Initially, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is a puzzling vehicle. That's because its not instantly clear from the photos who it's meant for and what separates it from the Impreza hatchback on which its based on -- it almost seems made up purely for marketing purposes. Spend some time with it in person, however, and those questions answer themselves.

The XV's contrasting colored flares; blacked-out, 17-inch aluminum wheels; lifted stance with 8.7 inches of ground clearance; dark tinted glass; and standard-issue racks all scream "I'm stylish and really love dirt." It's a unique specimen in segment flooded with cookie-cutter designs. It makes the barely older Impreza five-door look slightly blase, especially when they're parked side by side. Although it's motivated by the same 148-horsepower, 145 lb-ft 2.0-liter FB-series Boxer and five-speed manual as its Impreza sibling, the XV is very much its own individual.

Interestingly, everything inside of the entry-level 2.0i Premium we recently tested is straight to the point. None of the exterior's flash and newness comes into play here; the environment is as clean, simple, and highly usable as you'd find in any other Subaru, and that's not a bad thing. Plenty of passable plastic surfaces, soft materials, and convenient storage bins and bottle holders fill the space. A cargo cover and washable cargo area mat are standard equipment. The Subie has Bluetooth audio capability, but the base six-speaker stereo interface lacks easy-to-navigate menus.

Friends 6 feet and taller easily fit in the rear's 60/40 folding bench seat. Like its exterior dimensions, the interior's rear passenger capacities are basically identical to those of the Impreza: 37.7 inches of headroom, 35.4 inches of space for legs, and 54.2 inches for the shoulders. Behind them is a respectable 22.3 cu-ft of cargo room (with seats folded down, it grows to 51.9 cu-ft), which was plenty of space for my bags and gear. Drivers in cold climates will enjoy the included All-Weather Package, which adds heated front seats and exterior mirrors, plus a windshield wiper de-icer, to the amenity list.

The Crosstrek thankfully lives up to the "expanded-capability" message that its edgy exterior proclaims. On our soft-road loop during this year's 2013 Sport Utility of the Year evaluation, it conquered ruts, rocks, sand, mud, and loads of cow manure like a champ and without much of a struggle. Frequent hill stops for quick photo shots were a cinch to roll out of, thanks to the standard Incline Start Assist. The Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive worked hard in the dry dirt, and with the viscous-coupling locking center differential assigning its ponies appropriately, it got the job done.

It must be noted that accomplishing the job took a lot of wringing out of the smallish Boxer. The XV isn't a powerhouse off-roader; nor is it a speedy pavement cruiser. Getting anywhere quickly in the 3038-pound crossover required more than a few downshifts and a substantial pegging of the gas pedal as the engine grudgingly buzzed to the rev limiter.

It took us 8.8 seconds to get to 60 mph from a standstill, while braking to nil from 60 mph happened in 122 feet. While it's no rocket, that's quicker than our long-term Impreza (9.4), though the Impreza stops two feet shorter. Bigger 11.6-inch front and 10.8-inch rear binders help compensate for the XV's beefier all-season 225/55R17 rubber and corresponding weight gain. A larger, 15.9-gallon fuel tank helps with the overall range (I recorded more than 350 miles on one fill-up); fuel economy ratings fall slightly to 23/30 city/highway (25/33 for the Impreza 2.0i).

Rolling on a paved path yields a firm, yet not uncomfortable, ride. The lifted independent suspension soaks up bumps sufficiently well, and, in usual Subaru fashion, allows for a decent amount of controllable body roll when heading into a corner with gusto.

A few days and multiple hundred-plus-mile trips had me realize this: Even though the XV Crosstrek won't necessarily fit two child seats on its bench, take corners like a sportier car, or win any beauty pageants, it will make the growing set of young, cool, eco-friendly, outdoorsy vehicle buyers happy. This is the more adventurous Impreza for the more adventurous Subaru driver -- the driver who would have never thought to put an Impreza in their parking spot in the first place. It's a match made in a dirt-laden heaven.


2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek 2.0i Premium
BASE PRICE $22,790
PRICE AS TESTED $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
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.80 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.5 sec @ 0.54 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 23/30 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 147/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.75 lb/mile