The Review Garage

Rating the best and worst in cars, SUVs, trucks, motorcycles, tools and accessories.



2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With “electrification” gaining in the automobile industry, Subaru returns to the fray with its 2019 Crosstrek Plug-in Hybrid crossover sport utility vehicle.

It’s doubtful that anybody in the business seriously believes that all-electric cars will be anything more than a blip on the sales charts any time soon. But there’s a sensitivity to the growing conviction that fossil fuels eventually will go the way of the dinosaurs.

16._2019_CrosstrekSo, manufacturers are producing increasing numbers of hybrids and plug-in hybrids as the bridge to the future. Of the two, hybrids make the most sense. They operate on gasoline and electric power, working in tandem automatically. The best example is the popular Toyota Prius, which has had U.S. sales of more than 1.6 million since its introduction in 1997.

Plug-in hybrids deliver the option of running on electricity exclusively. But the range usually is short and the plug-ins are more expensive than gasoline models or hybrids.

The Crosstrek Hybrid is a prime example. It plugs in easily with a port over the left-rear wheel. On a 220-volt charger, it takes about two hours to charge the battery, which intrudes into and takes about five cubic feet out of the rear cargo area. If you plug into a standard household 110-volt outlet, it takes about five hours.

17._2019_CrosstrekEither way, you will get an honest 17 miles of electric driving. But getting that range takes a delicate foot on the throttle. Punch the pedal to pass another vehicle or get up a hill and the gasoline engine fires up automatically. It shuts down once you get back to feather-foot driving.

This is Subaru’s second foray into the hybrid world. Its first, the XV Crosstrek, was marketed from 2014 to 2016. It used a small, 13-hp electric motor integrated into the transmission to provide an assist to the gasoline engine.

The 2019 Plug-in is way more sophisticated. With Subaru’s standard offering of all-wheel drive on all of its models except the BRZ sports coupe, the Crosstrek incorporates two electric motors to augment the 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine, sometimes also called a “boxer” or “flat” engine.

34._2019_Crosstrek_PremiumBoxers, used exclusively by Subaru and in some Porsche models, have the cylinders lying flat on both sides of the crankshaft, unlike conventional engine designs with cylinders standing upright or leaning in V or W configurations.

The Crosstrek’s hybrid system makes 148 hp, slightly less than the 2018 gasoline model’s 152 hp. But with the electric motors it has 149 lb-ft of torque compared to 145 for the gasoline-only engine.

The electric motors, which produce instant torque, make the Crosstrek Plug-in feel lively and quick off the line. Of course, if you get your foot in it for maximum acceleration, the gasoline engine also gets in the game. With the lower center of gravity afforded by the boxer engine, this Crosstrek handles capably and tracks steadily in a straight line.

33._2019_Crosstrek_PremiumThe tester boasted a comfortable, quality interior, full basic safety equipment and options that included a navigation system with an eight-inch touch screen, upscale Harman Kardon audio, SXM satellite radio, motorized glass sunroof and a heated steering wheel.

Based on the top-line Limited Crosstrek, the Hybrid also came with a long list of desirable standard equipment: EyeSight technology with adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision and reverse braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection with lane-change assist and rear cross-traffic alert.

13._2019_Crosstrek_LimitedThe EPA rates the Crosstrek Plug-in at 35 mpg in combined city/highway driving on the gasoline engine only. In overall hybrid driving the combined rating is 90 mpgE.

But economics is factor. The tested Crosstrek Hybrid had a base price of $35,970, including the destination charge. That is $8,760 more than the 2018 gasoline Crosstrek Limited model tested here earlier. The 2019 Hybrid, with options, topped out at $38,470 compared to the 2018 gasoline model’s $30,655 — a $7,815 difference.

Assuming you could actually achieve the hybrid’s 90 mpgE you would use about 167 gallons in a year of 15,000 miles of hybrid driving. At $4 a gallon, it would take more than 11 years to recoup the additional cost of this Hybrid.

That said, there is an environmental cost to consider. Using the 35 miles to the gallon number for gasoline driving, you would burn 429 gallons over 15,000 miles, or about 4,720 gallons in 11 years. Let your conscience be your guide.


  • Model: 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine/motor: 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder gasoline; two electric motors; combined 148 hp, 149 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 101/16 cubic feet.
  • Height: 5 feet 3 inches.
  • Weight: 3,725 pounds.
  • Gasoline-only city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 35 mpg; gasoline-electric 90 mpgE.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,970.
  • Price as tested: $38,470.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

18._2019_CrosstrekPhotos (c) Subaru


2019 Subaru Forester Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

If Subaru were a surfer dude, it would be riding the crest of a very big wave, and its 2019 Forester will help keep it there.

The redesigned compact crossover sport utility vehicle, now in its fourth generation, arrives with more streamlined and sophisticated styling, as well as a host of new features.

Subaru2019Forester-9Built on a new global platform that also underpins the Ascent, Impreza and Crosstrek, the Forester delivers improved access for passengers and cargo, a new engine and transmission combination with automatic idle stop-start for improved fuel economy, additional safety measures and standard all-wheel drive.

Except for the company’s rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, developed with Toyota, all Subaru cars and crossover SUVs put the power to the ground with all four wheels. The Forester doesn’t have the off-road credentials of muscular Jeeps and Land Rovers. But it can handle foul weather conditions and moderately challenging terrain, especially on versions with X-Mode, which includes hill descent control.

There are five trim levels, starting with the $25,270 Base, followed by the $27,070 Premium, new $29,770 Sport, $31,770 Limited and $35,270 Touring. Prices include the $975 destination charge.

Subaru2019Forester-75All Foresters come with Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology, which includes pre-collision throttle management and braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist with lane departure and sway warning.

The tested Sport model came with a $2,045 option package that included blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking, and a power rear tailgate with pushbutton closing and adjustable open height.

The package also covered Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system with an eight-inch touch screen, premium Harman Kardon audio, Bluetooth connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SXM satellite radio. It brought the Sport’s bottom-line price to $31,815.

Power surges from a newly-engineered 2.5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder engine that makes 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque with city/highway/combined fuel consumption of 26/33/29 mpg.

Subaru2019Forester-26It is mated to Subaru’s Lineartronic continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). CVTs ordinarily ordinarily multiply torque seamlessly without shift points. However, on the Forester Sport, the CVT incorporates a computer-generated seven-speed manual shift mode with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. Under hard acceleration in automatic mode, it also mimics a conventional automatic’s upshifts.

The Forester is equipped with a system called SI-Drive that allows the driver to select throttle characteristics for fuel economy (“intelligent”) or maximum performance (“sport”), called “sport sharp” on the Sport trim.

The horizontally-opposed engine, also called a boxer or flat engine, has cylinders that lie supine, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing upright or leaning as with an inline or V configuration. Its low profile results in a lower center of gravity, which contributes to more secure road-holding and handling.

Subaru2019Forester-81As a vehicle that is oriented toward small families and adventuresome singles, the new Forester is designed to be both practical and comfortable. The rear doors are wider than before and swing open to nearly 90 degrees for adults to easily step in. Also, the cargo area, with 33 cubic feet of space, has an opening more than 43 inches wide and 32 inches high for ease of loading large objects. Fold the rear seatbacks flat and the space expands to 71 cubic feet.

Though not a racer, the Forester Sport’s suspension tuning and  performance-oriented wheels and tires, aided by brake-engaged torque vectoring, enhance handling on curving roads. At highway speeds, it tracks true and is quiet except for some intrusion of engine noise under hard acceleration.

The ride is compliant on all but the roughest roads and the Sport comes with supportive front seats upholstered in sturdy and comfortable cloth.

Subaru2019Forester-80One shortcoming: If the driver inadvertently shuts down the engine with the transmission in “drive,” the Forester will roll away. If that happens on many other vehicles, the transmission automatically shifts to “park.” The rollway scenario has been receiving increasing attention as a safety hazard.

Even at that, the Forester is a highly desirable vehicle and a staunch competitor in the compact crossover class. Since its introduction in 1997, it has totaled sales of 1.8 million, with many owners keeping them beyond expected trade-in times.

As a company, Subaru has been uncommonly successful, one of a few manufacturers that thrived despite the recession of a decade ago. In the last nearly seven years, it has had 81 consecutive months of year over year sales growth.


  • Model: 2019 Subaru Forester 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 seven-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 108/33 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,531 lbs.
  • Towing capability: 1,500 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 26/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $29,770.
  • Price as tested: $31,815.

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

Subaru2019Forester-4Photos (c) Subaru

2019 Subaru Ascent Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

You make a flavorful confection without a tasty topping, so you lose customers. Subaru faced that dilemma and whipped up the 2019 Ascent to top its lineup of cars and crossover SUVs.

19MY_Ascent-cinn2The Japanese company, enjoying steady popularity, found that customers with growing families were fleeing. It had the Outback, originally a station wagon converted to a crossover; the Forester and smaller Crosstrek crossovers; the Legacy and Impreza sedans; WRX and WRX STI sport sedans, and the BRZ sport coupe.

But none could carry more than five passengers. Customers with a couple or more kids, as much as they liked Subaru — especially its “love” advertising — went looking elsewhere.

The company tried to accommodate more passengers with its 2004 Tribeca, a seven-passenger crossover. But it was cramped, sales were lousy and it was unceremoniously dropped in 2014.

19MY_Ascent-red6Now comes the all-new Ascent, the biggest-ever Subaru, with both seven- and eight-passenger configurations. More than that, however, it is stocked with inventive and imaginative features that prompted one Subaru official to describe the Ascent as the “perfect family hauler” and the top-line Touring “the kitchen sink” model.

One item is an inside rear-view mirror that, with the touch of a lever, switches from mirror mode to a rear-facing camera. That’s for when you load up the back with so much vacation stuff you can’t see out of the rear window. Like others of this kind, the camera view can confuse a viewer’s depth perception but at least it gives an unobstructed view of what’s behind.

2019_Ascent_Touring-Interior_1Also: tri-zone climate control so even third-row passengers have air vents. Nineteen (count ‘em) cup holders. Eight USB charging ports so everybody can play games and write novels. Rolling 4G LTE Wi-Fi  hotspot. Reading lights for the back rows. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wide-opening rear doors and a rear hatch opening maximized for loading large items.

Depending on the trim level — there are four — some of these items are extra-cost options. However, this review is based on the Touring “kitchen sink” model, which has a sticker of $45,670, so has all of those and more. Other trims are the base at $32,790, Premium at $35,170 and Limited at $39,970.

2019_Ascent_Touring-Interior_2The base model comes equipped for eight passengers, with a second-row bench seat. Premium and Limited trims offer a choice of seven- or eight-passenger seating with no price difference. The Touring model comes only as a seven-passenger with second-row captain’s chairs.

Some notables: Like all Subaru vehicles (except for the rear-drive BRZ coupe), the Ascent has standard all-wheel drive, motivated by a horizontally-opposed 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Also called a boxer or flat engine, it is similar to those that powered the famed Volkswagen Beetle. Subaru now is the only car company that uses boxers exclusively.

In a boxer, the cylinders lie feet-to-feet on both sides of the crankshaft instead of standing up as in a conventional four or leaning as in a V6 or V8. The low profile makes for a lower center of gravity for better handling, which the big Ascent has in abundance. It conquers curves with aplomb and tracks true in a straight line, minimizing driver fatigue.

2019_Ascent_Limited-Interior_3The Ascent’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is one of the better units of that design, which uses belts and pulleys to multiply engine power. There is none of the slipping sensation of some CVTs and the Ascent’s can be shifted with steering-wheel paddles to mimic an eight-speed automatic.

With a responsive throttle, the Ascent is never embarrassed in freeway merging or two-lane passing. It can tow a trailer weighing up to 5,000 pounds, and also has some off-road capability with 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a so-called “X-drive” mode that maximizes traction and includes automatic hill descent control.

Ascent_Lmtd-Interior1Packaging for seven or eight people is artfully done. The second-row seats slide fore-and-aft to provide knee room in the third row, which can accommodate a couple of adults but is best reserved for agile youngsters.

In this age, it goes without saying that a vehicle of this stature comes with modern safety equipment, including automatic pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping and trailer sway warning, and blind-sport warning.

Overall, the new Ascent is a more than worthy competitor to the Volkswagen Atlas, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-9, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder and Hyundai Santa Fe.


  • Model: 2019 Subaru Ascent Touring four-door, three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.4-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder; 260 hp, 277 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously-variable automatic with eight-speed manual-shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 6 feet.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 150/18 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 4,603 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/22 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $45,670.
  • Price as tested: $45,670.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

19MY_Ascent-cinn1Photos (c) Subaru

2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

With a reservoir of affection from loyal fans, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek boosts the Japanese company’s relentless climb up the staircase to automotive nirvana.

Few vehicle manufacturers have been as successful as Subaru since industry sales tanked in the 2007-2009 recession. When other nameplates sagged and struggled, Subaru surged. Starting in 2008, its sales increased every year until they reached 615,132 in 2016.

In 2012, Subaru introduced the Crosstrek XV, a small crossover sport utility vehicle based on the same platform as the Impreza sedan and hatchback. It, too, has succeeded with sales up every year since, reaching 99,677 in 2016.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-Front_in_motionSubaru insiders credit a chunk of the success to an epiphany that many owners loved their cars for their durability and reliability, and expected them to last a long time. The company morphed those sentiments into advertising that equated ownership with love.

Crossovers like the Crosstrek are generally described as SUV-like vehicles built with unit bodies like cars, where traditional SUVs are built like trucks with body-on-frame construction. Usually, crossovers have front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive but all Subaru cars and crossovers, with the exception of the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, come standard with all-wheel drive.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd_Red-FrontAs newer compact and subcompact crossovers threaten to engulf the marketplace, the 2018 Crosstrek (the SV designation has been dropped) is positioned to expand its reach as well.

In concept and size, the new generation Crosstrek is the same as the original, which made its debut as a 2013 model. But the 2018 is built on an all-new platform that will be used for Subaru vehicles world-wide and, according to company officials, it is 95% new with 80% new parts and a 70% more rigid structure.

A test drive fortified the claim. Though the original Crosstrek was a modestly capable vehicle, it did not have an overall aura of substance. In contrast, the new car has a rigid, solid feel. The steering, suspension system and tires contribute to confident handling and stable straight-line tracking. The Crosstrek also employs torque vectoring, which adjusts wheel speed in cornering.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-interior5The weak point is the power train, which despite a new 152-hp 2.0-liter horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder engine, does not differ much from the 148-hp engine in the original Crosstrek.

With a horizontally opposed engine, also referred to as a boxer or flat engine, the cylinders lie supine on both sides of the crankshaft instead of leaning or standing upright as on V or in-line engines. The squat design results in a lower center of gravity for better control.

The Crosstrek’s relaxed power is not as noticeable with the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) as with the 6-speed manual gearbox.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-interior_2toneOn modest uphill highway stretches with the manual transmission, the driver often finds that downshifts to as low as third gear are required as the engine struggles to supply enough power. It’s as if the drivetrain were designed to maximize fuel economy over performance.

The power shortage is not nearly as noticeable with the CVT, which uses belts and pulleys to seamlessly adjust engine revolutions as needed. There are two CVT versions. On lower trim levels, the CVT adjusts to enhance acceleration and off-road performance. On the Limited model tested here, the CVT came with a computerized 7-speed manual-shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

Although the Crosstrek is not designed as an all-out boondocks buddy, it does have enough ground clearance and capability to handle some off-road territory, as well as delivering confident performance in snow and other foul weather conditions.

18MY_Crosstrek_Lmtd-2tone_rear_seatWith the manual gearbox, the all-wheel drive system distributes power 50-50 to the front and rear wheels. If slippage occurs, it automatically transfers the power to the wheels with the most traction.

On CVT equipped models, the system automatically adjusts the torque distribution based on available traction, acceleration and deceleration. There’s also a hill-descent control to maintain traction at low speeds downhill.

18MY_Crosstrek-engineThe 2018 Crosstrek arrives with three trim levels: Base, at $22,710 including the destination charge; Premium, at $23,510; and Limited, at $27,210. Both the base and Premium versions come with the new 6-speed manual gearbox (up from a 5-speed before). The CVT is a $1,000 option, but is standard on the Limited.

Premium and Limited models can be equipped with Subaru’s optional EyeSight driver assist technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, pre-collision braking, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert.


  • Model: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter 4-cylinder, 152 hp, 145 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with 7-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 8 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 98/21 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,230 lbs.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/33/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,210.
  • Price as tested: $30,655.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

18_Xtrek_Lmtd-wheelPhotos (c) Subaru.

2017 Subaru Outback: A DriveWays Review . . .

by Frank A. Aukofer

Some day someone will carve or cast a monument to the Subaru Outback, in 2017 still a steady success because of an imaginative modification.

In 1995, sport utility vehicles were coming into their own, led by the Ford Explorer, which used a pickup truck chassis with a station wagon body. It became the best-selling SUV. Other manufacturers took note.

But Subaru was a passenger car company with no truck experience. It finessed the situation by taking its existing Legacy station wagon, adding all-wheel drive and jacking up the body to deliver better ground clearance and a taller ride height.

17_Outback_SnowNot much later, the company decided to make all-wheel drive standard in all of its models. That exists to this day except for the rear-drive BRZ sports coupe, developed jointly with Toyota, which sells it as the 86 (formerly Scion FR-S).

Though automobile engineering is way more complicated than most people imagine, adding all-wheel drive to the Outback and other Subaru models was relatively simple.

That’s because Subaru is the only vehicle manufacturer to exclusively install horizontally-opposed engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, in all of its vehicles. It’s a design used from the 1930s to the mid-1970s in all Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses.

Boxer engines have their cylinders lying horizontally, feet to feet, on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of leaning or standing upright like engines with a V or vertical design. To add all-wheel drive to a front-drive vehicle the engineers ran a driveshaft off the back of the engine.

17TDI_OBKb049Boxer engines, because of their low profile, also deliver a lower center of gravity for improved handling. Some of that gets canceled out by the Outback’s tall profile but it works well.

With 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Outback can negotiate many off-road trails. However, it lacks some equipment needed for serious boondocks duty — though it does have hill descent control. Its orientation is toward more secure handling in nasty weather conditions.

Subaru never did produce a typical truck-based SUV. Instead, almost every other manufacturer came around to Subaru’s concept. Truck-based SUVs now are in the minority while unit-body car-based crossover SUVs like the Outback rule the sales charts.

Moreover, Subaru’s vision enabled the company to survive and even improve sales in the great recession a decade ago. And it continues. Buyers signed up for 182,898 Outbacks in 2016. It was far and away Subaru’s best seller, better than the acclaimed Forester and the smaller Crosstrek, its other crossovers.

16Obk_Touring-intThe Outback 2.5i tested for this review was the Touring model, which came so well equipped that it carried no options. The starting price, $36,870, is the same as the bottom-line sticker. Power comes from a 175-hp four-cylinder boxer engine that delivers 174 lb-ft of torque. If you want more, the Touring can be upgraded for $2,200 with a 256-hp 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine with 247 lb-ft of torque.

Both versions get the power to all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that can be shifted manually with paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

A CVT, which uses a system of belts and pulleys to multiply the engine’s torque, ordinarily has no shift points. Some sound and feel as if the transmission is slipping. That doesn’t sit well with some drivers, who prefer the feel of automatic shift points.

17TDI_OBKb010Subaru mitigates most of that and also programs the transmission to impart artificial shift points under hard acceleration. The manual shift mode on the 2.5i mimics a six-speed automatic. EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption is a respectable 25/32/28 miles to the gallon.

One shortcoming: If you shut off the engine in Drive and forget to shift into Park, the Outback can roll away. There’s no automatic fail-safe.

Though the Outback is a midsize, it feels and drives like a bigger vehicle. Interior space is generous, especially in the back seat, which has enough knee and head room to accommodate NBA basketball players. The drawback is the center-rear seat, which is compromised by a hard, high cushion and a large floor hump.

The tested Touring model came with Subaru’s Eyesight system, which includes such safety items as collision mitigation, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning and automatic braking when reversing.

The Outback still resembles a station wagon. But it’s doubtful prospective customers see anything but a fully-equipped midsize crossover SUV that comes with a promise of durability and a long-term relationship.


  • Model: 2017 Subaru Outback 2.5i Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:5-liter horizontally-opposed four-cylinder, 175 hp, 174 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six-speed manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 105/36 cubic feet. (73)
  • Weight: 3,684 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/32/28 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $36,870.
  • Price as tested: $36,870.

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

17TDI_OBKb003Photos (c) Subaru

2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

The 2017 Subaru Forester proves, once again, that excellence does not necessarily equate with popularity.

As a competitor for the growing consumer infatuation with compact crossover sport utility vehicles, the Forester consistently earns praise from critics and has been the top choice in the class by Consumer Reports.

_as_1357Yet it ranks sixth in sales among popular compact crossovers, behind the best-selling Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox. That’s an achievement given the fact that Subaru, which enjoys a fine reputation and enviable owner loyalty, ranks eighth in overall sales among vehicles offered in the United States.

For 2017, the Forester achieves a level of technological advancement that makes it safer and a better performer than before, especially in the top tier 2.0XT Touring model tested for this review.

On the performance front, the 2.0XT comes with a 250-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that develops 258 pound-feet of torque. Its horizontally-opposed design (also called a boxer, flat or pancake configuration), in which the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft, contributes to a lower center of gravity that aids the handling of this tall crossover.

_as_1983All-wheel drive is standard and the power gets to the wheels through an innovative continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel.

The transmission has three shift modes: Intelligent for routine driving chores, in which the CVT multiplies the engine’s torque without shift points. But for sharper performance there are two additional shift modes controlled by paddles on the steering wheel—Sport and Sport Sharp.

All three modes make for sprightly acceleration off the line but the Sport and Sport Sharp modes deliver a more flexible and involved driving experience.

_as_1236Shift into Sport and the transmission mimics the shift points of a six-speed automatic transmission for quicker response. Sport Sharp takes it one level better with eight speeds. Both the six- and eight-speed modes operate automatically or manually with the paddles.

They’re a lot of fun to play with in different circumstances and give the Forester a sporting manner that belies its practical crossover SUV orientation. Also, handling is enhanced by brake-activated torque vectoring to more precisely point the Forester around curves.

The suspension system soaks up softer bumps but the ride gets choppy on the many rough roads that have developed everywhere because federal, state and local jurisdictions are short of money to maintain them.

_as_1320On the safety side, the tested Forester 2.0XT arrived with Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver assist features. They include adaptable cruise control, which automatically maintains a set distance from the car ahead; pre-collision braking, which will stop the vehicle if it detects an imminent collision; lane-departure warning and mitigation, which steers a wandering vehicle back into its lane; reverse automatic braking if an object is detected; rear cross-traffic alert; sway warning; automatic headlight high beams, and blind-spot warning (superfluous if the outside mirrors are adjusted properly).

There are also aids for modest off-roading: hill descent control, which maintains downhill speeds at 12 miles an hour or less, and pushbutton activated X-Mode, which reduces wheel slip by automatically adjusting engine and transmission responses below 18 miles per hour.

_as_1267With its tall, somewhat boxy shape, the Forester delivers exemplary passenger and cargo space. Headroom inside is generous enough for ten-gallon hats and the tall windows provide excellent outside visibility.

A giant motorized glass sunroof provides an expansive overhead view. Side view mirrors are mounted back on the doors, affording shorter drivers an unobstructed view of close obstacles like curbs. One shortcoming: despite slide-out extensions on the sun visors, they are not long enough to completely block sunlight from the sides.

_as_1348Though the rear seatbacks fold flat, they do not line up with the cargo floor. But there’s a generous 32 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the seatbacks, which grows to 69 cubic feet when they are flipped down.

Outboard back seats pamper tall passengers with plenty of knee room in addition to the head room. Even the center rear position, hampered by a floor hump and a hard seat cushion, is usable.

As the top of the line, the tested 2.0XT arrived with the highest Forester price. It starts at $35,170 and, with a navigation system, the Eyesight driver assistance and Subaru’s Starlink roadside assistance services, had a tested price of $36,765.


  • Model: 2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT Touring four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, turbocharged, 250 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six-speed and eight-speed manual modes; all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 108/32 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,479 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 23/27/25 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $35,170.
  • Price as tested: $36,765.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Subaru.


2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

To get a leg up usually helps, but the all-new and newly independent 2017 Subaru Impreza surpasses that by getting two wheels up on the competition.

For many years, Subaru has distinguished itself by making all-wheel drive standard on every one of its cars and crossover sport utility vehicles. In the current lineup, there is one exception: the BRZ rear-drive sports coupe. But that was developed with Toyota to give both manufacturers an entry in that category.

Subaru’s other distinction is that all its vehicles use horizontally-opposed engines. Also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, the cylinders lie flat on both sides of the crankshaft — unlike engines with upright cylinders or V-type engines, where the cylinders lean at an angle.

1-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport_sedan__midIn the last century, boxer engines were ubiquitous in Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses. The other major manufacturer currently installing them — in some models — is Germany’s Porsche, the sports car specialist. The advantage of a boxer is its squished vertical profile, which contributes to a lower center of gravity.

The Impreza — Subaru’s entry in the compact sedan and hatchback class — is newly independent because it now is separate from the company’s high-performance WRX and WRX STI models, which formerly were versions of the Impreza.

For 2017, the Impreza is built on a new platform, which the company says will underpin all its new vehicles for the foreseeable future — even an expected new three-row large crossover SUV. In manufacturer-speak, a platform contains the essentials of a vehicle that can be used in multiple models.

17cl_imp_4c_af37567_032921__midThough marketed as a compact, the new Impreza, in both sedan and hatchback configurations, is classified as a midsize by the EPA based on its interior passenger and cargo space. For the first time, it will be built in the U.S., in a plant in Indiana.

It competes directly against two other outstanding new compacts—also classified as midsize cars — where it gets its two-wheels-up advantage. They are the 2017 Honda Civic and 2017 Hyundai Elantra. Both the Civic and the Elantra, like the Impreza, come in multiple versions. But the most apt comparison here involves each nameplate’s Sport models.

All three, close to 15 feet long and nicely equipped with either automatic transmissions or manual gearboxes, have similar price tags of around $23,000. The Elantra Sport is a standard four-door sedan; the Civic Sport is a hatchback. Both have front-wheel drive.

9-_2017_impreza__midThe Impreza Sport can be ordered as either a four-door sedan or as a hatchback. Alone among the three, it comes with all-wheel drive.

Of the trio, the Elantra Sport delivers the most horsepower. Its turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 201 hp with 195 lb-ft of torque. The Civic Sport’s 1.5-liter four, also a turbo, delivers 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. The Impreza’s 2.0-liter four-banger comes in third with 152 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque.

The different power ratings are reflected in the city/highway/combined fuel economy numbers: Civic 30/39/33, Impreza 27/36/30 and Elantra 22/30/25.

4-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport__midBut power alone does not tell the tale. All three are superb choices in their own way. The focus here is on the tested Impreza Sport four-door sedan, which has a rigid chassis that makes for quiet highway touring with taut handling abetted by its full-time all-wheel drive.

The tester was equipped with Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which uses belts and pulleys to deliver acceleration without shift points. Recognizing that some potential buyers might prefer the sensation of shifting, Subaru includes software to mimic a seven-speed automatic under vigorous acceleration. The CVT also can be shifted manually.

Though not quite as quick off the line as its Sport competitors, the Impreza delivers acceptably strong acceleration and confident power on the highway. It cruises comfortably and quietly, and the Sport includes automatic brake-activated torque vectoring to hustle the Impreza on curves.

8-_2017_impreza_2-0i_sport__midOf course, the Sport is not the only Impreza. There’s also a base version, Premium and Limited versions in both sedan and hatchback models. The hatchback is six inches shorter than the sedan but can carry 21 cubic feet of cargo—more if you stack it higher than the beltline—compared to the sedan’s trunk of 12 cubic feet.

For peace of mind, you also can order Subaru’s state-of-the-art Eyesight driver assist suite, which includes reverse automatic braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind-spot detection and rear cross traffic alert.

Even without two wheels up, the Impreza would bow to no Sport in its sector.


  • Model: 2017 Subaru Impreza 2.0i Sport four-door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter four cylinder, 152 hp, 148 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual shift mode.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA passenger/trunk volume: 100/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,179 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/36/30 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $23,615.
  • Price as tested: $23,615.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Subaru.


2017 Subaru Crosstrek: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

Without any modification, the 2017 Subaru Crosstrek could tie itself in NOTs. But it’s a good thing.

It’s NOT a sport utility vehicle, despite its generous ground clearance and all-wheel drive.

It’s NOT like other crossover SUVS, which come with front-wheel drive and charge extra for all-wheel drive. On the Crosstrek, AWD is standard.

It’s NOT a blazing performer, with a zero to 60 mph acceleration time of around 10 seconds.

It’s NOT what you’d call luxurious or stylish. Think serviceable.

It does NOT have a conventional engine and transmission.


None of the NOTs is a negative. Take the last item. The Crosstrek, like other cars and crossovers from Subaru of Japan, gets its power from a horizontally-opposed engine, also called a boxer or flat engine.

A boxer engine provides a low profile because its cylinders lie flat, or horizontally, feet to feet on both sides of the crankshaft, instead of standing upright or leaning as in V6 or V8 engines. That squat attitude delivers a lower center of gravity, contributing to improved handling by making the vehicle less inclined to tip.

Boxer engines were used exclusively in Volkswagen Beetles from the 1930s until the 1970s. Today, they are the engines installed in Porsche sports cars like the 911 and Cayman.


With the unconventional engine, the Crosstrek is equipped with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), a type that is becoming increasingly popular but still is out of the mainstream.

A CVT uses a system of belts and pulleys—or, in some cases, gears—to seamlessly transfer power. There are no shift points as in conventional automatic transmissions; power simply multiplies as the engine revolutions rise.

But Subaru finesses even that. Its CVT can mimic a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode controlled by paddles on the steering wheel—not unlike those on super sports cars. It introduces a small measure of sportiness into a vehicle that deliberately eschews it.

Subaru has always displayed an uncanny knack for consumer trends. When SUVs started to take off in sales, the company jacked up its Legacy station wagon and created the Outback. After using the concept on other models, it also delivered a purpose-built crossover, the highly acclaimed Forester.

In 2012, Subaru introduced the Crosstrek as a smaller counterpart to the Forester. It was based on the compact Impreza platform and has continued largely unchanged since.

24-_2017_crosstrek_2-0i_premiumDespite increasing competition as other manufacturers have introduced subcompact and compact crossovers, the Crosstrek’s sales have increased stealthily and steadily, and are on a pace to reach around 90,000 this year.

The Crosstrek’s price starts at $22,570. Tested for this review was the top-line Limited model, which had a starting price of $26,070. With options that included Subaru’s EyeSight driver assist system, navigation, pushbutton starting, a motorized sunroof, and SXM satellite radio with travel and traffic links, the bottom line sticker came to $28,965. That’s a bump of just $125 over the 2016 model.

Standard equipment included the CVT, leather upholstery, blind spot warning and lane change assist, automatic climate control, remote locking, backup camera and cruise control.

27-_2017_crosstrek_2-0i_limitedPower comes from a 148-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine that delivers 145 lb-ft of torque. With the CVT, it is something of a slug when you get your foot in it off the line. But this is not a vehicle to engage in stoplight drag races.

Drive normally in modern, impossibly congested rush hour traffic, and you won’t notice much difference between the Crosstrek and, say, the Porsche Cayenne.

That’s the conundrum of this automotive era: the vast amount of anyone’s time behind the wheel will be in traffic, not joyfully hammering a sports car around curves and switchbacks on a mountain road. Soon, when driverless cars take over, even that may be a candidate for requiescat in pace.

Meanwhile, the Crosstrek is a vehicle to be enjoyed on its own terms. It has comfortable seating for four; as usual, the center-rear passenger gets dissed with a harsh perch, a large floor hump and the intrusion of the center console. Driver’s seat adjustments are manual with no lumbar support.

Out back, the Crosstrek offers an unusually large cargo area for this crossover category—a full 22 cubic feet. The second-row seatbacks fold flat for extra stuff.

With an enviable record for durability and reliability, the Crosstrek won’t win many personality contests but has the potential to be a cherished highway companion for many years.



  • Model: 2017 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0i Limited four door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, 148 hp, 145 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six-speed manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 3 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 94/22 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,208 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined mpg: 26/34/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,070.
  • Price as tested: $28,965.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Subaru.


2016 Subaru WRX Limited: A DriveWays Review…

by Frank A. Aukofer

As it demonstrates again with the 2016 Subaru WRX sports sedan, Subaru continues to refine the art of automotive alchemy—taking base metal and crafting it into something more valuable.

The Japanese company has practiced that magic almost since it started selling cars in the USA. With the WRX, Subaru has crafted a rude, ripping sports sedan from its compact economy car, the Impreza.

That’s par for the course. Back in the 1970s, Subaru wanted to market the Brat, a small pickup truck. But it faced the so-called chicken tax, a retaliatory US tariff on foreign pickup trucks.

So it designed a couple of small bucket seats and mounted them in the cargo bed. The Brat qualified as a passenger car.

Earlier, Subaru had committed to the horizontally-opposed engine, in which the cylinders lie flat, feet-to-feet, on both sides of the crankshaft. It was a design that had been proven in millions of Volkswagen Beetles and microbuses.

Horizontal engines, also called “boxer” or “flat” engines, allow a lower center of gravity for better handling. But they also make it easier to add all-wheel drive to a front-drive car by running a driveshaft off the back of the engine for the rear wheels.

15._2016_WRXToday, all Subaru vehicles are powered by boxer engines and, except for one model, come standard with all-wheel drive. The exception: the BRZ rear-drive sports coupe, developed with Toyota, which sells it as the FR-S. The only other auto manufacturer that installs boxer engines in some of its models is Germany’s Porsche.

When other manufacturers spent many design dollars to meet a developing demand for SUVs, Subaru responded by jacking up and repurposing its Legacy midsize station wagon as the Outback crossover SUV.

The same happened with its compact Impreza, which was the starting point for the WRX and the WRX STI sports sedans, both of which are the result of Subaru’s automotive alchemy. The most aggressive is the WRX STi, which this column in 2015 anointed as the best Subaru ever.

But the regular WRX, though not as powerful and less expensive, is no slouch—and in fact easily fills the bill for many enthusiasts.

Now available only as a conventional four-door sedan (the hatchback version is gone), the WRX gets its motivation from a 268 hp, 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder boxer engine, which delivers 258 lb-ft of torque. It is available either with a six-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

In the current automotive climate, CVTs are routinely bashed by critics who do not like the fact that there are no shift points. A CVT multiplies torque with a setup of variable belts and pulleys. In some installations, there’s a sensation that the transmission is slipping, especially under hard acceleration.

But the WRX uses computer software to give the driver three selectable driving modes: Intelligent, Sport and Sport Sharp. The Intelligent setting is calibrated for economical daily driving and feels sluggish off the line with engine droning sounds and vibration at low rpms.

Better to select Sport or Sport Sharp, either of which is way cool. In Sport, as soon as you get 30% into the throttle, the automatic transmission switches to a six-speed stepped shift mode. You also can shift for yourself using the paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

WRX Limited Black Leather Sliver Exterior

Move to the Sport Sharp position and suddenly you have an eight-speed automatic transmission at your beck and call. It also will step shift automatically or you can select your gears manually with the paddles. It’s all in the software and contributes substantially to the WRX’s sporting personality. Both the Sport and Sport Sharp modes also quicken throttle response.

Combine all that with the WRX’s chassis rigidity and taut suspension system, and you experience a borderline punishing ride on all but the smoothest surfaces. But add the accurate steering, yaw control and torque vectoring for the all-wheel drive, and the payoff comes in responsive handling on twisting roads that can put a grin on the face of the most serious grouch.

New to the WRX this year is Subaru’s EyeSight, a crash prevention system that is integrated with adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and pre-collision braking. On the tested Limited model, the system included “steering responsive” fog lights, which provide additional illumination going around corners. The package also includes an electronic parking brake and a hill holder to keep the WRX from rolling backward on an incline.

This one’s a keeper.


  • Model: 2016 Subaru WRX Limited four door sedan.
  • Engine:0-liter horizontally-opposed four cylinder, 268 hp, 258 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with six- and eight-speed manual shift modes. All-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 15 feet 1 inch.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 93/12 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,450 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 18/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $31,190.
  • Price as tested: $36,858.

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

Photos (c) Subaru

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