As high fuel prices loom large on the minds of SUV shoppers, the market continues its steady shift towards smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. Until recently, buyers who desired an SUV with car-like fuel economy and ample levels of utility were forced to choose a vehicle from the hotly-contested compact SUV segment. Though their name suggests otherwise, today's compact SUVs seem to grow larger every year. This perpetual swelling spawned a new breed of small SUVs that actually live up to their namesake. Small SUVs like the Nissan Juke and Kia Sportage have quickly captured a sizable chunk of market share on account of their agile nature, quirky good looks and practicality. Subaru acknowledged this trend and responded with the all-new 2013 XV Crosstrek.
Built atop the latest Impreza platform, the 5-passenger Subaru XV Crosstrek is decidedly smaller than the popular Outback, but offers plenty of room for four adults or two and a mound of gear. The XV Crosstrek also shares its powertrain and interior design with the Impreza, which begs the question: Why not opt for the more affordable 5-door Impreza instead? The answer lies in the Crosstrek's superior versatility and off-road proficiency.
While the outgoing Impreza Outback Sport offered little in the way of off-road competency, the new Subaru XV Crosstrek was designed to be driven on all types of terrain. Greatly aiding the Crosstrek's off-road capability is a beefed-up suspension system that sits nearly three inches higher than the 5-door Impreza. The raised suspension and larger 17-inch wheel-and-tire setup combine to create an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance - the same as a 4x2 Nissan Pathfinder. Since "towing capacity" is a term missing from the Impreza's vocabulary, the Crosstrek features an upgraded radiator and larger brakes for respectable 1,500-pound tow rating.
Though we were never given -- or sought -- the chance to test the 2013 Crosstrek's towing abilities, we did put its proclaimed off-road talents to the test. Journeying through the tight, undulating dirt roads of Oahu's famous Kualoa Ranch served as a formidable challenge to the 2013 XV Crosstrek, but it made quick work of the slippery grades, water crossings and lengthy stretches of rough soil we encountered along the way. Subaru's renowned symmetrical all-wheel-drive worked so well, we can't recall a single instance of traction loss, that is, when we weren't deliberately trying to spin the wheels.
Acceleration, however, is rather underwhelming, and the 145-horsepower 4-cylinder was fighting for its life when faced with the daunting task of hauling four full-size journalists around town. The 2.0-liter boxer engine can be matched with the standard - and less efficient -5-speed manual or a gearless continuously variable transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The small displacement, low output powerplant does fare well in the mpg department, and it rewarded our mellow driving habits with fuel economy in the high 30's (EPA-estimated 25/33 city/highway for CVT-equipped models).
For a starting price of $21,995 plus destination and delivery charges, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek in Premium trim includes such niceties as alloy wheels, heated seats and a 6-speaker stereo with Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Stepping up to the Limited grade adds automatic climate control, leather, a moonroof and a touch screen audio system with a rear backup camera. Expect the Subaru XV Crosstrek to hit showrooms floors in September.