Rating: 8.0
Bottom Line:
Subaru successfully goes green without compromising off-road capability with its XV Crosstrek Hybrid crossover utility vehicle. Though it’s hard to pin down a direct competitor, it’s easy to see why some will find it “just right” at this price point.
  • Best fuel economy of an AWD crossover
  • No compromise of off-road capability
  • Improved cabin experience
  • Poor acceleration
  • Uninspiring, continuously variable transmission
  • Loss of spare tire

It may not be the prettiest car ever produced, but it now accounts for 12 percent of Subaru sales, so the XV Crosstrek must be doing something right.

Offering impressive off-road capability thanks to 8.7 inches of ground clearance and typical Subaru toughness, the Crosstrek has acquired quite a following.

And since Subaru forecasts that one in four current owners expect to buy a hybrid as their next vehicle, it's no surprise to see an electric boost applied to one of its hotter platforms, and at a price point that is hard to beat.

Model lineup
Subaru keeps it simple with the 5-door hatchback and only offers two trim levels with no additional options. The base trim, simply called the Hybrid, picks up where the gas-powered XV Crosstrek Premium left off and adds an automatic climate control system, upgraded instrument cluster, 4.3-inch LCD multifunction display, body-color foldable side mirrors with integral turn signals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with silver stitching, chrome exterior door handles, keyless access and start, and more.

View Pictures:  2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

For an additional $3,300, the Hybrid Touring adds a leather interior, navigation with a 6.1-inch touch screen, Aha smartphone integration, voice-activated controls, SiriusXM satellite radio and NavTraffic, iTunes tagging and a moonroof.

Under the hood
As expected, a boxer engine is the heart of the XV Crosstrek and Subaru's Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system. The dual-overhead-cam 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder engine is derived from the standard Crosstrek but receives a slight bump in compression from 10.5:1 to 10.8:1 and low-friction piston rings and valve springs. The motor also receives a revised exhaust port shape, a hybrid-specific exhaust layout, and more.

On the electronic boost side, Subaru developed the hybrid system in-house and enlisted Panasonic to develop the 100.8-volt nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. Subaru eschewed the more potent lithium-ion battery setup as a cost-cutting measure. The 13.4-horsepower electric motor is integrated into the continuously variable transmission, while the battery pack and associated electronics reside in the back of the car. In addition to the hybrid system, the XV Crosstrek uses a separate 12-volt battery for its start-stop system.

With both systems providing maximum power, the XV Crosstrek produces 160 horsepower at 6000 rpm, up from 148 horsepower at 6200 rpm in the gas version. Torque measures in at 163 lb-ft at 2000 rpm versus 145 lb-ft at 4200 rpm in the gas version, making a nice jump where you need it most. Also worth noting: The transmission is based on the Impreza CVT and offers a manual mode controlled by steering-wheel-mounted paddles.

Inner space
One of the main complaints about the previous XV Crosstrek was the driving experience: noisy and harsh. Subaru took that to heart and implemented a series of changes to improve the cabin feel, including improved hood insulation, better damping material in the footwells, liquid-filled engine mounts, a thicker front floor pan and a sound-abating windshield, to name a few. Did it work? Honestly, it was hard to tell as the majority of our time behind the wheel in Iceland included howling winds and the drone of the very necessary snow tires that do not come standard on the car. The heater worked, thankfully.

The high-mounted multifunction display isn't the most elegant, but it does a good job of communicating how the hybrid system is working along with fuel economy performance. The standard (both base and Touring) backup camera is also shown through the multifunction display.

Standard entertainment for the base trim comes via an AM/FM stereo with a single-disc CD player, Bluetooth connectivity and auxiliary connections. Step up the Touring and you are greeted with a large 6.1-inch LED screen that adds in navigation and voice-activated controls. We are big fans of the Aha smartphone integration found in the Touring as well. It's essentially a cloud-based system run through an application on your iPhone or Android smartphone that provides access to a voluminous library of music. As long as you have data coverage, your music options are almost limitless.

Inside there's enough room for five and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat enables the Crosstrek to gobble up all your outdoor gear. That folding rear seat could come in handy; storage drops by 0.8 cubic feet to 21.5 cubic feet with the rear seats up, thanks to the space required for the hybrid system's battery packs. Another casualty of the battery is the spare tire, which is replaced by a tire repair kit.

A cloth interior with heated seats is standard for the base trim, while the Touring receives a nice swatch of leather. Even with the leather treatment we found that some of the interior plastics feel a little cheap, but we're not complaining for a $25,000 car.

On the road
We tested the XV Crosstrek Hybrid in Iceland in the most rugged terrain you could ever picture a Subaru wagon. The all-wheel-drive system performed admirably, though we almost wished for a locking differential for even more aggressive off-roading. At times we found ourselves hood-deep in icy water crossings, and despite the 10 test cars on hand, none flooded. This kind of terrain really put the 8.7 inches of ground clearance to use, and we were happy for every inch.

Subaru had wanted to deliver excellent acceleration; unfortunately, it did not. But then, the non-Hybrid XV is no hustler either, with an 8.1-second zero-to-60-mph time. That's quick enough for the Crosstrek XV to get out of its own way, and you're not buying it to win any drag races, anyway. Still though, a hybrid CVT is depressing when you get on the gas — and this model is no exception.

Much of the less than earth-shattering acceleration is attributed to the weight gain of the hybrid system and the noise-reduction actions taken. How much weight does it gain? The changes tipped the scales at 304 pounds, with 200 of that coming from batteries alone.

To compensate for the increased weight Subaru had to beef up the suspension a bit. Luckily, the changes didn't result in a harsher ride. One noticeably pleasant surprise behind the wheel was quicker steering than the gasoline-only variant. In fact, the steering rack is actually quicker than that of Subaru's rally-inspired Impreza WRX STI.

Using the electric motor alone, you can travel about a mile with a top speed of 13 mph. You can actually travel a little faster in EV mode if you're coming down from speed and coasting — it'll kick in at around 25 mph. The transition from EV power to gasoline power is seamless, and the power boost when passing is appreciated, if not necessary. To keep inattentive pedestrians aware of the car's presence when on EV mode, an artificial sound is generated and the pitch and volume change with speed.

Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy figures come in at 29 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. While the highway numbers (where the hybrid system is seldom used) are no different from the gasoline-only XV, the hybrid shows a 4-mpg jump when driving around town. Highway range drops 70 miles, though, thanks to a smaller 13.7-gallon fuel tank, with around-town range remaining unchanged.

Right for you?
The XV Crosstrek Hybrid base trim will set you back $25,995, with the Touring starting at $29,925 (neither price includes the $825 destination fee). The XV Crosstrek Hybrid is certainly one of the greenest cars you can take off the beaten path, and one that won't leave you stuck when the snow starts falling. And as long as straight-line performance isn't high on your priority list, this could be the car of choice for eco-friendly weekend off-road warriors.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.