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Twenty-five years ago, few Subaru devotees would have expected a car like this week’s road test subject – the third-generation Subaru Crosstrek (née XV) – to become this enduringly interesting and determinedly alternative brand’s biggest-selling model.

And yet it is. Last year, around 40% of Subaru’s (admittedly modest) share of the European market was accounted for by the car we have known as the XV for two full model generations, since its first appearance on our roads in 2012. Now, however, the model’s North American market identity becomes its global one and so, to us at least, XV becomes Crosstrek.

Although the once-celebrated Impreza briefly returned to UK showrooms towards the end of the last decade, this car has become Subaru’s de facto smallest and most affordable model. Sharing the same platform as the Impreza hatchback, it has a hybridised flat-four petrol engine and clutch-based permanent ‘symmetrical’ four-wheel drive.

You could hardly find a better embodiment of what makes Subaru so different from other car makers than this Crosstrek: a rugged but otherwise regular hatchback with plenty of ground clearance, and both a chassis and driveline optimised for off-road use, in a market where many people buy large SUVs and drive them only on Tarmac.

However, on behalf of those who’d prefer the functionality, rather than the size and space, of an off-roader, the Autocar road test will now explore the compact off-roader done differently.

The range at a glance

Model Power From
2.0 Limited 134bhp £34,290

The Crosstrek UK showroom line-up is about as simple as it could be: one engine and transmission, and two trims.

Back to top

The upper level (Touring) adds 18in alloy wheels, high-beam-assist headlights, gearshift paddles, black-painted door mirror caps and a sunroof to the lower one’s equipment list. Entry-level Limited, which is fairly well stocked anyway, brings LED headlights, privacy glass, 11.6in multimedia and EyeSight driver assistance technology.


subari crosstrek review 2024 02 panning

This third-generation Crosstrek is the sibling of the sixth-generation Impreza hatchback that was first shown towards the end of 2022.

Like that Impreza, it uses an updated, reinforced and stiffened version of the Subaru Global Platform architecture, which is all-steel and 10% more torsionally rigid than the old chassis, as well as a little lighter.

Subaru calls its latest design language, as evidenced by this car, 'Dynamic X Solid' (which I'm pretty sure I completed on Sega Dreamcast in 1999). At any rate, this is a punchier-looking car than the old XV and it benefits from the extra visual aggression

At a whisker under 4.5 metres long, this car sits among the European market’s larger but more conventional family hatchbacks (Honda Civic, Skoda Octavia etc) in terms of length, but at 1600mm in height once you account for its standard roof bars, it’s a good 200mm taller than plenty.

Part of that is explained by Subaru’s particular suspension specification for the car. The Crosstrek gets extra-long coil springs that put some 220mm of ground clearance below its all-independent axles (struts up front, double wishbones at the rear). This is more than many mid- and full-sized SUVs offer, at least until they get into the more technically rarefied territory of air suspension. A Kia Xceed, by way of comparison, has 184mm of ground clearance.

While other markets are offered more powerful petrol and plug-in hybrid options, the Crosstrek comes to Europe powered exclusively by Subaru’s now-familiar e-Boxer mild-hybrid powerplant. This teams a 2.0-litre atmospheric flat-four petrol engine with a modest electric drive motor, itself contributing up to 16bhp and 49lb ft into the driveline and drawing power from a lithium ion battery with a capacity of a little under 600Wh.

It’s a hybrid solution that Subaru chose for its lightness and space efficiency, as well as how quickly it can recover energy both on and off road (though there is no driver-selectable EV running mode). It drives all four wheels through a system that distributes torque 60:40, front to rear, under normal running conditions (ie it doesn’t wait for either axle to lose traction before ‘becoming’ four-wheel drive) and can adjust to send more than 50% of it to either axle as necessary. All of that, in tandem with the standard-fit mud and snow tyres, makes this car suited for light off-roading like few others of its size and price.

The hybrid system is rated for 134bhp and 134lb ft – in both cases, less than the outgoing XV e-Boxer offered. Some careful recalibration of the car’s standard-fit Lineartronic continuously variable transmission (CVT) means there’s no significant compromise to its on-paper performance, but that still leaves the car looking a bit underpowered compared with key rivals.

Meanwhile, the Crosstrek’s wider design has been refined, with what seems like Subaru’s characteristic attention to detail. While it may look like the same old XV, the Crosstrek has a rear windscreen wiper with a wiping range extended by 45mm; up front, it has an extra, third washer nozzle for the windscreen (working, not least, in support of the car’s predominantly camera-based active safety systems); and it has a cabin that offers much improved comfort and refinement.

Technical layout

The Crosstrek shares the Subaru Global Platform chassis with the Impreza hatch, although it has been made more rigid as part of the latest-generation update. A Subaru-typical flat four mounts longways up front, with a 48V motor downstream of the transmission. Both drive all four wheels via a clutch-based permanent four-wheel drive torque split. Weight was distributed 60% front, 40% rear.


subari crosstrek review 2024 11 infotinament

Subaru claims to have put in a lot of detailed work to optimise the new Crosstrek’s driving position, to make a few crucial centimetres of extra room around the driver’s extremities and to refine the design of the seat so that it not only supports you but also better protects you against head toss on the move.

The car certainly offers plenty of front-row leg room and decent head room, in a driving position that seems only slightly hiked once you are settled in and not especially SUV-like. Visibility is very good in all directions, however, thanks to a good-sized glasshouse and rear window, and modestly sized pillars.

The 11.6in portrait multimedia system is decent and fairly well featured, even if the graphics and fonts make it look like something Geordi La Forge should have operated.

The cabin ambience is typical of Subaru but unlike most European hatchbacks in its preference for little nests of physical switchgear wherever you look. It’s a practical approach, because it makes the heated seats, climate control, mirrors and trip computer so easy to manage. It does lend a rather antiquated look to the Crosstrek’s interior, which the analogue instruments and curious 1990s-era fonts and graphics of the 11.6in infotainment system only echo.

Then again, to those who are emphatically turned off by the incrementally more reductive design and digitisation of modern passenger car cabins, this one might be very welcome indeed.

Material quality levels are typically respectable, although Subaru’s attempts to add richness with grey synthetic finishes fall a bit flat, and fail to outshine the pretty hardy but also plain and uninviting plastics. There is no doubt that you wouldn’t find yourself here in search of ‘premium sophistication’.

Further to the rear, the second-row seats are fairly roomy: we measured 40mm more typical leg room than is offered by an eighth-generation Volkswagen Golf, though marginally less head room. Boot space is quite generous by hatchback class standards in terms of loading length and width, but it’s a bit shallow (there is no underfloor storage area because of how the car’s hybrid system is packaged).

Multimedia system

The Crosstrek features Subaru’s latest 11.6in portrait-oriented Starlink touchscreen infotainment system as standard. It comes with factory navigation only if you opt for Touring specification, but since wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto are included, you might well be able to live with that omission.

The software is responsive enough and fairly well laid out. However, given Subaru’s diligence about easy usability elsewhere in this car, we’re surprised it doesn’t have some sort of physical cursor controller for it.

The system makes driver assistance functions fairly accessible. Our biggest gripe with it is probably how curiously dated its graphics and fonts are, taking rather too much inspiration from 1990s-era science fiction for some testers, although they certainly made a change.


subaru crosstreck review 2024 15 engine

Although it narrowly bettered Subaru’s own standing-start acceleration claim (0-60mph in 10.4sec as tested versus 0-62mph in 10.8sec), the Crosstrek wouldn’t fool anyone into believing it was any kind of energetic performer.

Aside from being around 20-30% slower than what we might refer to as the £35k hatchback class standard, this car gives the perception that it’s even slower at times because of the way its transmission works. But does that matter, given the Crosstrek is engineered for such specific dual-purpose use? If you are regularly going off the Tarmac, you might just be minded to forgive it.

I’m still a sucker for off-road meters in anything that needs them – even when, strictly speaking, it doesn’t. The Crosstrek tells you exactly how hard it’s rolling and/or climbing even when you’re only negotiating an M25 slip road

The CVT actually shows some subjective signs of improvement on refinement, driver engagement and all-round drivability on the road, while it functions very well off it.

That it can’t work any miracles is apparent in the figures we recorded. The Crosstrek does feel like a slightly underpowered car when you want it to make brisk progress, particularly when you’re using the transmission’s manual gear selection mode. Here, the lower intermediate ratios are made to feel unusually tall, while the driveline itself seems capable of swallowing fairly large applications of mid-range torque without showing much added forward urgency. 

We measured 50-70mph in ‘third’ – prime overtaking territory – in 8.4sec (a VW Golf 1.5 eTSI takes just 4.3sec), but here we must allow for a transmission that’s being asked to work differently from how it is designed to when ‘locked in gear’.

When the gearbox is left in D, while it revs a little stratospherically through first and second gears and only takes on a more normal way of working through its ‘ratios’ from third upwards from about 50mph, the car isn’t quite as slow as that performance differential suggests.

That’s because, in getting you from A to B in normal daily driving, the Crosstrek has respectable roll-on performance. It isn’t assertive or sporty; it isn’t characterful or idiosyncratic, as Subaru flat fours used to be; and it isn’t particularly efficient either. On the road, the hybrid system merely does a job.

The car’s electromechanical brake servo can be a little irksome, making the pedal especially grabby when the car is cold. But it improves thereafter, and permits the car stopping distances that, considering its tyre specification, are respectable enough.

Off-road notes

The Crosstrek isn’t blessed with Land Rover-beating off-road angles and fairly obviously isn’t a car for the kind of rock crawling or sand duning that some 4x4 enthusiasts engage in.

And yet this is a genuinely able car on the muddy gravel tracks and slippery climbs for which it is intended. The X-Mode traction control system has separate settings for on-road use, and then specifically for mud and dirt, or deep mud and snow.

The off-road modes work only below about 20mph, but the difference they make – to prime the transmission to keep revving and delivering really useful and consistent torque levels when climbing at those lower speeds, for instance, or to more pre-emptively change the front-to-rear torque distribution – gives the Crosstrek a remarkably sure-footed feel on loose surfaces.

Our test car scaled a wet, muddy 35% incline on Millbrook’s off-road course without struggling for a second.


subari crosstrek review 2024 26 front cornering

A new dual-pinion power steering system developed for the latest Subaru WRX performance car is among the mechanical content just added to the Crosstrek, whose mission it is to reduce on-centre friction and make the handling feel a little more precise. 

On a car with a fairly high centre of gravity and dual-purpose rubber, as it should surprise nobody to read, it doesn’t make for transformative dynamic progress. And yet there’s no doubt that the Crosstrek could easily stand more power.

It does indeed steer with appealingly consistent, medium-heavy weight and moderate pace, gripping the road securely without rolling to particular extremes, and developing as much traction as the powertrain needs as it exits tighter bends without washing into understeer (even if, regrettably, that really isn’t very much).

There is, in short, just a suggestion of the Subaru driver’s cars of 20 years ago about the way this car tips in, settles, shoulders around and then securely drives its way through corners. Likewise about the way that its suspension combines generous wheel travel with progressive damping and good vertical body control.

Not enough, sadly, to make the Crosstrek worth seeking out by keener drivers. But enough to remind you, just, of the kind of brand that its maker used to be – without making this car any more demanding to drive than it needs to be to those who couldn’t care less about Colin McRae or the World Rally Championship of the 1990s (which, it should be remembered, are the far more important cohort).

Comfort & Isolation

Subaru claims to have consulted medical professionals in order to target specific kinds of noise and vibration that cause bodily stress and fatigue, and then tune them out of the Crosstrek. The seats, it says, produce 44% less ‘head sway’ than the outgoing XV’s, while the touring refinement is subject to up to 50% less ‘sound pressure’ in specific frequency bands.

On the road, you would be unlikely to identify those kinds of incremental improvements – because this car is neither whisper-quiet nor cossetingly smooth. And yet it does have a fairly settled, steady, quiet ride that neatly escapes the animated pitch, toss and heave one might expect of a jacked-up hatchback.

There’s enough suppleness to absorb most A- and B-road inputs without disturbing the cabin. And although those mud and snow tyres don’t make for a secondary ride as hushed as solely road-based rubber might, they don’t seem to compromise refinement levels significantly.

Indeed, the 62dBA our decibel meter recorded in the cabin at a 50mph cruise compares quite flatteringly with fairly close rivals (VW Golf 1.5 eTSI 64dBA; Honda HR-V e:HEV 64dBA; Mercedes-Benz A200 AMG Line 64dBA).

That’s all for as long as the CVT powertrain is operating at low revs, needless to say – which, at least if you’re keen to get where you’re going – it doesn’t always do. That apart, though, Subaru deserves credit for making what you might expect to be quite a rough-edged car decently well mannered.


subari crosstrek review 2024 01 front tracking

Given its niche positioning, the Crosstrek isn’t the sort of car that needs an especially competitive price to appeal to those who have a use for it. Yet, considering its capability, you might well think a sub-£35k entry price looks like conspicuously good value in 2024. 

Few cars of comparable size offer the same dual-purpose capability for the price of a lower-rung, Limited-spec model, although plenty offer boxier, more SUV-typical body proportions. However, the Crosstrek’s limited sales volumes seem to make for more favourable residual values – and so personal finance deals on the car are pleasingly competitive.

The Crosstrek’s fuel consumption might come as a disappointment – at least to those unfamiliar with how thirsty boxer-engined Subarus can be without modern economy measures and hybrid assistance. Our test car returned a little over 45mpg on our touring economy test: adequate for a car this size in 2024, but no better.

The 35.2mpg it averaged over the full course of our testing does show how much less efficient that CVT can get if you don’t drive the car with economy front of mind, however.


subari crosstrek review 2024 28 static

The Subaru Crosstrek would be an easy target if judged against the same usage case as your average family hatchback.

Although quite spacious, comfortable and convenient, it is clearly not a car that stands out for its digital cabin technology or premium appeal. It is neither assertively fast nor studiously efficient, and it has only the dimmest hint of the driver appeal that once marked out a Subaru.

And yet, if you have genuine need of an outwardly quite ordinary mid-sized hatchback with extraordinary any-surface traction – one with which to tackle wet fields and rugged tracks with impunity; to use come snow and high water almost as you would at any other time; or as an enabler of a lifestyle involving snowy mountain passes, weathered slipways, forest lanes or long, empty beaches – very little would meet your needs better.

The truth is that, without a trailer-load of kayaks or motocross bikes coupled up to it, or a family’s worth of skis on its roof, this car probably makes less sense than many more conventional compact SUVs. We regret most that it hasn’t got a stronger, more appealing powertrain, but we’re still glad it exists and can see it slotting into its micro-niche just fine.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.