Mountain Wheels: Second-generation Subaru Crosstrek aims at outdoorspeople (column)
July 21, 2017
That Subaru you drive in Summit County ain't just a cliché — you're part of a trend-setting lifestyle that's so influential it drives an entire brand. Who knew, right?
The outdoorsy, dog-friendly and adventure-driven High Country deal is very much at the heart of the push for the almost entirely re-manufactured 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, a lifted and re-imagined Impreza derivative aimed squarely at folks who wish they were you, but might sadly live in Ohio or New Jersey.
Crosstrek has turned into a solid seller among those seeking an inexpensive but versatile light-offroader, without the bulk of the Outback, doing brisk business for the company for the last five years. Subaru, celebrating its 50th anniversary in the United States, has significantly retooled the Crosstrek for 2018, making it wider, longer and a bit roomier on the inside.
Those who loved the eye-searing Sunshine Orange paint job when Crosstrek first appeared can once again rock it with the new model, which goes on sale in a few weeks. That's part of a brightened interior (a bit of highlight stitching on the seats as well) and a series of updates that makes it a more comfortable and smoother cruising machine.
We headed up to Deadwood, South Dakota, last week to try out the Crosstrek as part of a snazzy glamping adventure (forgive me for using the "G" word) and spent a lot of time in the Suby's saddle, cruising gravel roads and highways around Mt. Rushmore — with the results being many thumbs-up for Crosstrek's revamp.
A lowered roof, additional rear leg room and wider cabin space make for a better overall passenger experience; in the back, the stretching means an extra 2.9 cubic feet of storage and an adapted rear cargo opening that's 4 inches wider, ideal for your inevitably weird loads.
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First things first, though, for those of you who've asked if they wised up and swapped in a WRX STI-styled high-output engine into the slightly poky Crosstrek: No dice. This is still an austere machine, with a revised version of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder Boxer, producing a marginally upped 152 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque.
They've messed with the automatic continuously-variable transmission to provide seven virtual gears and marginally better flat-pedal acceleration, but Crosstrek is still not a bomber, by any means. Faster, more responsive steering, active torque vectoring, improved overall brake feel and a re-tooled suspension do make travel more pleasant.
A new six-speed manual might help eke out a bit more pull when you really need it; the positive here is as much as 33 MPG on the highway, and a "bladder-busting" 547-mile range (almost enough to get you from Frisco to Billings or Flagstaff without refueling, on one of those adventure-lifestyle trips).
The optional X-Mode system does some pretty impressive off-road work, teamed with the car's 8.7 inches of clearance. It's basically a one-button combination of all those knobs and buttons you find on Jeeps, Land Rovers and Fords, kicking in an adjustable downhill speed control and braking and throttle system that allows you (as we did) to pilot yourself down a very steep scree slope and concentrate entirely on the driving. It works, and it will help on both hairy trails and very icy wintertime trips down from Wildernest.
Crosstrek's looks have been toughened up a bit, with squared, taller wheel arches, squared-up (and steering-responsive) headlamps with LED running lights and a cleaner overall front face. A black rear spoiler and a wider look to the rear also gives the car some added presence.
Subaru likes to emphasize driver visibility as a major safety attribute and to that end, the A-pillars are thin and easy to see through, with front quarter glass ahead of the side mirrors, and the B-pillar size has also been cut for improved on-the-road views. The acclaimed EyeSight safety system returns in improved form, plus the built-in Starlink communications system (which will sense if an accident has occurred and will call 911 for you, among other functionalities).
Inside, a wraparound console makes for nicer looks, and the available infotainment system is the improved third-generation version found in Impreza, with four different navigation options, premium Harmon-Kardon audio and a pile of on-screen apps that include the absolutely Subaru-esque eBird, a bird-watching utility.
Crosstrek is the second model built using Subaru's new standardized vehicle platform, which will form the basis for all of its future products — including the anticipated three-row SUV, the Ascent, which debuts later this year. As is the case with other carmakers, Subaru says the platform also allows gas-electric hybrid or full electrification options, as well as the next steps in autonomous motoring.
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