Thursday, October 22, 2020
First Reviews 2021 Subaru Crosstrek: Playing Outside

2021 Subaru Crosstrek: Playing Outside

More power, more swagger.


  • The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek starts at $22,245 in the United States, $23,795 in Canada, freight and delivery charges not included.

  • Interesting off-road capabilities, fuel economy, affordable price.

  • Front-seat cushions lack padding, unexciting base engine, average interior space.


Obviously, when we’re in the market for a new vehicle, we’ll try most of the time to find out that perfectly suits our lifestyle, or one that reflects what image we want to project. In the case of the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek, the Japanese brand is aiming folks who love outdoor activities and have an adventurous spirit.

And for this new model year, the Crosstrek adds a new engine upgrade, a few styling enhancements as well as a new, active lifestyle-themed trim level.

For a while now, more and more SUVs and crossovers offer “off-road” variants to head off the beaten path, with higher ground clearance, more electronic assist systems for adventures in the boonies and a more rugged look. If Subaru didn’t pioneer this trend by introducing the Outback more than 25 years ago, it sure helped popularize it. The subcompact Crosstrek crossover is in fact a more robust-looking version of the Subaru Impreza five-door, but sells twice as much as the car on which it’s based.

In addition, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek must confront a plethora of models in its segment, including the Hyundai Kona, the Nissan Rogue Sport/Qashqai, the Mitsubishi RVR, the Honda HR-V, the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Trax, the Mazda CX-3 and CX-30 as well as the Kia Seltos.

What sets the Crosstrek apart, among other things, is its 8.7-inch (220-millimetre) ground clearance—only the RVR comes close at 8.5 inches (215 mm). With such a ride height, the automaker could install a suspension with greater travel, perfect for driving on rocky roads and badly maintained roadways. We also get an electronic drive system called X-Mode in the Crosstrek, which includes hill descent control as well as clever management of the AWD system for providing power to the wheels with the most grip in slippery situations.

On the road under normal driving conditions, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek’s full-time all-wheel drivetrain, when matched to the continuously variable automatic transmission, sends 60% of engine power to the front wheels and 40% to the rear. If the system detects wheel slippage, the torque split can vary up to 50/50. On the Crosstrek with the six-speed manual transmission, the AWD system works with a fixed 50/50 split.

As for the powertrain, a 2.0L horizontally opposed four cylinder unit that’s shared with the Impreza is found in base trim levels. Producing 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, this engine does the job without bringing much excitement to the party. On the other hand, its city/highway/combined fuel economy ratings of 28/33/30 mpg (8.5/7.0/7.9 L/100 km in Canada) with the automatic are among the best in the subcompact segment, despite the full-time AWD, while the Subaru’s rivals use reactive systems that send power to the rear wheels after the wheels start to slip. However, manual gearbox fans—if there are any left—will be sad to see that so equipped, the Crosstrek’s combined consumption is only 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km).

In the newly added trim level—called Sport in the United States and Outdoor in Canada—as well as the Limited, we’re now treated to a 2.5L four-cylinder engine that produces 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet, matched exclusively to the automatic transmission. The extra grunt is most welcome, as it makes the vehicle more energetic, even though it still ain’t no hot rod. Moreover, the more generous torque seems to help the CVT make a better impression, no longer obligated to keep the engine revving high during acceleration. And the good news is that the bigger engine only consumes a few more drops of fuel compared to the 2.0L mill.

As for the Sport/Outdoor version, the one we drove, it boasts redesigned plastic wheel arches, more rugged looking bumper garnishes and new colours, Plasma Yellow Pearl and U.S.-only Horizon Blue Pearl. Inside, we note StarTex seat upholstery, with a texture that resembles strangely thin rubber, but which it durable, according to Subaru. The design is complete with metallic yellow contrast stitching and accents, as well as all-season floor mats. The U.S.-spec Crosstrek Sport and Canada-spec Crosstrek Outdoor also receive a front-mounted camera to make off-road driving easier on rough trails, while the X-Mode adds Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud programs.

If the interior design is pleasing to the eye, hardly breathtaking, the front-seat cushions could use a little more padding for longer drives. The control layout is ergonomic, the instrumentation is clearly legible and the infotainment system benefits from a large touchscreen with big button zones, which are easy to poke while driving. We like the windshield wiper de-icers that will prevent them from freezing up during the winter months.

Since it’s based on a compact five-door car, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek isn’t as roomy as some other subcompact crossovers, notably in regards to headroom and rear-seat legroom. However, cargo space is about average for the segment.

Other changes for the 2021 model year include lane centering assist for the Subaru EyeSight safety suite, the deletion of the Sunshine Orange paint colour, new alloy wheel designs and some features that trickle down to lower trim levels. It’s somewhat ironic that the carryover Sport trim level in Canada—positioned between the Outdoor and Limited variants—doesn’t get the more powerful engine. Go figure.

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is a vehicle that seems tailor-made for the snowbelt region of the United States as well as Canada, with a capable all-wheel drivetrain and a suspension conceived to absorb any road surface. With a price ranging from $22,245 to $30,390 in the U.S., and from $23,795 to $34,495 in Canada, freight and delivery charges not included, the new Sport (USA) and Outdoor (Canada) variants offer good bang for the buck at $26,495 and $29,995, respectively.

This little crossover has many qualities and very few shortcomings, and will please both shoppers with an active lifestyle and those who don’t like to play outside. And for 2021, it’s now blessed with a more interesting powertrain to make it even better.

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