What it is: The Crosstrek is Subaru's subcompact SUV that premiered as a 2013 model. It's based on the extremely popular Impreza model, and actually gave it more capability. The main difference is more ground clearance and a new rear differential that gives the Crosstrek a 1,500-pound towing capacity (towing is not recommended for the Impreza).
The bodywork is different for the Crosstrek, and gives the car a more aggressive and off-road capable look with different bumpers, wheels and wheel arch cladding. The additional ground clearance is not a joke, as it is 50 percent higher than an Impreza (8.7 inches vs 5.9 inches) and paired with Subaru's AWD drivetrain, there is certainly some real off-road capability here.
My biggest problem with the Crosstrek was the CVT (continuously variable transmission). It's a more efficient version of an automatic transmission, and it just isn't as good as it needs to be. The acceleration is very slow at more than 10 seconds to 60 mph. When I think Subaru, I think performance, and while there is significant off-road capability, the Crosstrek was slow enough to frustrate me. The CVT has a manual-mode, but it provides no additional performance increase. I will say that I think only Nissan makes a CVT that I could personally live with on a day-to-day basis.
A big positive on my test model was the inclusion of the EyeSight Driver-Assist System ($1,995). It provides a pre-collision auto braking system, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warnings. These are features that people don't know that they love until they buy a car that has them. At $1,995, it is a relatively easy choice and you should go for it.
Unfortunately, Subaru has restricted the package to only CVT-equipped vehicles (same thing with the optional $1,000 sunroof) so if you want the great EyeSight package, you'll have to pay an extra $1,000 for the lackluster CVT (instead of a manual transmission).
The Crosstrek comes in five trims, 2.0i, 2.0i Premium, 2.0i Limited, Hybrid, and Hybrid Touring. My test model was the 2.0i Premium, which will run you only $800 more than the base 2.0i and provides body-color side mirrors, orange stitching on your upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated seats and mirrors, cargo area cover, and a sliding center console lid. Limited is an extra $2,700 over the Premium trim and provides the CVT, leather-trimmed interior, automatic climate control and headlights, and a 7-inch multimedia screen (over the base 6.2 inches). I think the sweet spot is the 2.0i Premium that I tested.
Price: $21,595 base price. $22,395 Premium base price. $26,240 as-tested.
Upsides: Great capabilities for a good price.
Downsides: The Crosstrek is slow.
Wrap-up: I really wanted to like the Crosstrek, but it just isn't there for me. I haven't driven a five-speed manual version, but I have to think that it performs much better than the CVT. I thought the stereo under-performed as well, and for me that is two deal-breaking strikes and you're out. It's hard to not look up to the new Forester, and I would highly recommend test driving one as well when you are checking out the Crosstrek.