New compact crossover is read for on and off road driving

by: SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. - Subaru's new 2013 XV Crosstrek is more off-road ready than the company's other small vehicles, thanks to a higher ride and protective cladding.The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is just about the perfect vehicle for Pacific Northwest singles and families on a budget.

The new compact crossover by Subaru is small enough for easy city driving but offers a surprisingly large amount of interior room and cargo space. Because it's a Subaru, all versions come standard with all-wheel-drive, which increases traction for slippery and off-road conditions. And although it is basically an Impreza five-foor hatchback, ground clearance has been increased three inches for better trail and countryside driving.

The cost is very reasonable, too, with the base Premium model starting at around $22,000 and our fully-loaded Limited test model coming in at under $28,000. And the mileage isn't bad, either, with the Continuously Variable Transmission-equipped version EPA rated at 25 miles per gallon in the city and 33 on the highway.

But we say "just about perfect" because some potential buyers might have problems with the CVT. It is a little noisy off the line and under heavy acceleration, which is not unusual for the new breed of shiftless transmissions that maximize mileage. On the other hand, it is much more responsive than most CVTs and comes with a manual shift mode for even more control.

Those buyers uncomfortable with the CVT can get a five-speed manual transmission in the base model, but not in the Limited version. Mileage is reduce to 23 city and 30 highway, however.

Although we noticed the CVT noise the first time we drove our test Crosstrek, we quickly found it easy to ignore, especially because the upgraded stereo was so good. And the numerous comfort features in the Limited also helped ease the pain, especially the heated leather seats, which were supportive enough for long drives. The navigation system's 4.3-inch display screen was a little small by today's standards, but the view from the rear view camera just fine. And the sunroof let in plenty of light.

Subaru says the Crosstrek is a different model from the normal Impreza and has taken a number of steps to set the two of them apart. The additional height is immediately noticeable, as is the protective cladding under the front, sides and rear. And the unique black and silver alloy wheels are also attention grabbers — purposeful bordering on ugly, but distinctive nevertheless.

The company went down this path once before. The last generation Outback was essentially a lifted Legacy wagon with cladding and special wheels. Subaru kept insisting it was really a different model, even though it did not actually become one until the current generation.

The Crosstrek's additional ride height was appreciated both on and off the road. Visibility was greatly increased over the regular Impreza, which is much more of a car than the Crosstrek. And we had no qualms going over the poorly maintained streets in our part of town, including the steep unpaved ones that double as our off road test tracks in a pinch.

Although the flat four is only rated at 148 horsepower, the CVT made surprisingly efficient use of it, allowing quick accelerations from dead stops and safe freeway merges. The ride was sportier than we expected, aided by the well-controlled suspension that is upgraded from the normal Impreza.

As Subaru owners know, the company's vehicles are not the most sophisticated in the world. Despite the leather seats, the interior in our test model had a lot of plastic and less-than-expensive feeling control knobs. But everything worked like it was supposed to, and plastic is easier to clean than fabric. And so is leather, which is another excuse for considering the Limited version, even if it only comes with a CVT.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2013 XV Crosstrek 2.0 Limited.

• Manufacturer: Subaru.

• Class: Compact crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door hatchback.

• Engine: 2.0 flat "Boxer" 4 (148 hp, 145 lb-ft).

• Transmission: Five speed manual; Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) with manual shift mode and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 23/30 (manual); 25/33 (CVT).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $22,000 ($27,290 as tested).

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