First Drive: Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid Has Off-Road Chops, Steep Price

November 30, 2018 by John O'Dell

Subaru Crosstrek buyers typically are looking for a small, nimble, sporty crossover that offers safety, driveability and excellent all-wheel drive performance on slick roads and in mild off-roading.

The new 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid loses none of that and adds a plug-in hybrid system with extra oomph and best-in-class fuel economy, including 17 miles of all-electric range.

But the Crosstrek Hybrid – Subaru is afraid that putting “plug” in the name will scare people – won’t attract buyers in droves.

Sales are limited to 10 states where the automaker needs zero-emission vehicle credits, and is by far the priciest of the Crosstreks. Its battery eats up cargo space.

At first glance, fuel efficiency numbers aren’t great: 17 miles of all-electric range and 35 mpg combined when the battery is depleted. But 35 mpg is best-in class for small AWD crossovers, hybrid or not.

And while Subaru says any dealer can special-order one, the Crosstrek Hybrid will only be stocked and actively sold in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Still, the new crossover offers all the passenger room, comfort and driving dynamics of the standard Crosstrek. It is more than 20 percent more fuel-efficient. And it’s a full second quicker to 60 mph. That matters. The regular Crosstrek’s acceleration can be measured with a calendar rather than a stopwatch.

The Crosstrek Hybrid also qualifies for a federal income tax credit of up to $4,500, as well as additional financial incentives in some states — $1,500 in California, for instance. That helps mitigate the premium price.

The Ride

Despite much-improved sound-deadening that otherwise keeps the cabin relatively quiet for a small car, even in electric-only mode, the hybrid’s 2.0-liter flat-four “boxer” engine makes its presence known. Engine noise is loudest when climbing steep grades or pushing in a passing lane.

In a 150-mile drive in the mountains above Santa Barbara, Calif., the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid performed admirably both on road and along 10 miles of rocky, rutted and steeply undulating dirt track.

Steering isn’t sports-car responsive, but it is firm and accurate. The power is adequate and ride quality and seat comfort are good. Despite the elevated ride height – all Crosstreks have 8.7 inches of ground clearance – there’s little lean or body roll on corners and little jolting over ruts and potholes. The engine gets noisy when pushed, but it is not uncomfortably loud.

This is a real off-road-capable crossover, with full-time, mechanical all-wheel drive, just like any AWD Subaru.

It’s still a Subaru. (Photo: Subaru of America)

The hybrid deftly scrambles over rough terrain. Running in high-torque electric mode at slow speeds makes the vehicle smoother and easier to handle when clambering over big rocks and into and out of deep ruts and gullies.

Subaru’s X-Mode with hill-descent control provides automated brake and transmission control for steep declines on slippery, uneven trails, along with power management, throttle response, stability control and torque vectoring.

Trim Levels, Features and Pricing

Subaru offers the 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid in one trim with a single option.

The base price is $35,970 including destination charges. That’s $7,800 more – before federal and state incentives – than a comparably equipped non-hybrid Crosstrek Limited, whose features list it shares.

Leather, keyless entry and ignition, auto up-down front windows, power mirrors and driver seat, heated front seats, automatic climate control and a six-speaker audio system and 8-inch color infotainment touchscreen all are standard.

Hybrid-exclusive features include lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels, low-profile roof rails for increased aerodynamics, a navy-and-gray upholstery scheme, special hybrid badging and trim and a “Lagoon Blue” pearlescent exterior color choice.

A trio of driver-selectable driving modes maximize all-electric driving, charge the hybrid battery on the fly or save stored electricity for later use – perhaps when silent running is desired for wildlife viewing.

A $2,500 bump to an even heftier $38,470 adds the Crosstrek Hybrid’s only option: A package consisting of a power moonroof, heated steering wheel, navigation and an upgraded eight-speaker sound system.

Safety Features

The camera-based EyeSight safety and driver-assistance suit that bundles pre-collision braking and throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist systems is standard. So are blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic braking in reverse.

The hybrid also comes with a 10-year subscription to the StarLink emergency notification system.

  • crosstek gallery1

Hybrid Power

The 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid’s 2.0-liter gas engine produces 137 horsepower and 134 pound-feet of torque, versus the standard Crosstrek’s 152 ponies and 145 pound-feet.

But when acceleration is needed, the electric drive motor kicks in. Combined output is 148 hp and 149 pound-feet. The electric motor’s instant torque enables the hybrid to clock 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds versus 10.3 seconds for gas-only versions.

The 118-hp drive motor also powers the Crosstrek Hybrid in all-electric mode at speeds of up to 65 mph, when the throttle isn’t being applied aggressively.

Subaru’s “StarDrive” hybrid system uses two electric motor-generators licensed from the Toyota Camry Hybrid. One starts the engine and generates power for the battery; the other powers the car in all-electric mode and assists the gas engine at other times.

Power for the electric motors is stored in an 8.8-kilowatt lithium-ion battery that uses some control parts from Toyota’s Prius Prime PHEV.

The battery charges in about 2 hours with a 240-volt charger and 5 hours on a standard 120-volt household circuit using the supplied charging cord.

The motor-generators sandwich a gear-driven, shiftless electronic CVT (continually variable transmission).

Cargo Space

The 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid offers a modest 15.9 cubic feet of cargo area behind the seats, versus 20.8 cubic feet in the regular model. The hybrid battery is under the cargo floor and rear seats and raises both a bit, elevating the cargo floor about 3 inches above the bottom lip of the lift gate opening.

Folding down the split rear seats boosts total cargo area to 43.1 cubic feet – 22 percent less than the standard Crosstrek’s 55.3 cubic feet.

On the plus side, the Crosstrek Hybrid, unlike many plug-ins, can tow a little. It has a 1,000-pound rating.

The hybrid also can handle rooftop loads of 150 pounds when underway, and up to 700 pounds – such as a camping tent and its occupants – when parked on a level surface.

Last Words

Subaru’s Crosstrek sales have more than tripled in recent years, thanks to chassis, suspension and interior improvements that have made it worthwhile competition among small crossovers.

The 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid adds a new dimension that should appeal to crossover shoppers seeking both good fuel economy and decent off-road capabilities.

Unfortunately, diminished cargo capacity and relative high price – even with a federal tax credit – are downsides likely to deter as many shoppers as the Crosstrek Hybrid’s bountiful positive features will draw.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, attended an event at which Subaru of America hosted travel and lodging.

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