Off-road brand’s smallest SUV has a new name. Does it have new qualities too?

Why we’re running it: To see if this capable new crossover can be more than just a niche product

Month 1 - Specs

Life with a Subaru Crosstrek: Month 1

Welcoming the Crosstrek to the fleet - 1 May 2024

Appearances can be deceptive. At a glance, the new Crosstrek looks like any other compact family crossover - a new rival for the Qashqai, perhaps?

But while the big-selling Nissan starts at a shade over £27,000, the cheapest Subaru is more than £34,000. No wonder, you might respond, the company sells so few cars here. "We're a niche manufacturer and proud of it," says Subaru UK.

That's all well and good when all you're selling is quirky oddities such as the Forester (driven, p27), but Subaru hopes to sell a million cars worldwide this year, and while not very many of those sales are likely to be in the UK, the first quarter of 2024 was the Japanese firm's best since before the pandemic and the graph is looking decidedly positive.

In Britain, the Subaru brand still has plenty of leftover cachet from its rallying exploits with Colin McRae, Richard Burns et al, and the Crosstrek (née XV, now wearing the badge it has always carried in North America) has the potential to take it slightly more mainstream, even if it is still attracting buyers with a far more rigorous list of 'must-haves' than the norm.

Key among those will be 4WD. All Subarus now have it, as will those in the future, and the traces of the old Impreza you can see in the Crosstrek's shape are no accident, because the two share much under the skin (a sixth generation of the family hatchback has been on sale abroad since early 2023).

And when you factor in that symmetrical, permanent 4WD system, and the fact that all versions are pretty generously loaded with kit, it looks competitively priced against rivals such as the Mazda CX-30 and Skoda Karoq.

The Limited is anything but, and all my £2000-pricier Touring adds is 18in rather than 17in wheels, black rather than grey door mirrors, high-beam assistance and an electric tilt-slide sunroof.

That last item is a pleasingly retro affair, with a flimsy manually operated cover that reminds me of my dad's 1986 Rover 820i, but it really does brighten up the interior, which is fairly unremittingly black otherwise - albeit clearly very well screwed together.

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The sunroof isn't the only throwback inside: if you're the sort of person (and I count myself among their number) who bemoans the ever-increasing number of touch-sensitive - or, far too often, insensitive - controls in modern machinery, this car is for you.

There is a touchscreen for the infotainment, and a pretty good one at that, increased from 8.0in in the old XV to 11.6in here, but elsewhere there are lots of traditional switches, some even making an old-school click-clack sound.

Indeed, a sense of no-nonsense practicality pervades. The interior is surprisingly roomy for what isn't a huge car and the back seats in particular feel spacious (at 6ft 3in, I can sit behind the driver's seat when it's set up for me), although the rear seatbacks are very short and head room is rather at a premium. 

Space is even more limited in the boot: the battery for Subaru's e-Boxer hybrid system sits under the floor, so there's no extra storage and it's pretty shallow, leading to a meagre 315 litres with the seats up.

In the front, however, the seats are really comfortable, with an odd blend of sitting fairly high, due to the jacked-up suspension, but deeply set within the car.

Comfort levels are further augmented by the ride, which Subaru has worked hard on to make this car well tuned for road use without compromising the marque's famed off-road ability.

There's 10% more torsional rigidity than in the old XV, and that's more than mere PR guff: open the rear doors and you will see secondary latches at the base of each to anchor them to the body.

So it's stiffer and smoother-riding than before, as well as 150kg lighter, which should further aid its ability in the rough stuff, as well as giving a marginal improvement in fuel efficiency.

So far, it hasn't exactly blown me away on that score, with mainly town driving resulting in an average MPG in the low-30s - to be fair, not far behind Subaru's own WLTP figures.

That's because the 'hybrid' bit is a touch misleading: this isn't a plug-in or a proper self-charging hybrid with a large battery pack but very much a 'mild' hybrid.

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Its 0.57kWh battery will give a couple of hundred yards of fully electric running, but the petrol engine swiftly kicks back in and more often the battery power is being deployed under acceleration.

Ah yes, acceleration. Time to address the elephant in the room, which is the standard Lineartronic CVT. This is a boon for off-road work but can make on-road driving and in particular meaningful acceleration - a laborious affair.

Yet it didn't take me too long to work out how it prefers to be deployed and to drive around its compromises, letting the motor chip in with its 16bhp and 49lb ft of torque (much needed, with only 134bhp and 134lb ft from the normally aspirated 2.0-litre flat four) to get me up to speed.

It's simply a case of tuning into - and enjoying - a slightly less hurried pace of life. First impressions, then, are of a flawed but very likeable family car - a conclusion that makes it look like a bit of an expensive indulgence.

But so far it has spent its time with the trundling to and from work on the outskirts of London, so I haven't yet had a chance to really dip into its talent pool. I'm looking forward to rectifying that situation in the very near future.

Second Opinion

The Crosstrek’s well-mannered, pleasant-riding suspension surprised me. With something that has genuine offroad ability, I expected a fairly rough and ready on-road compromise, but Subaru’s claimed fine-detail tuning work really is apparent. The hybrid powertrain is less impressive, particularly when you work it a bit. With such a chassis, this car certainly deserves something more enticing. An atmo flat six, maybe? If only… 

Matt Saunders

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Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i E-Boxer Touring specification

Specs: Price New £36,290 Price as tested £36,290 Options

Test Data: Engine 4 cyls horizontally opposed, 1995cc, petrol, plus 48V hybrid assist Power 134bhp at 5600rpm Torque 134lb ft at 4000rpm Kerb weight 1630kg Top speed 123mph 0-62mph 10.8sec Fuel economy 36.8mpg CO2 174g/km Faults None Expenses None

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Marc 28 May 2024
I'm convinced the Subaru import concession is a tax write off for the IM Group, there's no way this can be profitable.