2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid Prototype First Drive
In a market flooded with small and midsize crossovers, Subaru steps up to the plate with something completely different in the shape of the XV Crosstrek Hybrid. What could be so different, you might ask? How about a boxer engine with a hybrid? We've been hearing about hybrids since the Toyota Prius surfaced in 1997, and the technology is now found in almost all segments -- and it will serve as part of the base for the upcoming generation of hypercars. And yet, a boxer-hybrid? That's a world first.
Subaru bosses are banking on the XV Crosstrek Hybrid's uniqueness, proven AWD capabilities, and improved fuel economy to place it on the lists of those buyers pining for a reliable crossover. Having just driven a protype at Fuji Speedway in Japan, we can safely say this hybrid deserves to be on those lists. However, it's not a home run by any stretch of the imagination. But before we get into what the car is like behind the wheel, let's check out the spec sheet.
Based on the existing XV Crosstrek, which inherits most of its underpinnings from the Impreza, the hybrid matches a 2.0-liter FB-series Boxer engine with a 13.4-horsepower integrated electric motor mounted just behind the transmission and in front of the clutch. A 100-volt, 13.5-kw nickel-metal hydride battery resides under the revised rear floor. Naturally, the system uses the integrated starter/generator for the automatic start/stop feature. This single-motor configuration means the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a effectively a mild hybrid, though it is able to move under purely electric power at speeds up to 15-20 mph.
Peak system power is 148 hp at 6000 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm. The compact hybrid system weighs just 209 pounds and the XV Crosstrek Hybrid in total weighs a mere 287 more pounds than the all-gas model, with the extra weight coming from the batteries, additional sound-absorbing materials, and revised suspension.
A quick comparison of those all-important mileage figures shows what Subaru has or hasn't achieved, depending on what you expect. EPA mileage for the gas model is 23/30 mpg city/highway with the manual and 25/33 mpg with the CVT. We hear the hybrid will see a noticeable city improvement, but only a slight highway one - around 28/34 mpg. Subaru's original aim was to make the most fuel-efficient crossover in America, but such lukewarm mileage improvements over the stock version would only allow the automaker to claim that the XV hybrid is the most fuel-efficient, lowest-emission AWD hybrid in America.
From behind the wheel, the Hybrid feels exactly like the regular XV. Push the start button on the dash and the car springs to life with the sound of its starter motor firing up the 2.0-liter flat-four engine. It even has a special starter generator, the sole purpose of which is to quietly restart the engine when extra power is needed.
By sharing its Active Torque Split, and Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive with the gas version, the Hybrid offers equal capability and utility and can lean on the extra 13-odd horsepower from the electric motor when the car needs some more herbs. Why does that matter? Because the stock XV's 2.0-liter engine does not quicken the pulse rate by any stretch of the imagination, but the extra acceleration the motor provides improves performance to an acceptable level.
"Those 13 hp don't sound much, but they do make a noticeable difference when you extend your right boot," says chief engineer Ryo Nitta. We have to agree with you, Nitta-san. It's not mind-bending, but it is noticeable.
Nitta says his aim was to elevate the car's performance and on-road handling while improving mileage and keeping costs down. We think he's reached most of those goals. The Hybrid's slightly stiffer spring rates give the car a firmer feel on the road without being detrimental to the ride quality. The car rolls less in corners and feels more stable in a straight line. But it's the tighter steering gear ratio, lowered from 16:1 to 14:1, that gives the Hybrid something that makes it feel more like a Subaru. It turns in quicker with less effort, good steering feel, and just the right amount of road feedback.
Like most hybrids, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid uses regenerative braking, but it also incorporates the same hydraulic brake setup as the gas model. Subaru engineers did this on purpose to maintain the Subaru-style handling, road feel, and of course, brake feel.
The 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid is essentially the same as the gas model in terms of versatility and utility. It maintains the 8.7 inches of ground clearance, while the underfloor battery shaves just 0.7 cubic feet of passenger cabin room and 1.7 cubic feet of cargo space. Distinguishing features on its exterior include hybrid badges on the sides of the front doors and tailgate and a new Plasma Green Pearl exterior color. The hybrid also employs more aerodynamic aluminum alloy wheels and a new Active Grille Shutter system that helps reduce drag.
Inside, the Crosstrek Hybrid gets an exclusive cool blue theme boasting silver trim and a cool blue instrument cluster. A multi-info screen, mounted high on the dashboard, shows the driver exactly where the power is going or not going, and energy flow charts reveal what's happening between the engine, hybrid unit, and batteries. Standard features include a rearview camera and an all-weather package that throws in heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer.
Overall, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek handles better, feels firmer on the road, and offers a little more power, but some might be disappointed by the meager improvement in mileage. Pricing will be announced closer to the car's launch at the end of this year and will almost certainly be north of the 2013 Crosstrek's $22,745 starting price.