Subaru was once the King of Quirk, offering charmingly weird all-wheel-drive conveyances to the eccentric fringe.
Those days are gone, and the brand’s steady march to the mainstream continues unabated. However, if there’s one vehicle in the Subie stable that still flies well left of centre – in a very good way – it’s the Crosstrek. Call it what you will; a compact hatchback on its tippy toes, or even a bona fide off-road hiking shoe with wheels. Just don’t call it normal.
Essentially a jacked-up Impreza hatchback with butch body cladding, an interesting colour palette, and funky alloy wheels, the Crosstrek strikes a successful and agreeable balance. It looks cheerful and fun, and its eager disposition is mirrored in the way it drives. New for 2020 on the Sport and Limited are LED steering responsive headlights, and this Limited also gets dressed in 18-inch alloys (up from 17s), chrome door handles, and a chrome grille accent. The flashy Pure Red paint on this tester (new for 2020) adds to its perky appeal.
If you pay attention to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) ratings, you’ll be aware of Subaru’s consistently high scores. The 2020 Crosstrek falls in line here, garnering Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS and a five-star rating from NHTSA. The strength and calculated crumple zones of the platform the Crosstrek is built on are augmented by the EyeSight safety suite (pre-collision braking, pre-collision brake assist, pre-collision throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane-centring assist, lane-departure warning, lane-sway warning, lane-keep assist, and lead vehicle start alert) that’s standard on all models with a continuously variable transmissions (CVT).
Also standard is a collision-detection door unlock function. Added to this in the Limited are blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, and an effective high-beam assist. We can also add excellent outward visibility and logical (read: non-distracting) ergonomics to the Crosstrek’s safety assets.
There are other subcompact SUVs on the market that offer more outright cargo space, but for most, this high-riding compact station wagon (yes, I’m calling it a station wagon) will be plenty roomy. Behind the second row we find a useful 588 L, although the sloping roofline limits taller items. The 60/40 second-row seat easily folds down via a pair of pull-up knobs, creating an almost flat floor and freeing up 1,565 L of load space. All Crosstrek models get raised profile roof rails. Storage space up front is a bit stingy; the door pockets and centre console cubby are not very deep or long.
Rough terrain should be easily dispatched with the Crosstrek’s clever full-time all-wheel-drive, 220 mm ground clearance and, in CVT models, X-Mode that features hill descent control along with modifications to throttle, brakes, and stability control to maximize traction on slippery surfaces.
User Friendliness: 9/10
The 2020 Subaru Crosstrek is an easy vehicle to quickly get comfortable with. Its raised ride height eases ingress and egress, and once seated, drivers are presented with an ergonomic layout that promotes quick learning and safe operation. Outward visibility in all directions is impressive. The illuminated gauge cluster is visible in all lighting conditions and the glove-friendly toggle switches for seat heat controls are handily located just aft of the shifter, as is the button for selecting X-Mode.
The touchscreen infotainment system is logical and easily learned, and graphics are colourful and clear. There’s a trio of big rotary knobs for HVAC controls along with volume and radio tuning knobs. Excellent.
The Limited benefits from a host of kit in addition to its comprehensive safety features. Exclusive to this top trim level are 18-inch alloys, an eight-inch infotainment system with navigation, and a decent-sounding Harman Kardon eight-speaker audio system. Other trims make do with either a 6.5-inch touchscreen or an eight-inch unit sans nav, though all get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality.
The stylish and nicely rendered cabin is spruced up with carbon-look door trim and black leather with orange stitching. The Limited also gets dual-zone climate control and a heated steering wheel, neither of which are available in the lower trim levels.
All Crosstrek models are powered by a 2.0L naturally aspirated flat-four cylinder making a modest 152 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. While the Crosstrek Convenience, Touring, and Sport can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, the Limited is only fitted with a CVT that also comes with the more sophisticated electronically controlled centre transfer clutch.
The Crosstrek, in any of its iterations, is not a car to be hurried. By the measure of most of its competitors, its acceleration is pretty lethargic – once past the initial throttle tip-in that is actually quite touchy. The engine sounds laboured too when calling for some giddy-up, not helped by the CVT that keeps droning while the car plays catch-up. There are paddle shifters that toggle between the eight “virtual gears” with all the immediacy of the best dual-clutch transmissions, but the ultimate lack of grunt makes it a pointless pursuit.
Power is, however, adequate for most day-to-day driving; it’s mainly highway merging and passing where the lack of urge is most notable. So the Crosstrek is not a hot hatch. This characteristic is hardly a deal-breaker, and I quite enjoy its relaxed pace and resulting impressive fuel economy.
The little Subie scores well is this department. The front seats are well contoured, providing reassuring support along with long-distance comfort. Its ace-in-the-hole is a compliant ride, no doubt helped by the longer suspension travel of its jacked-up stance. Compared to the other players in this subcompact crossover segment, the Crosstrek’s ride is downright plush, absorbing most road irregularities with minimal fuss, drama, or unwanted noise. Body control is good too; no wallowing on undue float, and it takes whatever’s thrown at it in stride.
The dual-zone climate control delivered consistent and even heat, and the bi-level front seat heaters are well calibrated; a warm glow or quick relief from the cold are a rocker-tip away.
Driving Feel: 8/10
The 2020 Subaru Crosstrek provides a pleasant driving experience. The handling feels safe and secure, and while there is some body lean, you wouldn’t be remiss in calling this crossover sporty. The steering has a nice direct feel, and the car responds in kind with alertness and a general sense of puppy-like eagerness. There’s a pleasing dynamic cohesiveness here that suggests some of Subaru’s rally heritage has carried through in the genes.
Highway manners are good, too. The Crosstrek tracks straight and true with minimal wind noise.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) rates the 2020 Subaru Crosstrek Limited at 8.5 L/100 km city, 7.0 L/100 km highway and 7.9 L/100 km combined, making it one of the most fuel-efficient in the segment. Real-world experience bears that out. My week of admittedly relaxed driving – with a high percentage of that being on secondary roads – netted an impressive 7.7 L/100 km.
The 2020 Crosstrek, in any of its iterations, represents good value when factoring in its standard full-time all-wheel drive and comprehensive EyeSight safety suite. Stepping up to this Limited, at $33,895 before freight and fees, nets a host of comfort/convenience features and further safety systems that have this practical wagon knocking on the door of near-luxury.
Many complain that cars don’t have much character these days. Consider the Crosstrek to be an antidote – and here character does not equate to compromise. No, it can’t accommodate quite as much cargo as others in the segment, but remember the Crosstrek is a butchified compact hatch/wagon and not an SUV. With that in mind, the Crosstrek’s car-like demeanour and impressive ride quality blend with its go-anywhere capability, utility, and general sense of funky fun to forge a highly appealing, and yes, characterful package.
|152 hp @ 6,000 rpm
|145 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
|8.5 / 7.0 / 7.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
|588 / 1,565 L seats down
|2020 Subaru Crosstrek Limited with EyeSight
|Price as Tested