Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2016 Subaru Crosstrek

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

We here at have a place in our hearts for the Subaru Crosstrek (née XV Crosstrek) as this little scrapper from Japan has emerged victorious in not one, but two of our comprehensive subcompact crossover comparison tests.

The competition keeps lining ’em up, and the Subie keeps knocking ’em down.

The competition keeps lining ’em up, and the Subie keeps knocking ’em down. What gives? Let’s just say this jacked-up Impreza five-door hatch with the butch body cladding, wacky colour palette and funky alloys strikes a successful and agreeable balance. Indeed, the Crosstrek is not very fast and the CVT (continuously variable transmission) can whip up some droning in the engine bay, but it handles well, has good steering feel, is easy on the fuel, offers plenty of backseat room and spoils occupants with a decent ride and fine seats.

Factor in Subaru’s excellent full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive and you have the gift that keeps on giving. Having driven a winter-tire-shod Crosstrek through a blizzard, I can attest to its traction and confidence-inspiring stability. There’s a little rallying DNA in there too, as it’s not averse to being chucked sideways on occasion.

In the world of small crossovers, which is one of the fastest-growing market segments, the Subaru Crosstrek is an interesting specimen as it straddles the subcompact and compact categories. Now entering its fourth year, the 2016 Crosstrek crossover gets a few upgrades to keep it in the running.

So what’s new for 2016? Mechanically, nothing – the 2.0L boxer-four that makes 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque and five-speed manual or CVT carry forward. Which is fine. This is an eager drivetrain that, while not exceptionally powerful, gets the job done while returning good fuel economy.

Up front we get a slightly revised grille and front clip, the front bumper has been redesigned and the fog lights get “hockey stick” chrome accents. Updated headlight surrounds, too. The alloys have been redesigned, but thankfully stick close the funky originals. They just look cooler. All pretty subtle stuff.

The only really unsubtle thing is a new-for-2016 Hyper Blue paint. The other colour choices are Crystal Black Silica, Crystal White Pearl, Dark Grey Metallic, Desert Khaki, Ice Silver Metallic and Jasmine Green Metallic. Fans of the Tangerine Orange will be disappointed – that hue is discontinued.

There have been few tweaks to the cabin as well. All models get orange stitching throughout which perks things up considerably. There’s a new steering wheel with intuitive controls, more padding in the armrests, and new silver and gloss black trim. The Crosstrek’s stellar outward visibility is a welcome change from the increasingly claustrophobic interiors of most crossovers. Credit those thin A-pillars, cute quarter windows and mirrors that are mounted back a bit from the cornering sightlines.

The 2016 Subaru Crosstrek starts at $24,995 for the base Touring model. It comes with five-speed manual transmission, heated front seats, back up camera and a 6.2-inch touchscreen infotainment system with USB and Bluetooth streaming. Move up to the Sport Package ($26,995) and we get a sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear spoiler and HID headlights.

The $29,395 Limited adds leather, dual-zone climate control, aluminum pedals, powered foldable heated door mirrors with integrated turn signals and a 7-inch touchscreen with navigation.

Add $1,300 to any of these trims for the ‘Lineartronic’ CVT with paddle shifters. CVT-equipped Crosstreks also benefit from liquid-filled engine mounts and a more advanced AWD with an electronically controlled multi-plate transfer clutch, as opposed to the viscous-coupling limited-slip centre differential that comes with the manual transmission cars.

The slow-selling Crosstrek Hybrid is still available, and runs $30,495.

Optional on the Sport and Limited models for $2,500 is the Tech Package that bundles the CVT, proximity key with push-button start and cornering fog lights with Subaru’s impressive EyeSight driver assist system. It uses a stereo camera mounted at the top of the windshield to monitor what’s going on ahead, delivering pre-collision warning and braking, lane departure warning along with a well-calibrated adaptive cruise control featuring full stop capability. No blind spot warning, however.

For this 2016 Crosstrek media event, Subaru had us embarking on what it thinks the targeted demographic (25 to 39) might do on a weekend – negotiating a trendy West End Toronto neighbourhood, hitting the highway, and then playing on some scenic gravel roads.

The first tester is a top-trim Limited with Technology Package at $31,895. Last year, the Crosstrek benefitted from an intensive effort to quell road, engine and wind noise within the cabin. They added thicker windshield and side glass, thicker window sealers, foaming agents inside the cross rails and pillars, added sound insulation in the floor and wheel wells, and sound absorbing material in the roof trim.

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So our Limited feels suitably refined, and the 2016 interior upgrades, although subtle, make the cabin feel a bit more special. No complaints with the ergonomic – we get three big rotary HVAC controls and the 7-inch touchscreen with navigation is easy to navigate. Atop the dash is a digital screen displaying time, outside temperature, HVAC and trip computer info. The colourful graphics keep things cheery.

Next up is a fabric-seated Sport with Technology Package ($29,495) that takes us through a fairly extreme off-road exercise. You didn’t think Subaru was going let us get away with a few gravel roads did you? We worked our way through some muck, picked our way over a rock-strewn trail and forded a stream, in which the Subie folks had parked a Hyper Blue Crosstrek for our photographing pleasure.

Point taken. Should you wish to hammer the wilds, the Crosstrek is more than just a funky face. But more importantly, it’s an honest critter with no pretense, bags of character and an urge to please.

Pricing: 2016 Subaru Crosstrek
Touring: $24,995
Sport: $26,995
Sport with Technology Package: $29,495
Limited: $29,395
Limited with Technology Package: $31,895
Hybrid: $30,495