Silvio Calabi: Subaru hybridizes the XV Crosstrek

Silvio Calabi More Content Now
The 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid hatchback (here in Plasma Green Pearl) in its natural habitat. The mileage gains aren’t great, but this is America’s lowest-priced gas-electric 4X4. Subaru

Some Subarus are nearly cult cars, and since its arrival as a 2013 model the Crosstrek is becoming one of them. Never mind that the donor Impreza hatchback handles better on the road (because it sits lower), the butched-up and slightly raised Crosstrek seems to say, “I can wade through or claw over any nasty driving situations you throw me at”—to which the hybrid version now adds, “including those caused by Global Climate Disruption, which I care deeply about!”

Or maybe it just says, “If you need all-wheel drive and won’t spend a penny more than you absolutely have to on monthly payments or gas, I’m your car!” Either way, Subaru’s new-for-2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid can fill the bill.

Like all Subaru models except the BRZ sports coupe, the Crosstrek is all-wheel-drive all the time; it’s not a FW-driver whose rear wheels are called to duty only when disaster looms. Also like all Subarus, the Crosstrek has a compact, low-profile “boxer” engine, with horizontally opposed cylinders. However, piggybacked to its four-cylinder, 2.0-liter gas-burner, the Crosstrek Hybrid has a 10-kilowatt electric motor, which draws power from a similarly small battery pack at the rear. Together, both motors provide up to 160 horsepower and 163 pounds-feet of torque. If its batteries are topped up, the Crosstrek Hybrid can creep along under voltage alone, but not very far and not very fast.

Unlike the gas-only Crosstrek, the Hybrid also has stop-start; the gas engine shuts down automatically when it isn’t needed—at stop lights, for example—and then wakes up again when the driver hits the throttle or the electric generator has to be spun up. As in all hybrid cars, a computer decides from moment to moment which parts of the system have to drive the car or recharge the batteries, and the driver can keep an eye on what’s going on via a screen in the dashboard.

The result of all this technology is a modest increase in fuel economy ratings, from the gas-only Crosstrek’s 25/33/28 mpg (city/highway/combined) to the Hybrid’s 29/33/31 mpg. That’s with Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission in both cars; the non-electrified Crosstrek can be had with a five-speed manual transmission that provides more driving satisfaction but isn’t quite so fuel-efficient.

According to the car’s own calculations, our overall score was 33 mpg—achieved with no extended highway driving, in summer weather with the air-conditioning on.

This is a fine number for a “right-sized” two-row, all-wheel-drive wagon of high repute that can accommodate kids and dogs, camping gear and groceries, surfboards and mountain bikes (on the roof), and has a starting price of just $26,820.

The trouble is, the Crosstrek Hybrid feels like it should cost even less than that. Despite its considerable mass (3,500 pounds!), it’s a bit Lego-ish. Acceleration is modest at best, and the extra torque of the electric motor arrives late to the party. The shift paddles on the steering wheel let the driver do his part, but the CV transmission drones or whines noisily. The stop-start feature is unnoticeable when it shuts off the engine, but every restart sends a shudder throughout the car. For that matter, all the transitions, from go to stop and back to go, coasting or accelerating, are awkward. The drivetrain abruptly telegraphs its choices of gas or electricity, and the brakes seem to be continually trying to decide between friction and power regeneration. The Crosstrek Hybrid is Subaru’s very first gas-electric vehicle, and they’ve got some catching-up to do.

Subaru surely will make good, as it already has elsewhere. Suspension and steering improvements make the 2014 Hybrid corner better and track straighter than last year’s gas-only Crosstrek. Subaru also has added more insulation, thicker panels and upgrades such as liquid-filled motor mounts and a new steering damper to the Hybrid, to tame noise and vibration. Crank the comfortable seat up all the way, and the driving position is very good, with excellent views down to the ground in front and all around, even past the A-pillars.

Subaristas took to the 2013 Crosstrek in droves. They’ll probably love this Hybrid too, and embrace its flaws as a reminder that they’re driving something special.


- Small outside, big inside

- Full-time 4X4

- Gas mileage


- First-gen hybrid drivetrain

- Motel interior

- Weak sound system

Silvio Calabi reviews the latest from Detroit, Munich, Yokohama, Gothenburg, Crewe, Seoul and wherever else interesting cars are born. Silvio is a member of the International Motor Press Association whose automotive reviews date back to the Reagan administration. He is the former publisher of Speedway Illustrated magazine and an author. Contact him at