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2021 Subaru Crosstrek First Drive: the Year of the "Big" Engine

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Auto123 tests for the first time the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek, now equipped with a larger engine.

Morin Heights, QC - This well-known Laurentian alpine ski resort was the setting for a much-anticipated first encounter with the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek. The Japanese automaker’s popular crossover has received a mild-to-medium makeover for the new year.

It should be noted that Subaru sold just over 15,000 units of this modified Impreza on stilts last year in Canada - a pre-COVID-19 year, needless to say. To give you an idea of the Crosstrek's success last year, the crossover was surpassed in its category only by the Nissan Qashqai and the small Nissan Kicks (yes I know, that small urban vehicle isn't quite a direct competitor to the Crosstrek).

New for 2021
Obviously, the Crosstrek is a pretty crucial model for Subaru, and that explains the series of improvements for the 2021 lineup. In addition to the usual overhaul (new colours, new standard equipment, etc.), the 2021 Crosstrek comes with a new 2.5L flat-four-cylinder engine, the same bolted under the hood of the Legacy, Outback and Forester.

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2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, front
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, front

The other significant change is that Subaru also adds a new trim for 2021 called Outdoor, which stands out from the rest with exclusive charcoal-colored wheels and a series of same-colour accents, for instance the side-mirror caps, antenna and even badging. Eagled-eyed observers may have already noticed the tiny camera housed just under the Subaru badge at the front of the vehicle and these unique rocker panels.
Also notable is the availability of the pearly plasma yellow colour you see here, also exclusive to this model. As for the interior of the Outdoor version, it gets a special treatment as well. More on that in a bit.

For the rest, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek hews fairly close to the model introduced on the market just four years ago.

Montreal - Morin-Heights
Subaru Canada invited a few members of the automotive press to come and discover this new vintage... with a procedure that respects social distancing measures, of course!

I took the wheel of a 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor decked in pearl white crystal and pointed it north headed out of Montreal. I had two choices of routes: a short and direct one, and a longer one with a more twisty layout. The Crosstrek's already well-known agility convinced me to take the longer route, if only to experience the reworked suspension on backcountry roads.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, three-quarters rear
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, three-quarters rear

The added power available from the 2.5L engine (182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque) quickly makes its presence felt during acceleration, but even more so when cruising on the highway. With the SI-Drive system - the button is located on the right side of the steering wheel - the engine reacts more quickly. The new mechanics don't exactly turn the Crosstrek into a power monster, but it’s clear the new engine adds pep to the equation.

Subaru Canada continues to offer a 6-speed manual transmission with the "small" engine, but hbas declined to offer it with the 2.5-litre engine, meaning you have to accept the presence of the continuously variable transmission (CVT). Rest assured, the brand's engineers have mastered this technology very well, and the transmission has even been reworked to be optimally adapted to the 2.5!

Yes, excessive pressure on the right pedal does increase the decibel level on board; the CVT makes the 4-cylinder sing (or screech, or whine; take your pick) at high RPM, but once at cruising speed, the Crosstrek quiets down again.

The boost in power undeniably does the Crosstrek a lot of good, but the essence of the Crosstrek remains unchanged. Which means that steering is heavy at low speeds, but very well balanced at higher speeds, while the suspension is nicely poised to take on the crevices of those back roads I treated myself to.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, engine
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, engine

A word about safety
The manufacturer has been scrambling for a few years to democratize its EyeSight security system, which by the way you can recognize by the two cameras located on either side of the rear-view mirror in the centre of the windshield.

The list of features it includes was already long before, but for 2021, lane centering assist has been added; its icon on the steering wheel indicates whether the system is on or off. This system keeps the vehicle between the lines on the road and it does it fairly well, although I found it wobbled a little too often between the two stripes lines. Fortunately, this new safety function can be deactivated via that button identified by a steering wheel... on the steering wheel!

A Crosstrek for off-roading?
A moderately accidented course had been laid so we could discover the virtues of the two-level X-MODE system, new in 2021. The electronic torque and traction control system is definitely better equipped to withstand more terrain scenarios.

The Crosstrek Outdoor has the same ground clearance as other variants, so really it's not a more rugged version, like the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon compared to the other trims of the famous 4x4. In other words, its mission is not to tame extreme trails. But, in a section of our trek strewn with tall grass and mud, in addition to many hidden rocks, the pocket-size SUV pulled through as if it was cruising on freshly paved asphalt, or almost. The downhill assistance system was also put to the test. Nothing to report there, except that it works very well.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Limited
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Limited

Subaru quality inside
The 2021 Crosstrek Outdoor doesn't change the formula behind this model, but that easy-to-wash upholstery on the seats is welcome, as is the yellow stitching on the dashboard. Some might that the atmosphere on board isn't the most "tech-y" in the industry, but Subaru is known for its easy-to-use interiors with well-placed controls. Even the infotainment system, once a Subaru weakness, is easy to operate. The Subaru Crosstrek feels like a quality car. It's not flamboyant, but we know the vehicle will be just as well assembled in ten years!

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, interior
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, interior

The last word
True to its tradition, Subaru continuesto quietly make its models evolve. The Crosstrek, even though it's been based on the group's new global platform since 2018, hasn't changed outrageously since 2013. The Crosstrek borrows its hull from the 5-door Impreza, but raises its ground clearance to the same level as the other SUVs in the lineup. The engine still has four cylinders laid out flat, and the all-wheel drive system is one of the best in the industry.

Meanwhile, the new engine is very interesting and doesn't affect fuel economy (7.9L/100 km for the 2.0L model versus 8.0L/100 km for the 2.5L model) and, in my opinion, it sounds a little more convincing when the right foot wants more. As for the eternal question about the availability of a manual transmission with the 2.5L, the chances of seeing such a version appear are nil.

After a day behind the wheel, I once again understand why so many Canadian consumers decide to get back behind the wheel of this curious vehicle, a vehicle that is more and more ubiquitous on our roads.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, profile
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, profile

We like

The overall quality
The increased power
The efficiency of the AWD system

We like less

The absence of a manual gearbox with the 2.5L
Why not the 2.4L turbo?
Heavy steering at low speed

The main competition

Buick Encore GX
Chevrolet Trailblazer
Fiat 500X
Ford EcoSport
Honda HR-V
Hyundai Kona
Jeep Renegade / Compass
Kia Seltos
Mazda CX-30
Mitsubishi RVR / Eclipse Cross
Nissan Qashqai
Toyota C-HR

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, rear
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, rear
Photos:V.Aubé
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor pictures