Ten years ago, I drove a Subaru XV Crosstrek through a nearly-frozen river in Iceland. The
When Subaru debuted the Crosstrek, it was kind of a head-scratcher. There were behemoth SUVs, and sedans, and nothing really in between. It was the first, or one of the first, CUVs, or compact sports utility vehicles. As it turns out, that was a vision of the future. Today, CUVs, all-wheel-drive cars built on a truck platform, account for nearly 50 percent of all vehicles sold. An oddity when it appeared, today the Crosstrek is literally the baseline car. If you’re buying a new vehicle, you should settle for nothing less. It’s a top-20 vehicle sales-wise in the U.S. for a reason.
I drove the 2024 Crosstrek for a week recently, not across a winter island nation, but through a record-setting Central Texas heat wave. This is the third generation of the car, and Subaru has improved on it in every way. The boxy styling of the original is long gone, replaced by a smoother, lower profile. It looks great, more like a car than a truck. The original idea was a Subaru Impreza sedan on an Outback platform, and the 2024 version fully realizes that vision. It performs like a truck, or at least close enough.
Subaru made its reputation as a suburban brand that could handle dirt roads, and they’ve evolved that technology accordingly for the new Crosstrek. It comes standard with a series of electronic off-road assist features called “X-Mode,” which includes an outstanding hill descent feature. The Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance. It’s not a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the gold standard of consumer off-road vehicles, but it’s more than enough for anything you’re going to want to try. It also has a steering system that improved from previous models, and an 8-speed automatic gearbox that moved through the gears smoothly. There are a lot of TV commercials where people go camping using cars that are quite obviously and comically not up for the job. You couldn’t possibly say that about the Crosstrek. Fold down the seats, fill it up with gear, and take it up to the mountains for a week. It won’t be the only one of its kind you see.
The other specs don’t set any records, but they’re good enough. The one I had gets 152 horsepower and generated 147 pound-feet of torque. I’ve been spoiled lately driving some super-vehicles. The Crosstrek is not that. It is a medium vehicle. And the interior, while perfectly pleasant and comfortable, isn’t going to win any awards. It gets 27 mpg in the city, 34 highway, 29 combined, which is totally average, though the hybrid does much better.
Subaru remains a small company, and they’re not at the forefront of the legacy-manufacturer electric-car revolution like Ford, GM, the Volkswagen group, or the coming massive electric play that Toyota is about to make. It’s just not affordable for the company to completely electrify right away. Whenever that does happen, the Crosstrek is well-poised to sell a lot of models. In the meantime, it’s one of the last semi-affordable fuel-burning consumer cars. The version I drove, out the door with a premium package of design and tech options, cost a little bit less than $30,000. For a new car in 2023, especially one as capable and pleasant as the Crosstrek, that is an incredible deal.
There are fancier cars and faster cars in the segment. But outdoor capability distinguishes the Crosstrek from the CUV pack. It was one of the first of its kind, and it remains the best. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using it to drive through a frozen river in Iceland, but you probably shouldn’t be doing that anyway.