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2021 Subaru Crosstrek Review: The Great Outdoor

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek.

Many have by now become familiar with the Crosstrek’s unusual-but-uninspiring origin story. In it Subaru takes its Impreza model, gives it greater ground clearance, raises the roof a little bit, decks it out in rougher-tougher-looking exterior elements, and… voilà: a new model is born, tailor-made for weekend adventurers!

As usual, the reality is more complicated than that, but the essence of it is more or less true – like any good story! In the event, the Subaru Crosstrek sure was a smart move by an automaker that is making strides by the leapful, and nowhere more so than in AWD-loving Canada. The crossover has become the brand’s top seller in the Great White North.

In fact, just last week, no sooner had I parked another Subaru (the 2021 Forester) in front of home, as it happened in the middle of a snowstorm, that a passerby remarked to me that with this baby, I for one had nothing to worry about vis-à-vis the weather. Such is the hold Subaru has managed to develop on the psyche of many Canadian motorists. Granted, its constant symmetrical AWD system is a) ubiquitous (it’s in every model across the range) and b) excellent, but so are many others in the industry, and all-wheel traction is now offered in a ever-widening range of sedans and small crossovers from different automakers. No matter; for many, Subaru is to all-wheel drive what Kleenex is to facial tissue. Or something.

As for the Crosstrek, it may be a puffed-up Impreza, but so what? Nothing wrong with that. Just be aware that you don’t get more cargo space from the Crosstrek than from the Impreza (it’s 588 litres in both cases, with the rear seats in place), although more of that space is vertical.

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2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, front
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, front

What’s new
What’s most interesting for the 2021 model-year as it pertains to the Crosstrek, is the bigger engine it has received for the Limited and new Outdoor versions - this after sustained, multi-year pleading from fans who felt, justly, that the old Crosstrek was simply underpowered. And so we’ve said hello to a new 2.5L flat-four-cylinder, which is familiar from being used in the Legacy, the Outback and the Forester. It’s good for 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, and although it certainly doesn’t turn the Crosstrek into a beast, it does provide much-needed muscle in comparison to the 97-pound-weakling of an engine (152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque) once again found in the Convenience, Touring and Sport trims.

The second-most interesting thing about the latest Crosstrek is the very existence of that new Outdoor version, which is the model we tested, as it happens. This nifty Plasma Yellow Pearl colour you see in the images is only included – at no extra charge – with this edition. Beyond the colour scheme, the Outdoor version distinguishes itself via unique 17-inch alloy wheels and grille design, extra body cladding and various grey accents, and more-rugged synthetic interior elements allowing for easier cleaning and rougher treatment. Oh, and yellow stitching and accents.

Note that this version doesn’t have increased ground clearance or any other performance-related upgrades, so it’s not actually more rough-and-ready for off-roading than any other Crosstrek. It’ll just be easier to clean, is all…

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, profile
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, profile

A word or two about the product range
The Convenience ($25,908, freight/fees included, but not taxes), Touring ($28,308) and Sport ($30,908) versions can be had with manual gearbox, while all trims fitted with the CVT come standard with the EyeSight suite of systems; the Outdoor ($32,108) and Limited ($36,608) trims come only with the CVT, and include as well the sunroof and what’s called steering responsive LED headlights.

As with many such bundles of drive-assist and safety systems, some of the functionalities are more useful than others, and some are more intrusive than others, but few these days will argue they don’t represent a big net plus when it comes to making the ride safer. And Subaru’s are on par with any other.

The Outdoor and Limited are also the only ones to feature high beam assist and reverse automatic braking. Fans of three-pedal driving should note that the manual gearbox can’t be matched with EyeSight.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, interior
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, interior

On the road
Now, weekend warrior-ing is all fine and good, but let’s face it, most Subaru drivers still spend most of their time commuting (well maybe less these days) or running errands on paved roads, in cities or suburban neighborhoods or small towns. The Crosstrek, a nice compact package that’s not too bulky and thus city-friendly, is an able transporter, comfortable enough and now, when equipped with the new engine, powerful enough to meet any reasonable needs. The steering is not exactly sporty, and acceleration is still not sprightly, but the chassis feels pleasingly tight and the Crosstrek certainly rides more like the Impreza than it does the Ascent.

Snow, slush and ice are things you can almost laugh at, meanwhile. I’m sure there’s a situation waiting for me that will leave me stuck in a Subaru, but I haven’t found it yet. I didn’t drive the 2021 Crosstrek in the snow, but I have done so with previous iterations and it really is confidence-inspiring. There, my bit to reinforce the aura of Subarus among Canadians…

On the highway, the new 2.5L absolutely empowers the Crosstrek when it comes to on-ramping and to passing. The CVT will, like all CVTs, get angry if you push things too aggressively, but otherwise it minds its business without causing a fuss. Ride smoothness is decent, as are the noise levels. You’re unlikely ever to be duped into feeling you’re in a luxury vehicle – this Subaru interior is like all others before it in recent years, that is to say unflashy but solid and ergonomically friendly – but there’s nothing that should make you feel you’re in a budgetmobile.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, badging
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, badging

My test drive of the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek was heavily tilted towards city driving, and so my results for fuel consumption don’t tell the whole story. But know that if you spend most of your driving time on city streets and boulevards, you can expect something like the 12.2L/100 km I got. Official figures are 8.0L/100 km combined. Note that the smaller 2.0L does only marginally better, averaging 7.9L/100 km, so that shouldn’t factor into your decision-making when choosing a powertrain.

Conclusion
The 2021 Crosstrek is not radically different than before, but the addition of a bigger engine for some trims is very welcome. The Outdoor version is nice enough and comes in a nifty unique paint colour (the one seen here), but it’s not actually more off-road-oriented in terms of capabilities than other Crosstreks, so just don’t have unrealistic expectations and maybe scope out lower trims to see if they offer what you need without the extra dressing.

Overall, the reason this model has quickly become Subaru’s numero uno in Canada is that it ticks off so many of the boxes motorists want, such as AWD, reasonable pricing, roominess and durability.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, three-quarters rear

We like

Solid construction
AWD system that’s as confidence-inspiring as it’s reputed to be
Bigger engine (for some trims)
Interior space is good for the vehicle’s dimensions

We like less

Still not a dynamic driver
CVT can makes things shrill
Interior design is subdued, maybe too much so for some

The 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 CH-R

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor, rear

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Photos:D.Boshouwers
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor pictures