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2019 Subaru Crosstrek Review: the smallest of the clan acts big

2019 Subaru Crosstrek
Photo: D.Boshouwers
Derek Boshouwers
A Subaru that shines most brightly in the city?

The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek is an off-road-capable utility model, just like you would expect from Subaru. But at the same time, the Crosstrek may well be the most city-friendly model ever produced by the manufacturer known for pleasing its legions of loyal outdoors- and two-dogs-loving clientele above all else. You could argue the Legacy fills that role, but you really couldn’t argue that it offers anywhere near the versatility that the smallest Subaru does.

Let’s be clear: the Crosstrek certainly has the bona fides to attract the usual Subaru crowd. It’s got Subaru’s beloved symmetrical all-wheel drive system, of course, and it sits high off the ground (clearance is 21.75 cm), plus it has all of the other little touches that allow owners to pack all manner of gear, pets, kids and whatnot inside, hanging off the back and piled on top, and travel in comfort and enjoy a pleasing (to some, anyways) simplicity in terms of the interior environment.

But the 2019 Crosstrek, on its second year after getting a redesign last year, is a supremely city-friendly vehicle, making it kind of a best-of-both-worlds proposition for city-dwelling, country-loving folks.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

How does it do this? Well, number one, the Crosstrek is surprisingly zippy to drive around town. Initial acceleration from a stop is surprisingly dynamic, and the smallest crossover in the Subaru lineup is nimble enough to handle narrow streets, heavy traffic and tricky parking manoeuvres. It pleasing agility, crisp steering and all, is that much more surprising for the fact that it is one of the heavier entrants in its class, the consequence of having that four-wheel drive system. Maybe its nimbleness comes from the fact that it shares many technical aspects with the Impreza.

Number two, the sightlines are really good, thanks to the high seating position and the relatively straight-up overall silhouette of the vehicle. This quality is not to be underestimated in the age of streamlined little crossovers (I’m looking at you C-HR) and fastbacks (hello, Buick Regal) that offer drivers postage-stamp back windows to peek through.

Number three, another quality that should have city slickers getting misty-eyed for this off-road-capable (it has that X-mode off-road traction system, remember) crossover is that it’s impressively stingy on fuel, in fact it ranks best in segment in fuel consumption (when fitted with the CVT automatic transmission).

Space galore
Number four: One of the things that most made an impression on me when first climbing in to the 2019 Crosstrek is how spacious the cabin feels. I expected something along the lines of the Mazda CX-3 or Toyota C-HR, two examples of smaller vehicles offering wonderfully sleek lines outside that are paid for inside.

Now, the Crosstrek is no box on the outside, but it’s clearly more functional and less stylish and overtly aerodynamic than those two models, so maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised to be welcomed by a large-feeling interior in which all body parts – head, elbows, hips, legs – have ample room to breathe and get comfortable.

Even the moonroof included in my tester did little to restrict the space above my head. The same applied to the back row when I clambered in there. A case of low expectations easily surpassed? Maybe, but who cares when you feel like you’re in a much bigger vehicle than you’ve actually paid for!

My spouse, a long-time Forester owner, was enchanted with the Crosstrek’s roominess, finding it no comedown at all in comparison with the larger utility model further up the Subaru food chain. True, there’s less cargo space in the back than you get with the bigger Subaru, but then you’re paying several thousand dollars less; that’s a call you’ll have to make.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Careful when passing!
I mentioned acceleration earlier, specifically as the Crosstrek comports itself in an urban context, and I come back to it because the Subaru crossover does fall a little short in a related department, one that does have relevance to people who actually do live outside big urban centres. While the vehicle does handle fine and is extremely comfortable on the open highway – no problem there, even if you find Subaru’s trademark minimalist approach to the interior a little dull or passé - passing is problematic due to lack of punch from the 2.0L 4-cylinder BOXER engine when more power is required in short bursts.

Once up to cruising altitude, though, and you’re fine, riding in comfort in a relatively quiet cabin.

What’s new in the 2019 Crosstrek
Not that much is actually new in the Crosstrek for 2019; as I mentioned, it got its big overhaul last year to kick off its second generation, so this year Subaru has only tweaked a few things related to the tech product offering.

Those would be, for example, the addition of the automaker’s Eyesight system in the Sport version (when with the CVT). This includes automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings, active lane control, automatic high-beam headlights and adaptive cruise control. The same system with reverse automatic braking and high beam assist is included in the Limited version. Buyers of the Premium get SiriusXM satellite radio.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

The versions
The 2019 Crosstrek comes in five distinct versions, all powered by the same inline-4 DOHC BOXER engine (152 hp, 145 lb-ft of torque). The base model Convenience comes with the standard 6-speed manual or available 6-speed automatic transmission; inside it gets a 6.5-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system with updated software this year, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility is included.

The Touring version adds heated front seats, premium cloth upholstery, automatic climate control, automatic headlights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and cargo-area privacy cover.

Moving to the Sport trim gets buyers LED adaptive headlights, power sunroof, power-adjustable driver’s seat, aluminum pedals, premium sport cloth upholstery, dual USB ports, 8-inch screen for the infotainment system and SiriusXM satellite radio, and enhanced safety through the Subaru rear/side vehicle detection system with blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Limited, at the top of the heap, adds 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seating (and orange stitching on the dashboard), heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, premium harman/kardon 8-speaker audio system and GPS navigation.

Photo: D.Boshouwers

Nimble and responsive for great in-city driving
Spacious interior, quite superior to the Mazda CX-3 in that respect
Subaru’s trusty all-wheel-drive system
Able to off-road, for real!
Higher ground clearance
Great visibility out all sides
Stingy on fuel
Highest safety rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
Unbeatable in terms of the safety equipment it packs in
Competitive pricing (starting price is $23,695, unchanged from 2018)

Dearth of raw power under the hood, making highway passing less than reassuring
Central console and dashboard layouts are typically Subaru, i.e. sedate, i.e. dull
No adjustable lumbar support for driver’s seat

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Derek Boshouwers
Derek Boshouwers
Automotive expert
  • Over 5 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 50 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 30 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists