2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid (© Subaru of America)Click to enlarge picture

An 8.7-inch ground clearance assures the XV Crosstrek Hybrid can tackle most terrain.

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.

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.

View Pictures:  2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid

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.

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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.