Best of both worlds. The 2020 Subaru Crosstrek desperately wants you to have your cake and eat it, too. It brings the usual Subaru virtues of capability and practicality, but it can pull double duty as a budget-friendly commuter.
The Crosstrek declares its adventurous intentions in its name, but in case you had any doubt, it walks the walk. Its 8.7 inches of clearance is just as much as its big siblings, the Subaru Outback and Subaru Forester. Add Subaru’s standard all-wheel-drive system, and you get the best off-roading you’ll find short of a Jeep Renegade.
The Crosstrek comes out ahead of the Renegade on cargo space, though, with 20.8 cubic feet to start and 55 with the seats folded. Cabin space is equally good, and the hatchback shape lends plenty of versatility.
But utility isn’t the only trick in the Crosstrek’s book. The 2.0-liter engine gets an EPA-estimated 30 miles per gallon combined, even saddled with the weight of all-wheel drive.
Safety and technology are up to date, and the starting price undercuts rivals like the Nissan Rogue Sport. Subaru hasn’t lost its identity, but it’s well on the way to the mainstream.
Still crunchy. Mainstream features it may have, but the Crosstrek looks like a quintessential Subaru. Exposed cladding and standard roof rails put it right at home in an REI parking lot. If you’d like to double down on granola, the Crosstrek comes as a plug-in hybrid that supplements the gas engine with a 118-hp electric motor.
We’d recommend this powertrain if you can find it — the hybrid is a second quicker to 0-60 mph, and it feels more refined than the gas-powered Crosstrek. What’s more, it comes with 17 miles of all-electric range and a boost of 5 mpg combined.
Unfortunately, the hybrid is only available in 10 ZEV states, and it comes at a premium. The gas powertrain is functional but less likable, struggling to move the vehicle’s considerable heft. It has enough grunt for everyday duty, but highway passing can be a chore.
Penalties for the manual. The powertrain isn’t helped by the standard transmission, a six-speed manual that negates many of the Crosstrek’s strengths. Fuel economy takes a severe 5 mpg dip with the manual, and most of the Crosstrek’s standard safety features (like automatic emergency braking and lane keeping assist) disappear.
It’s worth springing for the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is an extra $1,350, that brings back efficiency and safety features. We’re often sour on CVTs, but the one in the Crosstrek is better than average. It simulates shift points well, and there are even paddle shifters on the options list for buyers who want to retain control.
The CVT makes the Crosstrek a smarter car. Different drive modes (“Intelligent” or “Sport”) prioritize fuel economy or throttle response respectively. There’s also an “X-Mode” to reduce wheelspin in low-traction conditions – yet another feature lost in the manual model.
Make like Goldilocks. The Crosstrek isn’t fancy in base trim, but solid standard features suit its all-around personality. With 17-inch alloy wheels and smartphone compatibility, it starts off on a better foot than many crossovers.
Our favorite trim is the Premium, which heats up the front seats and side mirrors while adding nicer trim all around the cabin. With the CVT, it pushes just north of the $25,000 mark, which still makes for strong value.
We wish we could say the same of the top Limited trim. Leather seats, automatic climate control, and a larger touchscreen make a tempting upgrade, but the price strays perilously close to $30,000. Value is one of the Crosstrek’s greatest strengths, and it’s diluted somewhat at this level.
Final thoughts. Though it strives admirably to please everyone, the 2020 Subaru Crosstrek isn’t without sacrifices. The biggest is acceleration, which is leisurely unless you can track down a hybrid. All the same, an intoxicating combination of capability and value gives the Crosstrek plenty of charm.
It may be most at home in Colorado, but the Crosstrek can handle urban commuting nearly as well as snowy mountain roads. For buyers who want versatility without breaking the bank, the Crosstrek should be on the shortlist.