Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes. I’m guessing Subaru might have chosen differently when planning the Crosstrek Hybrid if it could’ve predicted such a dramatic plunge in oil prices. As it is we now have the first electrified model from a carmaker that’s much more notable for creating the modern-day crossover vehicle, offering a full lineup of go-nearly-anywhere all-wheel drive models, and developing a reputation for bulletproof reliability.
Possibly less known is a brand that already offers some of the cleanest PZEV vehicles around, so while we might all take pause and contemplate the need for the 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid being tested here, it at least goes a step further to enhance the green side of Subaru’s image.
Hybrid according to Subaru
While adding the word “hybrid” to any automaker’s marketing material is golden, it’s not as if the electrified Crosstrek’s mild hybrid system is state of the art. There’s no plug to charge a motive battery capable of getting you back and forth to work with nominal cost to wallet or environment. Heck, it’s not even the usual full-hybrid design capable of running purely on electric power for short distances at low speed. Like I said, it’s a mild hybrid unit similar to those used for more than a decade by Honda as well as some powering GM’s less intensive hybrids.
Basically, the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid sandwiches a low-horsepower electric motor between the engine and the continuously variable transmission (CVT) to provide extra torque when needed. Meanwhile, energy produced from braking friction as well as overrun power gets captured to charge a small Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. Last but not least, this Crosstrek features a consumption- and emissions-reducing auto stop/start system that turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, which I must admit was a bit abrupt when restarting. Let’s call it a first step in electrification, one that puts Subaru on the hybrid map while offering some pretty decent savings at the pump when used for city driving.
Transport Canada estimates 7.9L/100km in the city for the 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid compared to 9.1 for the conventionally powered variant with its optional CVT, which is a fairly good advantage that could make owning one worthwhile for those who mostly drive in town. It doesn’t disadvantage on the freeway either, of course, but its claimed 6.9L/100km highway mileage is only fractionally better than the regular Crosstrek’s 7.0 flat.
As for environmental concerns, where the standard Crosstrek meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) standards, the Hybrid goes one step better by achieving Advanced Technology PZEV (AT-PZEV) status, which is certainly a feather in its cap. What’s more, it’s built in a zero-landfill assembly plant where 100% of waste is recycled or turned into electricity.
Design and content
As is often the case with electrified models, Subaru upped the Crosstrek Hybrid’s standard content so that some of its hybrid component expense gets absorbed by extras that normally provide profit, this keeping the price more affordable. Knowing that its take-rate will be lower at first, Subaru Canada has also made its Crosstrek Hybrid a one-size-fits-all model, with its exterior detailing appearing more like the conventional model’s Limited trim, and the interior more akin to the well-equipped Sport model.
This means that LED turn signals are integrated into its body-coloured side mirror caps and chrome graces the door handles. The silver roof rails are totally unique to the Hybrid, as is the black rooftop spoiler in back. Lastly, Subaru finished off the Hybrid’s look with a special set of aerodynamically designed, lightweight 17” alloy wheels, while my tester’s classy Quartz Blue Pearl paint is also a Crosstrek Hybrid exclusive.
I should also mention that all of these upgrades get added to a mildly restyled 2016 Subaru Crosstrek, featuring a more assertive grille, updated headlamps, a reshaped front bumper and lower fascia (the latter with L-shaped chrome trim angling around new fog lamps), plus reworked taillight lenses with integrated LEDs and a new rear fascia. Subaru also dropped the XV portion of its name so that it’s simply known as Crosstrek (now you know I wasn’t just being lazy earlier).
As noted a moment ago, the Crosstrek Hybrid leans more toward Sport trim than Limited inside, meaning that its touchscreen infotainment system is 6.2” in size instead of 7.0” while capacitive touch sensitivity, SMS text messaging, navigation, and SiriusXM Traffic aren’t included. Neither is dual-zone automatic climate control, high-gloss black trim or leather upholstery; the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is alternatively fitted with the Sport model’s two-tone black and grey-weave cloth upholstery with sporty orange accents, plus silver trim in key areas.
What’s more, the HVAC system may not be dual-zone, but it’s nevertheless automatic and therefore set-it-and-leave-it simple just the way I like it, while the Starlink-infused touchscreen is still plenty useful with a rearview camera, news, food, weather, music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other multimedia content via its own apps or Aha and Pandora. My phone connected easily and worked flawlessly throughout my test, while the stereo played music and podcasts from my smartphone via Bluetooth audio streaming.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Hybrid’s unique primary gauge cluster featuring a brighter blue luminescent sport theme with red needles and white backlighting. While a small, monochromatic trip computer sits within those primary gauges, all Crosstreks get a 4.3” multi-information colour display atop the centre dash, although the Hybrid’s MID is upgraded with special fuel saving and hybrid energy flow info to help make the most of its advanced electro-mechanicals.
What about safety?
The biggest loss from Limited trim is the Hybrid’s lack of EyeSight, Subaru’s driving assist system that includes adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, pre-collision brake assist, and pre-collision throttle management. When so equipped the Crosstrek qualifies for an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, but unfortunately EyeSight isn’t even optional when choosing the Hybrid. Subaru likely was concerned that making it standard would’ve pushed the price too high.
Fortunately, all models achieve a 5-star NHTSA crash test rating, so the solidly built compact crossover is plenty safe. Other standard Crosstrek features that get grandfathered up to Hybrid trim include auto on/off HID headlights, fog lamps, proximity access with push-button ignition, cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering, heated and power-adjustable side mirrors, heated front seats, a power moonroof, plus the usual assortment of safety gear including an extra airbag for the driver’s knees.
As for pricing, the aforementioned mix of mid-grade and top-line equipment makes the 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid’s $30,495 MSRP easier to digest, sitting just above the $26,995 Sport and $29,395 Limited. There are no options, but you can change the exterior colour from the beautiful blue hue noted earlier to Crystal Black Silica, Crystal White Pearl, Dark Grey Metallic or Ice Silver Metallic.
Convenience combined with competence
The Hybrid model is plenty practical, too, with almost as much cargo space as the regular Crosstrek ― 609 vs. 632 litres behind the rear seats or 1,422 vs. 1,470 litres when those 60/40 seatbacks are laid flat. We can thank the smaller battery of its mild hybrid drivetrain for all that utility, while the less complicated system also allowed Subaru to keep its coveted symmetrical full-time AWD.
Rumour has it that a quest for better fuel economy may cause Subaru to adopt a similar AWD system to the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid for its future hybrid models, which will do the job albeit not to the same level of light- to medium-duty off-road duty as the Crosstrek Hybrid. This well-proven yet still advanced AWD system joins an impressive 220 mm of ground clearance (75 mm more than the regular Subaru Impreza 5-Door the Crosstrek is based on) to help matters off pavement, and while I can appreciate you may never take yours on a rock-strewn, semi-washed out logging road, across a babbling brook, through a muddy bog or onto a sandy beach, you probably will take advantage of its capability in the snow where symmetrical AWD makes easy work of even the deep powdery stuff.
The AWD system aids handling in regular, wet and dry conditions, too. The 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is quite capable through fast-paced corners where it remains relatively flat, even during side-to-side transitional shifts. Its ride is smooth and comfortable, as well, even over choppy, worn blacktop where its fully independent suspension couldn’t be shaken off-line.
I took the opportunity to get it up to highway speeds where the Crosstrek Hybrid performed well. The 148-horsepower 2.0L 4-cylinder engine and 13.4-horsepower electric motor combine for 160 net horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque along with resultantly impressive passing maneuvers. The CVT provides effortlessly smooth operation, while Subaru also includes a set of paddle shifters and six forward speeds that are actually quite engaging for downshifts, although I found leaving it to its own devices when accelerating worked best.
Should you buy one?
Ultimately, I must admit that I enjoyed my time spent with the 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, but mostly because I particularly like the regular Crosstrek. This is really the best news about the electrified version. It feels pretty well identical to the conventionally powered model while hardly giving up anything when it comes to utility, yet noticeably improves city mileage. That’s a good mix of attributes that should make the Crosstrek Hybrid as popular as Subaru can hope for in today’s upside-down market, while providing a good platform to expand upon when oil prices inevitably turn around.