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First Drive: 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid Shows its Stuff

By Jack R. Nerad, Executive Editorial Director, KBB.com on November 11, 2013 3:45 PM
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It makes all the sense in the world that Subaru should offer a hybrid in its lineup, and it further makes sense that the hybrid the company offers should be a crossover with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive, since that has been a sweetspot of success for the company in the United States. Now just such a vehicle has arrived in the form of the XV Crosstrek Hybrid, which is based on the relatively recently introduced and highly popular gasoline-powered XV Crosstrek crossover model.  To give us the opportunity to drive the new hybrid in the toughest conditions imaginable, Subaru invited us to join Expedition Iceland, and the story detailing our adventures can be accessed by clicking here

These days the American market is filled with hybrids, but there are relatively few crossover-hybrids, largely based on the thinking if a consumer wants a hybrid that consumer will also want stratospheric fuel economy, something impossible to achieve while retaining off-road capabilities, substantial cargo-carrying capacity and the typically tall, boxy crossover profile.  But Subaru execs decided that its buyers would trade a few mpg for some real off-highway versatility.  The result is the XV Crosstrek Hybrid and it is expected to deliver 29 mpg (city) and 33 mpg (highway) with a combined number of 31 mpg.  That makes it the most fuel-efficient crossover currently sold in America, but it's a long way from joining the 40 mpg club.

Keeping Capabilities Intact

With the XV Crosstrek Hybrid the emphasis was put solidly on retaining the model's on- and off-road capabilities and, if anything, sharpening them both. So the vehicle offers more total power, tauter steering and the same low center of gravity, while gaining 304 pounds in added hybrid-related equipment. With the addition of the 13.4-horsepower permanent-magnet AC synchronous electric drive motor, the total peak power delivery is 160 horsepower, which tops the 148 horsepower of the gasoline-powered XV Crosstrek.  Acceleration is similar to the gasoline version, but the advantage comes in the form of a much broader and flatter torque curve, and that became very apparent as we battled the terrain in Iceland. 

Even the 2.0-liter Subaru BOXER engine has been upgraded with a slightly higher compression ratio (10.8:1 versus 10.5:1), some steps to reduce internal friction and auto stop-start. Typically the electric motor, which is integrated into the Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, will take care of initial acceleration. The electric motor also provides assist for efforts like hill-climbing when added torque and horsepower are desirable.  In steady-state cruising, however, the electric motor goes incognito, because it is more efficient to cruise gasoline-only in that mode. Though the CVT doesn't offers conventional gears, it does include a manual mode with steering wheel paddles to engage specific gear ratios, and we found this help in the snow and muck we encountered in Iceland.

Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive is Useful

We also found Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive exceptionally useful in combination with the XV Crosstrek Hybrid's 8.7 inches of ground clearance and high-mounted air intakes.  In the quest to retain the full off-road capabilities of the gasoline XV Crosstrek, Subaru engineers included the Active Torque Split version of Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive that sends torque to the four wheels at all times. The sophisticated but driver-transparent system adjusts torque distribution in response to acceleration, cornering and road conditions, so you don't have to determine whether you should put the system into low range, for example. Of course, it also doesn't have a conventional 4x4's extreme low range, nor does the XV Crosstrek offer genuine off-road-style approach and departure angles.  Over the course of our several days in very challenging conditions, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid conquered an impressive array of terrains. But even with all its technical sophistication it couldn't overcome physical barriers like snow so deep that it overwhelmed the vehicle's 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Perhaps its most impressive capability was its ability to ford rivers with flowing water as deep as mid-door.

If you want to maintain the highest level of off-road and snow-and-ice capabilities in your XV Crosstrek, you should consider replacing the standard low-rolling-resistance tires with stouter, more rugged tires. That's what Subaru did for the Iceland expedition, and even then the sharp, volcanic rocks of the arctic country ripped through several tires in the group. 

Designed to Score in MPG

The low-rolling-resistance tires on aerodynamic alloy wheels and the Active Grille Shutter, which is exclusive to North America, were included on the spec sheet to help the XV Crosstrek Hybrid score well on fuel economy. They accomplish that but are vulnerable in severe off-road situations.  Based on how we expect the XV Crosstrek Hybrid to be used, though, they seem worthwhile additions. Another fuel economy-oriented tweak is the temperature and humidity sensor on the air conditioner to reduce the engine power required.  The electric power steering also offers that benefit, and its ratio has been quickened versus the gasoline version. 

Somehow Subaru engineers managed to wedge in all the hybrid components while still retaining the passenger room of the gasoline-only model. A 100.8 V, 13.5 kW nickel-metal hydride battery, with 0.6 kWh capacity, is located under a revised rear floor area. Because of this the floor under the hatchback is raised slightly, but with the rear seatbacks folded the cargo space drops a mere 1.7 cubic feet to 50.2 cubic feet. With rear seatbacks up the space is 21.5 cubic feet, down only marginally from the gasoline version. The rear cargo area is outfitted with a standard cover, a removable waterproof cargo tray, tie-down hooks and grocery bag hooks. As befitting Subaru buyers' active lifestyles, a number of accessories are available for the standard roof rails for carrying items such as bicycles and kayaks.

With all this talk of utility what must be mentioned is the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a "looker." As the top-of-the-line Crosstrek, it is blessed with LED combination rear lights, the aforementioned "aero" wheels, chrome door handles and HYBRID badges, enabling its owners to look askance at the gasoline-version owners. It also comes in a new Plasma Green Pearl color that is hybrid-only.

Inside a serene blue color scheme gives a sense of peace to the instrument cluster. In keeping with its top-of-line positioning the XV Crosstrek Hybrid includes all the standard equipment included on the XV Crosstrek Premium model and adds an automatic climate control system, multi-function display, body-color foldable side mirrors with integral turn signals, leather-wrapped steering wheel with silver stitching and keyless access and start. The upgrade is the XV Crosstrek Hybrid Touring model that adds a touch-screen navigation system, leather-trimmed seating and a power moonroof. Of all these the most notable is the color multi-function display that shows off the hybrid system's various energy flows, always a crowd-pleaser. 

After three long days behind the wheel of the Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid in the most challenging of conditions, (see Trip Diary) we came away very impressed by its all-around capabilities.  It offers very good fuel economy - tops in its class - plus remarkable versatility and off-highway capability.  It's not quite a "go-anywhere" vehicle, but for the uses its buyers will put it to, we think it's a perfect choice.

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