In a sea of largely unimaginative compact crossovers, the Subaru Crosstrek is more than a little bit different. Oh sure, like all its rivals, it’s based on a car – in this case, the redesign Subaru Impreza – but its approach is as out there as we’d expect from Subaru.

Real capability via a standard all-wheel-drive system, a fun six-speed manual transmission (a CVT is available), and an odd Boxer-style engine make the Crosstrek the most interesting vehicle in a segment that’s desperate for some excitement.

Best Value

The best value in the Crosstrek range happens to be the trim we tested – the mid-grade Premium. With prices starting at just $23,510 (including a $915 destination charge), the Crosstrek isn’t lavishly equipped.

The heated seats are cloth but with orange contrast stitching, there’s a standard 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and the headlights are halogen. But you’re getting capability here – standard 60/40 split-folding rear seats, a capacious cargo area with a largish rear hatch, and standard torque-vectoring all-wheel drive with the ride height to take advantage of it.

The toughest question Subaru asked of prospective Crosstrek shoppers is to choose a transmission. The standard six-speed manual is fun, and is the best way to take advantage of the 2.0-liter flat-four’s modest output, but the $1,000 continuously variable transmission is the only way to get Subaru’s excellent EyeSight safety suite (a $1,395 to $2,395 option, depending on what other gear you package it with), which includes automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.

Good as EyeSight is, the Crosstrek has much more charm and personality – not to mention a significantly lower starting price – with the six-speed manual.

Here’s how we’d build it:

  • Model: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Premium
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer
  • Output: 152 hp / 145 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
  • MPG: 27 city / 33 highway
  • Options: N/A
  • Base price: $23,510 (including $915 destination charge)
  • As tested: $23,510

Performance

There’s no getting around it – the Crosstrek is slow. While its output is average for compact cars, it lags behind other crossovers which feel much sprightlier. The flat-four engine itself carries its trademark warbling intake and throaty exhaust notes well, so at the very least, it’s fun to exercise the 2.0-liter engine. Just stay away from high revs, where that pleasant sound grows harsh.

The six-speed manual transmission feels decidedly old school, with longer throws and rubbery gates. It’s the kind of transmission that rewards attentive drivers and punishes those clumsy enough not to take it seriously.

Despite its lower center of gravity than rival crossovers, the Subaru isn’t especially agile. There’s plenty of roll, squat, and dive during aggressive maneuvering. But thanks to its soft suspension, the ride is comfortable even on what passes for roads on our metro Detroit test route.

It’s faults aside, the Crosstrek is fun to drive in an old-school way, kind of like an old military style Jeep. It’s rugged and capable, the engine requires some coercion, and the transmission requires a purposeful touch, but it’s hard not to get out of the Crosstrek without a smile. This is an extremely likable car, even if it’s not mechanically ideal.

Interior and Exterior Style

Based off the new Impreza, the Crosstrek is a handsome small hatch that’s blessed with attractive proportions, restrained but purposeful accents, and a host of neat color options – our Cool Gray Khaki tester’s paint is a restrained but attractive choice. The extra ride height built into the Crosstrek’s suspension and the bits of off-road cladding emphasize the capability here without writing checks the body can’t cash.

The cabin, particularly with the orange contrast stitching on the seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel in the Premium trim is utilitarian and simple. Grab our suggested trim, and you’ll access and start the car by actually removing the key from your pocket and inserting it in the ignition – push-button start is only available with the range-topping Limited.

The seats are comfortable, with enough support for long distance driving and a commanding height. Sight lines are excellent fore, aft, and laterally, and all the controls are within easy reach. Backseat space is adequate for an adult on a shorter trip, while cargo volume is solid.

This is a cabin that’s designed to be used, so while the material quality isn’t a match for the segment’s best, the materials and layout of the Crosstrek feel more durable and willing to accept punishment. It’s not a Jeep Wrangler that you can just hose off, but a Crosstrek’s cabin is all too happy to accommodate muddy boots and gloved fingers.

Smaller touches also stand out. We dig the red gauge needles in the instrument cluster – why don’t more automakers offer something this cool? And as we said, the orange contrast stitching is a simple touch that contributes to the Crosstrek’s sense of adventure and charm.

What don’t we like? Subaru still hasn’t figured out how to build a great infotainment system. The 6.5-inch unit is better than some of the automaker’s past offerings, but it’s not very attractive or intuitive.

Our Favorite Thing

This is such a charming, likable car. Like the yellow Labrador retrievers it uses in its advertising, Subaru’s small lifted wagon feels like a good, reliable companion for all manner of adventuring.

Our Least Favorite Thing


The Crosstrek really needs more power. As much as enthusiasts would love some marriage of the Crosstrek’s character and the WRX’s turbocharged performance, this car doesn’t even need that much of a boost – an extra 30 horsepower and pound-feet of torque would be transformative.

Right For

Singles and young adults that spend their weekend backpacking and camping will appreciate everything about the Crosstrek. It’s a more affordable, better balanced alternative not just to mainstream crossovers, but to outdoor companions, like the Jeep Wrangler.

Wrong For

The Crosstrek’s utilitarian approach to life should turn off tech geeks and badge snobs. There’s not a ton of content mixed in with a decidedly blue-collar attitude.

Bottom Line

A prime example of a car with less-than-stellar dynamics that’s able to skate by with our recommendation based on its charm alone.