by Frank A. Aukofer

Minor changes to a vehicle during its periodic life cycles usually are called a freshen or refresh in the industry, though it looks as if the Subaru engineers and designers took the bit in their teeth and ran with the second-generation 2021 Crosstrek, a small crossover sport utility vehicle. 

Among the changes: A smooth and powerful new engine shanghaied from the larger Outback and Legacy models, Subaru Eye Sight technology with adaptive cruise control and lane centering, new wheels and exterior design cues, and new colors: Plasma Yellow Pearl and Horizon Blue Pearl. 

There’s also a new model, or trim level, called the Sport, which comes with a special X-Mode all-wheel drive with hill descent control. It  carries some of the feature content of Subaru’s larger Outback Onyx, including a polyurethane water repellent and breathable seat covering called Star Tex, set off by yellow piping and stitching.

Most notable is the Crosstrek’s new 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four cylinder engine, which generates 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which has been refined to the point where even CVT deniers can find little to complain about. It has a manual shift mode that mimics an eight-speed automatic transmission, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Variations of the horizontally opposed power plant, also called a boxer or flat engine, were used in many generations of Volkswagens and Porsches. Japan’s Subaru now is the only manufacturer that installs them in all its vehicles. 

In a boxer engine, the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing upright or leaning at an angle, as with inline or V configurations. Because of its short vertical profile it can be mounted in the engine bay’s basement, giving the vehicle a lower center of gravity, which enhances handling and stability.

Older boxer engines, including those in Volkswagens and some in the Subaru lineup, emit a distinctive exhaust sound, caused by unequal length headers, which affect the exhaust pulses. But the 2.5-liter in the Crosstrek has equal-length headers.

The result is a quieter engine that doesn’t sound like an arrhythmic boxer at all. It delivers a strong surge of power and glassy smooth operation—a revelation when you first get in the new Crosstrek and step on the throttle. For do-it-yourselfers, the new design also mounts the oil filter on top of the engine, simplifying oil changes.

But it’s no drag racer. Subaru rates the zero to 60 mph acceleration 8.2 seconds, not exceptional these days. The Crosstrek’s forte is comfortable cruising in a mostly quiet cabin, and capable handling around the curves aided by active torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive.

Cabin comfort is first rate for four, with supportive seats and a suspension system that gobbles road shocks. As usual in most vehicles these days, the center-rear seat is an uncomfortable perch with a large floor hump that keeps feet apart.           

The Crosstrek boasts some off-road capability, enhanced by 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Subaru’s surveys show that many owners take their Crosstreks on excursions into tough unpaved terrain.

This vehicle can take it. It incorporates copious amounts of lightweight high-strength steel in the body. Among other things, it enables the rear hatchback opening to be shaped squarely for easier loading of cargo. Subaru also installs connecting posts in the lower back doors that gain strength from the body structure for less flexing and protection in side impact collisions.

Though there are higher priced Limited and Hybrid models, the tested Sport came well equipped, requiring few options. The starting price is $27,545, including the destination charge, and the tester had a $1,600 option package that included a motorized sunroof, blind spot detection, lane-keeping assist and rear cross-traffic alert. 

It also had Subaru’s Star Link Multimedia Plus system, which included Apple Car Play and Android Auto, HD radio and SXM satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, and hands-free phone calling. The bottom-line sticker came to $29,145. 

If that’s out of reach, there are two lower trim levels — Base at $23,295 and Premium at $24,345. They use a trusty 2.0-liter boxer engine and, for enthusiasts, come with a standard six-speed manual gearbox. The CVT is optional. But the 2.0-liter is less powerful, at 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque.

With more than 757,000 sold since its inception in 2012, the Crosstrek looks to continue among  the chosen.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 182 hp, 176 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with a manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 101/21 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 3,296 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,545.
  • Price as tested: $29,145. 

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Subaru