to reassure you that you?re not in one of the more mainstream offerings. The ?base? Touring model at $24,995 is equipped well enough with Bluetooth, heated seats, heated mirrors, steering-wheel mounted controls, while moving up to Sport gets you a sunroof, xenon projector headlights, and a nifty little spoiler just to start. The range-topping Limited at $28,995 features leather upholstery, navigation system, and upgraded sound system.

The seats fold flat in one swift motion to provide a 1,470-litre cargo space ? and there?s a tough rubber seat back cover and cargo floor tray available that?s great for camping, large wet dogs ? or any number of outdoorsy lifestyle accessories.

Those who trade stuffy office cubicles for the slice of a paddle?s blade through still weekend waters will appreciate the standard roof rails on all models ? no problem transporting canoes and kayaks.

Unlike competitors Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke or Mitsubishi RVR, the Crosstrek is rated to tow 680 kg, which is sufficient to bring along either a small boat or snowmobile.

And once unhitched, I?d wager the Crosstrek would prove fairly handy on a certain friend?s lovely, winding cottage road.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

PRICE: $24,495-$30,295

ENGINE: 2.0 L horizontally opposed 4-cylinder

POWER/TORQUE (hp/lb.-ft.): 148/145

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: (estimated) from 8.2 city, 6.0 hwy.(CVT) to 8.9 city/6.7 hwy (5-speed)

COMPETITION: Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi RVR, Mini Countryman All4

WHAT?S BEST: Nimble, good fuel economy

WHAT?S WORST: Slightly underpowered, buzzy when pushed.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: Rated for towing, unlike its competitors.

  • 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: A space that a mudder could love
  • 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: A space that a mudder could love
  • 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: A space that a mudder could love
  • 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: A space that a mudder could love
  • 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: A space that a mudder could love

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