My fiancé has had an affinity for Subaru ever since his sister bought a 2010 Forester. But he's always been a die-hard Toyota Tacoma fan, thanks to Marty McFly's 1985 Toyota 4x4 Xtra Cab in "Back to the Future." But he started to look for other options after realizing his 4x4 long-bed Tacoma wasn't doing him any favors in the mpg department. Because he didn't want a Forester, or a much bigger Outback, the XV Crosstrek seemed like the perfect choice because it fulfilled his requirements: affordable, off-road capable, efficient, and small, yet capacious enough for all his outdoor gear.

The Crosstrek is definitely affordable, with the base Premium 2.0i model starting at $22,790. Our tester though, was the next step up: the 2.0i Limited, which rang in at $27,290 thanks to a $2000 Moonroof and Navigation System package. The Limited comes with other upgrades: leather seats, a rearview camera, heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer.

But are the upgrades worth a price near $30,000? "If I paid for a navigation system and got this, I'd be pissed," my fiancé said of the nav system's elementary graphics. The 6.1-inch touch screen is small and didn't respond quickly to inputs. This made simple tasks like toggling through radio stations (not presets) difficult, and made me pine for some dials and knobs. The rear-view camera is also a bit grainy, with the resolution even worse at night.

On to the next requirement: capable off-roader. During last year's Sport Utility of the Year evaluation, the Crosstrek displayed its off-road chops by taking on ruts, rocks, sand, and mud with its standard Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive and viscous-coupling locking center differential. It looks the part of an aggressive off-roader too, with blacked-out 17-inch, aluminum wheels, black bumper cladding, standard roof racks, and 8.7 inches of ground clearance. That may not sound like much, but is more than the Nissan Juke's 7.0 inches, and the Toyota RAV4's 6.3 inches.

While the Crosstrek is basically an Impreza with platform shoes on, it walks well in them. It was extremely agile while running errands all across town, displaying more car-like behavior than CUV behavior thanks to minimal body roll. It also sips fuel like a small car, with an EPA-rated 25/33 mpg city/highway. This can be attributed to the continuously variable transmission, which also has its drawbacks. Paired to the 2.0-liter Boxer four engine that squeezed out 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, the CVT wailed loudly when the four-pot was pushed to its limits, which was more often than not. You'll need to be extra generous with the gas pedal, especially when merging onto highways, where the CVT delivers a quick burst of acceleration before falling flat midrange.

At the track, the Crosstrek completed the 0-60 mph-sprint in 10 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 17.5 seconds at 78.9 mph. The five-speed manual-equipped Crosstrek arrived at those marks much more quickly, taking 8.8 seconds to go from 0-60 mph and 16.6 seconds to run the quarter mile at 81.5 mph. The 188-hp Nissan Juke is faster, with a 0-60-mph time of 7.3 seconds, however, the Crosstrek trumps it in fuel economy and cargo capacity. Behind the seats is 22.3 cu-ft of cargo room (with seats folded down, it grows to 51.9 cu-ft), while the Juke only has 10.5 and 35.9 cu-ft worth of space, respectively. Should that not be enough cargo space for snowboards or other gear, the standard roof racks make it that much easier to install ski/snowboard racks or a roof cargo carrier, both of which Subaru offers as Subaru genuine parts.

In Europe, the XV Crosstrek is offered with a six-speed manual option, while we in the States must make do with the five-speed unit or the CVT. Disappointing, but maybe Subaru will give the Crosstrek something else to work with. Here's hoping Subaru also offers the WRX Impreza's 265-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged Boxer four as another motivator for the Crosstrek in the near future. With a more fuel-efficient Crosstrek hybrid coming to soon to Subaru dealers, it's only fair we get a more powerful version, as well.

While the Crosstrek stands out as a handsome choice for those who want an efficient off-roader, the value of the top trim Limited model is questionable because the upgrades felt more like an afterthought. The Crosstrek is an awesome little explorer, but not for nearly $30K. Skip the extra fudge and peanut toppings and just keep it vanilla for a more value-oriented proposition.


2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
BASE PRICE $25,290
PRICE AS TESTED $27,290
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/148-hp/145-lb-ft   DOHC 16-valve F-4
TRANSMISSION -speed cont. variable auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3189 lb (59/41%)
WHEELBASE 103.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 175.2 x 70.1 x 63.6 in
0-60 MPH 10 sec
QUARTER MILE 17.5 sec @ 78.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 126 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.6 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 25/33 mpg
ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY 135/102 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.69 lb/mile