Subaru’s Crosstrek Hybrid proved its mettle as an eco-friendly, off-roading crossover as it toured the local Southern California foothills, tackled a three-day, mixed-terrain jaunt to the state’s Central Coast and then headed inland to Carrizo Plain National Monument.
Over a combined 840 miles, the Crosstrek Hybrid handled well and proved itself to be a sure-footed and comfortable adventure vehicle. But carrying more than two adventurers and their gear can be challenging. Room for the 8.8-kWh battery eats into the cargo area behind the second row.
Off the pavement, the plug-in hybrid’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance and stiff suspension made things a bit bouncy at speed. For a bit of mild off-roading on desert or mountain trails, though, the Crosstrek Hybrid performs as well as its non-electrified stablemate.
The extra kick from the Crosstrek’s electric motor makes the hybrid the quickest in the lineup. Its power isn’t tremendous, but there’s enough to get up to speed without feeling threatened by passing big rigs when entering the freeway.
The gas engine gets a bit whiny hauling up steep hills or when tasked with passing on the open road, but it gets the job done. But for the whine, the cabin is quiet.
Steering is accurate. The Crosstrek Hybrid handles curves and corners as if there’s no air between the road and the undercarriage. That’s thanks in part to its nearly 500 pounds of extra weight from the low-slung battery, which gives the small crossover a low center of gravity.
Subaru stiffened the suspension to handle the extra weight, which further improves the hybrid’s driving characteristics.
There’s no EV-only mode as on many plug-in hybrids, so the gas engine comes on when the accelerator pushes the electric powertrain beyond its capability and when the speedometer hits 65 mph. But with a bit of restraint on the go pedal, it’s possible to achieve the EPA-estimated 17 miles of all-electric range in city driving or in the slow lane on the highway.
A Sport mode revs up throttle response but cuts into fuel efficiency by making it difficult to stay in all-electric operation.
The only transmission paired to the hybrid is a gear-driven continuously variable system, which can create some dissonance between what the powertrain is being asked to do and the noises it’s making. The so-called CVT drone can be bothersome with the audio system muted.
Powertrain noise isn’t an issue off-road. And the automatic transmission works well, relieving the chore of shifting while navigating rough terrain.
Engaging the standard X-Mode system designed for low-speed off-road driving and acceleration automatically balances torque and braking. Traction is maximized on loose or slippery surfaces and while climbing out of ditches or climbing over rocks with a wheel or two in the air.
Standard hill-descent control manages throttle and braking while nosing down steep hills. That lets the driver concentrate on steering.
On the spring drive through the Carrizo Plain, California’s last remaining natural grassland and a sea of wildflowers, the Crosstrek discovered some of the most scenic views while navigating deeply rutted and ribbed dirt roads.
Plug-in hybrids don’t get individual EPA ratings for city driving and highway driving. For the Crosstrek Hybrid, the important EPA numbers are those 17 miles of all-electric range and 35 mpg for “gasoline only” operation.
A full charge of the 8.8 kWh battery plus a full 13.6-gallon gas tank and driving until both are empty will net 480 miles, per the EPA ratings. That makes the Crosstrek Hybrid Subaru’s most efficient vehicle.
Hardly anyone, of course, gets full EPA-estimated mileage.
On the 670-mile wildflower-viewing road trip, with no battery charging, the hybrid averaged 29.5 mpg. That included about 40 miles of off-road driving and 500 miles of high-speed freeway driving.
Overall fuel economy for the full six days was 32.8 mpg.
Shorter trips and frequent battery charging improve fuel economy. Drive 87 miles starting with a full battery and you’ll have used the equivalent of 2.26 gallons of gas (2 gallons of petrol and the energy equivalent of .26 gallon stored in the battery). That’s average fuel economy of 38.5 mpg. Do that every week day and then add a 480-mile weekend trip and overall efficiency still would be close to 37 mpg, per the EPA ratings.
The Crosstrek Hybrid’s battery eats up a lot of cargo space. The area behind the rear seats is 26 percent smaller than that in the standard Crosstrek. And cargo area is about 8 inches shorter.
It’s just enough for two travelers. A family of four might find it difficult to use the Crosstrek Hybrid for a weekend getaway without a roof rack or hitch-mounted cargo carrier.
The cargo floor isn’t flat. There’s an awkward 6-inch drop from the cargo area to the seat backs when the rear seats are folded down.
The nearly $36,000 base price is steep, although helped by a $4,502 federal tax credit and, in some markets, state and local incentives.
Availability is slim. Subaru is actively selling the Crosstrek Hybrid only in the 10 Pacific and Northeastern states with zero-emission vehicle requirements. The pace of deliveries to dealers has been glacial after a two-month delay for a manufacturing issue.
The front seats are supportive. The instrument panel is well-laid out. Front and back have plenty of legroom and headroom. The ride is comfortable even over long distances. And the car is pleasant to look at, which counts a lot for many shoppers.
The Subaru all-wheel-drive system works as well in the hybrid as in the standard Crosstrek.
Roof rack systems and various cargo and equipment carriers are available options for the hybrid, which also is rated to tow up to 1,000 pounds.
Subaru’s Eyesight suite of safety and driver-assist features is standard and can be very helpful.
Rush-hour traffic on L.A. freeways can be highly stressful. So that’s when we completed the last 60 miles of our road trip. Using Eyesight’s full-range cruise control with its stop-and-go feature let us relax. The car’s computers and sensors capably handled most of braking and accelerating.
We arrived home without rush-hour driving’s usual “been through a wringer” feeling.