Subaru XV Crosstrek
By: Todd Lassa

We Like: Agile handling, supple ride, steering feedback, value, and fuel efficiency.

We Don't Like: Merely adequate power. NVH matches low-rent '90s interior.

Nothing beyond the Subaru XV Crosstrek's "Impreza Outback" styling suggests "new" or "breakthrough." The transmission has just five gears, and we suspect the continuously variable transmission option would drain the old-school driving fun.

So it might surprise you that the Subie made our first cut of Sport/Utility of the Year candidates. But it's greater than the sum of its parts, and was more fun than most on the Santa Maria airport tarmac's handling course. It's 148-horsepower slow, though tossable while maintaining Subaru's typically supple ride.

The Crosstrek handles and parks like a compact car, will carry sporting accoutrements and friends, and is capable of light off-roading if you want to sustain that conceit. It's a great Michigan winter vehicle, and it's cheaper than the Ford Escape and Honda CR-V. At 22.4 mpg from hard, real-world driving, it was nearly 4 mpg better than the second-best Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec.

"One of the things that won me over was its honesty and value," said our most serious off-roader, Truck Trend editor Harwood. "This cabin is pretty retro, with cheap materials, but for the price it's what the XV should have. Who would put a muddy dog in a leather-wrapped cabin?"

With short overhangs, the XV has 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Subaru added a molded notch at the back of the roof rack to gain 0.1 point in its drag coefficient, and negate the rack's fuel-economy effect. These features make the Crosstrek the poster-vehicle for driving to that mountain bike trail in the woods.

Frequent readers will note the Crosstrek is basically a raised version of the Impreza hatchback CVT that did so poorly in the 2012 Car of the Year competition. True enough. Ordering the manual gearbox over the CVT can make a big difference, and it's part of the XV Crosstrek's value proposition. The base trim level, enigmatically called Premium, starts at $22,790. The $25,290 Limited adds automatic climate control; automatic headlamps; a better radio; and leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel and CVT gearshift knob.

Yes, the Crosstrek Limited comes only with the CVT, and we think the combo of higher price and no third pedal would remove the old-school stick-shift fun that makes it not the winner, but the one many of us would buy.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
BASE PRICE $22,790
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/148-hp/145-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve F-4
TRANSMISSION 5-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3038 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 103.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 175.2 x 70.1 x 63.6 in
0-60 MPH 8.8 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.6 sec @ 81.5 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 122 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.54 g (avg)
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.75 lb/mile