2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid Road Test Review

This review is for the Vancouver dealer market only

Better fuel economy without compromising utility

Drive a lot in the city? A hybrid might be right for you, but if forced to drastically reduce functionality in your quest for cleaner efficiency I'm willing to bet you'll continue to be satisfied with the conventionally powered Crosstrek's already good fuel economy and clean PZEV emissions rating. Fortunately there's no such compromise with the Crosstrek Hybrid, because Subaru chose to use a mild hybrid system to maximize cargo space and maintain its revered Symmetrical Full-time AWD.

Basically, the Crosstrek Hybrid's power unit sandwiches a low-hp electric motor between the engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) to assist the engine with increased torque when needed, while normally wasted energy produced from overrun power and braking friction gets recaptured to charge a small traction battery. Last but not least, the Crosstrek features a consumption- and emissions-reducing auto stop/start system that turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling. This combination results in some pretty decent savings at the pump when used for city driving.

Transport Canada estimates 7.9 L/100km in the city for the Crosstrek Hybrid compared to 9.1 for the conventionally powered Crosstrek with its optional CVT, which makes owning one worthwhile for those who mostly drive in town. It doesn't disadvantage on the freeway either, but its claimed 6.9 L/100km highway rating is only fractionally better than the regular Crosstrek's 7.0 flat.

As for environmental concerns, where the regular Crosstrek meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) standards the Hybrid goes one step better by achieving Advanced Technology PZEV (AT-PZEV) status. What's more, it's built in a zero-landfill assembly plant where 100 percent of waste is recycled or turned into electricity.

It's also plenty practical with nearly as much cargo space as the regular Crosstrek, the Hybrid measuring 609 litres (21.5 cubic feet) behind the rear seats compared to 632 (22.3 cubic feet), or 1,422 litres (50.2 cubic feet) compared to 1,470 (51.9 cubic feet) when those 60/40 seatbacks are laid flat. We can thank the smaller mild hybrid battery for all that utility, while as just noted the less complicated system allows Subaru to keep its coveted Symmetrical Full-time AWD.

This well proven yet still advanced AWD system joins an impressive 220 mm (8.7 inches) of ground clearance, 75 mm (3.0 inches) more than the regular Subaru Impreza 5-Door the model is based on, to improve grip off pavement, and while I can appreciate you may never take yours on a rock-strewn, semi-washed out logging road, across a babbling brook, through a muddy bog or onto a sandy beach, you probably will take advantage of its capability in snow where the Crosstrek's AWD makes easy work of even the deep powdery stuff.

The AWD system aids handling in regular wet and dry conditions too, the Crosstrek Hybrid quite capable through fast-paced corners where it remains relatively flat even during side-to-side transitional shifts. Its ride is smooth and comfortable as well, even over choppy, worn blacktop where its fully independent suspension couldn't be shaken off-line. I took opportunity to get it up to highway speeds where it also performed well, the 148 horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 13.4 horsepower electric motor combining for 160 net horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque that allowed for impressive passing capability. The CVT provides effortlessly smooth operation, while Subaru includes a set of paddle shifters and six forward speeds that are actually quite engaging for downshifts, although I found leaving it to its own devices when accelerating worked best.

As is often the case with electrified models, Subaru ups the Crosstrek Hybrid's standard content so that some of its hybrid component expense gets absorbed by extras that normally provide profit, this keeping the price more affordable. Knowing that its take-rate will be lower in volume at first, Subaru Canada has also made its Crosstrek Hybrid a one-size-fits-all model, with its exterior detailing appearing more like the conventional model's Limited trim and the interior more akin the well-equipped Sport model. This means that LED turn signals are integrated into its body-colour side mirror caps and chrome graces the door handles, while its silver roof rails are totally unique to the Hybrid, as is the black rooftop spoiler in back. Lastly, Subaru finished off the Hybrid's look with a special set of aerodynamically designed lightweight five-spoke 17-inch alloys, while my tester's classy Quartz Blue Pearl paint is also a Crosstrek Hybrid exclusive.

I should also mention that all of these upgrades get added to a mildly restyled 2016 Crosstrek, featuring a new more assertive grille, updated headlamps, a reshaped front bumper and lower fascia, the latter with chromed L-shaped trim angling around new fog lamps, plus reworked taillight lenses with integrated LEDs, and a new rear fascia, while Subaru also dropped the XV portion of its name so that it's simply known as Crosstrek.

Inside, the Crosstrek Hybrid gets a 6.2-inch Starlink-infused infotainment touchscreen complete with a reverse camera, news, food, weather, music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other multimedia content via its own apps or Aha and Pandora, plus there's a "Settings" section for personalizing the infotainment system as well as the car's various functions, and of course an interface for phone setup and use. My phone connected easily and worked flawlessly throughout my test, while the stereo played music and podcasts from my smartphone via Bluetooth audio streaming. It actually has a built-in automated graphic equalizer that lets you quickly switch from bass- and treble-centric settings to a flat sound that's better for talk radio, or instead you can create customized presets for different music genres. It's a slick system that sounds superb when optimized for the style of music you're listening to.

Additionally, the HVAC system is automatic and therefore set-it-and-leave-it simple just the way I like it, while the Crosstrek Hybrid also gets the Sport model's two-tone black and grey-weave cloth upholstery with sporty orange accents, plus silver trim in key areas. I must admit to not expecting aluminum foot pedals, this sharp looking upgrade not available on the conventional Sport model but standard with the Limited, and I was also pleasantly surprised by the Hybrid's unique primary gauge cluster featuring a brighter blue luminescent sport theme with red needles and white backlighting. While a small monochromatic trip computer sits within those primary gauges, all Crosstreks get a large colour 4.3-inch multi-information display atop the centre dash, although the Hybrid's MID is upgraded with special fuel saving and hybrid energy flow info to help make the most of its advanced electro-mechanicals.   

Other standard Crosstrek features that get grandfathered up to Hybrid trim include auto on/off HID headlights, fog lamps, proximity access with pushbutton ignition (including a particularly nice substantive feeling key fob featuring a big Subaru logo on front and sides that looked as if they were made from billet aluminum), cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering, heatable powered side mirrors, heatable front seats, a powered moonroof and more, plus the usual assortment of safety gear including an extra airbag for the driver's knees, the latter helping it achieve a five-star NHTSA crash test rating, so rest assured the solidly built little compact five-door is plenty safe.

Additionally, all of this upscale content comes in one of the nicest premium-level interiors in the mainstream volume-branded business, boasting a soft-touch dash top and instrument panel, the latter wrapping right down to the midway point of the centre stack, plus soft pliable door uppers. A similar padded black weave to the seat upholstery gets added to the door inserts, while padded black leatherette armrests boast more cool orange stitching, that theme showing up elsewhere around the cabin too, such as the centre armrest, leather shifter knob and boot, and of course the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

As for pricing, the aforementioned mix of mid-grade and top-line equipment makes its $30,495 plus freight and dealer fees easier to digest, that figure sitting just above the $26,995 Sport and $29,395Limited. As mentioned there are no options, but you can change up the exterior colours from the beautiful blue hue noted earlier to Crystal Black Silica, Crystal White Pearl, Dark Grey Metallic or Ice Silver Metallic.

All in all I enjoyed the Crosstrek Hybrid, but mostly because I'm a fan of the regular Crosstrek. This is really the best news about the electrified version. Other than improved performance off the line it feels much the same as the conventionally powered model while giving up little in utility, yet noticeably improves city fuel economy. These are reasons enough to own one, especially when considering fuel prices here in Vancouver aren't much lower now than they were prior to plunging oil prices. It's like the new Crosstrek Hybrid was custom designed for the Lower Mainland, and certainly makes a good case for going green.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc. 
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