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Subaru?s on the right offroad with new Crosstrek

A little Botox here, a bit of lipstick there, and the compact Impreza four-door hatchback begets the compact CUV XV Crosstrek.

You have to hand it to Subaru?s makeup artists.

A little Botox here, a bit of lipstick there, and the compact Impreza four-door hatchback begets the compact CUV (Crossover Utility Vehicle) XV Crosstrek.

It goes on sale around the end of August, beginning of September.

No Canadian prices have been announced; in fact, all we?ve got so far is the U.S. price for the entry-level ?Premium? trim ? $21,995.

The Botox is in the form of a suspension that is jacked up some 76 mm, which with taller 17-inch wheels, yields ground clearance of 221 mm. Subaru claims this is more than anything else in its class, and indeed more than the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The lipstick consists of a moderate application of body side cladding, different front and rear fascias, new machine-finished wheels, tinted ?privacy? glass all around, and some fresh new colours.

All of which help make a larger visual difference between Crosstrek and Impreza hatch than you?d think, given the body panels and glass shapes are the same.

Mechanically, Crosstrek is also nearly identical, but gets bigger front brakes, a rollover sensor, and revised (generally, lower) intermediate transmission ratios to compensate for the extra weight and aerodynamic drag caused by the increased frontal area.

That said, at 1,429 kg, Crosstrek is among the lightest vehicles in its class, by 40 to 120 kg, and its drag coefficient of 0.35 is roughly equal to the Nissan Juke, but lower than most others.

As it is, the U.S. EPA numbers suggest that Crosstrek?s 41.3 m.p.g. highway fuel economy (equivalent to 6.8 litres/100 km) will be best-in-class, better in fact than most competitors? front-wheel drive models.

Subaru says this should help dispel the widely held (and, it must be said, usually accurate) belief that four-wheel drive costs you more in fuel consumption.

Like all Subarus since the early 1990s (except the new BRZ sports car) XV Crosstrek is full-time four-wheel drive.

And like all Subarus with that same exception, you get a different four-wheel drive system depending on transmission.

Manual-gearshift vehicles use a viscous-coupled mechanical system with a fixed front/rear torque split of 50/50.

The Continuously-Variable Transmission (CVT), which is optional on Premium and standard on Limited brings with it the electronically-controlled centre differential which, based on road speed, throttle position and a variety of other inputs, can actually predict which axle will need more torque, and distributes it thus.

The engine is Subaru?s quite recent ?FB? flat-four, displacing 2.0 litres and featuring dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder with variable timing on both intake and exhaust to produce 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque.

Why not Direct Fuel Injection, as some competitors (and the BRZ) use?

Subaru says Crosstrek meets its fuel economy and performance targets without this expensive feature. They do have it in their hip pocket however, so if government standards and/or competitive pressures dictate, it could be added.

MacStrut front and multi-link rear suspensions are also Impreza-based, fine-tuned to the specific needs of this vehicle.

The full panoply of chassis electronics is on board, as is electric-assisted power steering. Subaru claims the Crosstrek negotiates the Consumers? Reports slalom test substantially quicker than any vehicle in its competitive set.

Inside, Crosstrek is again mostly Impreza, although the ?interior decorators? have been at work as well, providing new, tougher fabrics and a revised instrument cluster.

Like its sibling, Crosstrek?s front windshield pillars are as thin as possible, and designed so the cross sectional area is minimized, all in the quest for good front-side visibility.

The side-view mirrors are mounted on the doors rather than on those ?A-pillars,? allowing a small front quarter window ahead of them, again to the benefit of visibility.

We spent most of our time cruising about Oahu in a Limited trim level, in the ?launch colour? of Tangerine.

Limited comes standard with leather seats, and we all know how I feel about those.

The only thing on Limited that you might really want is the rear vision camera. Navigation is optional on both trims, as is a power sunroof.

As noted, the Limited comes only with the CVT, and frankly, there?s little reason not to choose this transmission. It is faster, quieter, and more fuel-efficient than the five-speed stick ? well worth the $1,300 or so extra it?ll cost as an option on Premium.

I haven?t driven an Impreza for some time, but the Crosstrek seemed considerably quieter than I remember. Wind- and road-noise are also well-controlled.

Performance is more than adequate ? the light weight surely helps here too.

Subaru says the XV Crosstrek is aimed at young, active, style- and fun-seeking types.

Subaru has data to show that, for example, their customers are four times more likely to be hikers, and three and a half times more likely to ride bicycles, so maybe they are on the right (off-road) track here.

There?s little doubt that the XV Crosstrek is stylish, capable, entertaining, safe, and fuel-efficient.

But then to a very similar degree, so is the ?donor? Impreza hatchback.

The question customers will have to answer is whether the added style and ground clearance of the XV Crosstrek are worth the added cost ? which, as of this writing, is yet to be quantified.

Given the burgeoning sales of similar small CUVs, especially in Canada, you?d have to like its chances.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

PRICE: (Estimated) Premium/Limited: $24, 295 / $28,000.

ENGINE: 2.0 litre horizontally-opposed four, dual overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing.

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

FUEL CONSUMPTION, City/Highway, l/100 km: U.S. EPA numbers, converted: five-speed manual ? 9.8/7.5; Continuously-Variable automatic Transmission (CVT): 9.0/6.8.

COMPETITION: Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Nissan Juke,

WHAT?S BEST: Most sophisticated four-wheel drive system in the industry at an affordable price; one of the best CVTs in the industry too; roomy, well-specced interior

WHAT?S WORST: Engine noisy in manual transmission models.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: Subaru has scored the highest owner loyalty of any mass-market manufacturer over the past five years (U.S. data), while about 60 per cent of sales in the last model year were to first-time Subie buyers.

  • Subaru?s on the right offroad with new Crosstrek
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