The class of compromise. The subcompact crossover segment is odd, as there’s no one Goldilocks model that does everything just right. Each model does a few things great and struggles in other areas. The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek isn't exempt from this trend, as its off-road capabilities are legendary, but it suffers severe design flaws and a lack of on-road excitement.
In a segment with increasing competition, these flaws hold it back from reaching the top of the class. Still, you could do a lot worse than a relatively affordable crossover with standard all-wheel drive and a good set of safety features.
Go anywhere, but slowly. Like most Subaru models, the Crosstrek boasts the brand's famed all-wheel-drive system and standard and 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
This setup can handle anything from a light coat of rain to a dusting of snow to a mud-slicked backwoods trail. Is it a rock crawler? No, but it has no problem getting to the more remote campsites.
Though it’ll go virtually anywhere, the Crosstrek gets there slowly with its standard 152-horsepower, 2.0-liter flat four-cylinder engine. Buyers seeking more potency can opt for the 2.5-liter flat-four with 182 hp, but this only takes it from a sluggish 9.7-second 0-60 mph time to a slightly less pokey 8.2 seconds.
This class isn’t known for power, but buyers seeking more zip will find it in the upcoming Mazda CX-30 Turbo with 250 hp.
On-point CVT, but manual is forgettable. We have hit the era of the continuously variable transmission (CVT). After ages of complaining about the CVT, it’s finally hit a point where automakers are getting it right, and the Crosstrek’s CVT is about as good as it gets.
This CVT keeps the Crosstrek’s engine right in its sweet spot for ample responsiveness while resisting the urge to drone or rubber band like previous-generation CVTs. Even when off-roading, the control it offers is far superior to any before it.
While purists may yearn for a row-your-own manual transmission, the Crosstrek’s standard six-speed manual gearbox leaves a lot to be desired. First, opting for the manual eliminates key advanced safety features, including automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Compounding its shortcomings are its sluggish feel and reduced fuel efficiency. It’s a tough pill to swallow, so you should skip the manual.
Rugged but not simple. The Crosstrek is rugged yet refined. It boasts all the off-road looks and capabilities any family could ever want, but it also offers the comfort and safety gear they want.
Inside, the Crosstrek pleases with its standard 6.5-inch touchscreen and water-repellant upholstery. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard, but its nearly inaccessible USB ports make using these features a struggle.
A new car without Android Auto and Apple CarPlay seems impossible today, but the base CX-30 is just that. But that’s not even the worst of it, as the Honda HR-V’s base infotainment system lacks smartphone integration and a touchscreen.
Buyers looking for a better-equipped base model can look to the Hyundai Kona, which has a touchscreen that's 0.5 inches larger. There’s also the Kia Seltos and its standard 8-inch screen.
If you skip the manual transmission, the Crosstrek leaves little to be desired with its standard automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control.
Buyers who prefer safety without adding options can get much Crosstrek's optional safety gear standard on the CX-30. The Kona may not offer all that safety tech standard, but it at least has compulsory automatic emergency braking – the same goes for the Seltos.
Final thoughts. The subcompact crossover segment is a class of compromise, as each model has its strengths offset by equal weaknesses. The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is no exception with glorious off-road capabilities but glaring issues in power, standard safety gear without the CVT, and fuel economy.
Buyers seeking a better-equipped crossover will want to check out the nicely equipped Kona and Seltos. Those who want a more exhilarating on-road drive may want to wait for the CX-30 Turbo to arrive.
Check prices for the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek »