Whenever the history of Subaru is written, it’s the Outback that’s heralded as the successor to early DL and GL wagons from the ‘70s and ‘80s. My family drives an Outback, and it’s an excellent automobile that I’d gladly buy again, but that’s not the entire story. Early Subarus were compact four-wheel-drive cars, not nearly full-size SUVs. The true inheritor of Subaru’s early history is the Impreza-based Crosstrek. For 2021, it packs more luxury and power than ever before – perfect for stomping up trails or just picking up dinner at an urban cafe.
The Crosstrek looks like a smaller Outback from the curb with its thick black bumper cladding, wheelwell protections, and lower rear bumpers. A revised grille for 2021 accompanies more aggressive 18” wheels and roof rack to which attachments for bicycles, surf boards, and skis can be attached. This car likes to play. Ours came in the new Horizon Blue Pearl Paint. The basic body shell is shared with the Impreza, but 8.7” of ground clearance matches the Outback and Jeep Cherokee for impressive off-road capability.
Being an upscale Subaru, the Crosstrek Limited’s cabin is both functional and comfortable. Everything looks like it can be washed down after a day of crazy adventure, but adds class with faux carbon fiber, silver trim, and orange stitching on the dash and doors. Two-tone heated leather seats flash their own orange stitching and thick bolsters for all-day comfort. A power sunroof, Harman Kardon audio, and automatic climate control delight.
Beyond all that, it’s also pretty safe. Subaru’s EyeSight system uses dual cameras mounted on either side of the rearview mirror for adaptive cruise, forward collision alert with auto brake, lane keep assist, and lane centering steering. Additional sensors provide blind spot warning, rear cross path detection, and rear seat child reminder systems. It’s one of the most comprehensive safety suites in its class.
I wouldn’t call previous Crosstreks underpowered, but they felt underwhelming when accelerating onto freeways or flat-footing it through mountains. Listening to customers, Subaru now offers a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine connected to the standard all-wheel-drive system through a continuously variable transmission. It’s rated 182 horsepower, which puts it on par with the larger Outback’s engine. It still delivers a frugal 27/34-MPG city/highway. If you don’t like the revvy sound of the transmission, click paddles for eight pre-set “gears”.
In the console is a little button labeled “X-Mode”. You’ll press it if you actually want to go backpacking on rugged trails. It optimizes the powertrain and traction control to get you off smartly on loose trails or snow, but also includes hill descent control to automatically inch the car down steep inclines. You’re not going to chase Jeep Wranglers in the rough, but the Crosstrek can get to a favorite fishing spot, through deep snow, or to a weekend cabin. I’ve driven Crosstreks in five inches of snow and on muddy trails. Neither bothered it much.
Owning a Crosstrek means erasing worry about weather, trails, high-speed freeways, and parking downtown. Subaru had the right idea so many years ago, an idea fully proven in today’s Crosstrek that starts at a very affordable $22,245 and reached $31,440 as tested. Competitors include the Chevy Trailblazer, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR, and Mazda CX-30.
Send comments to Casey at AutoCasey@aol.com; follow him on YouTube @AutoCasey.