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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.

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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.

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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.

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Specifications

  • 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.

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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.

9._2016_WRXSpecifications

  • 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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