Driven! Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid Review

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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The problem with plug-in hybrids is always the math. Go ahead, try to calculate whether paying a premium for one makes any sense.

How many miles can it go on a full charge? At what speeds? How far is your commute? How long does it take to charge on a 120-volt plug? How much does your utility company bill you for electricity? Is there a 240-volt Level 2 charger nearby? What does that cost to plug in? What kind of fuel economy will the vehicle get once it’s no longer operating as an EV? If a train leaves Chicago travelling east at 35 miles per hour, well – you get the point.

Hybrid Math

The Crosstrek Hybrid certainly has pros and cons associates with it, but ultimately the customer has to make their own decisions on what suits their specific needs.

 

Crosstrek Hybrid

  • Fastest and most efficient Crosstrek model
  • Most expensive model, which may be hard to justify
  • Compromised trunk space for hybrid battery
  • Apple CarPlay and Android Auto equipped
  • Optional Sunroof and navigation package adds $2500

 

More fundamental issues tend to get lost in all these numbers. Is the underlying vehicle one you’d actually want to drive? Or is it just a very complicated machine designed to answer an equally complicated question? With its new Crosstrek Hybrid, Subaru is clearly expecting buyers will be choosing this compact crossover first because it’s a Subaru and only then because of the plug.

Positioned at the top of model range, the hybrid is the nicest and highest-performance version of the Crosstrek. It also the most expensive; starting price is $35,970 (including $975 for delivery). It’s available in the ten CARB states (that’s California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island) although any Subaru dealer should be able to order one.  The Crosstrek Hybrid does qualify for a $4,500 federal tax credit, bringing that down to $31,470. (Other state and local incentives may also be available.) That’s still $3,300 more than a comparably equipped Crosstrek 2.0i Limited at $28,170, and a lot to pay for a vehicle that in its least expensive trim is just $22,870. But the Crosstrek Hybrid does boast a long list of equipment including key infotainment and safety technology.

Well Equipped, Mostly

The interior of the Crosstrek Hybrid is instantly recognizable as a Subaru, which is a good thing.

 

Subaru includes an 8 inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, and a smartphone app called Starlink provides remote climate control and state-of-charge monitoring. Eyesight, a driver assist system with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, is also part of the hybrid’s standard package. It includes Lead Vehicle Indicator, a feature that should appeal to those growing numbers of people hopelessly addicted to their smartphones, as it beeps and issues an alert on the instrument panel urging the driver to get moving once the car in front pulls away from a stoplight.

The only optional equipment on the hybrid is a package comprising a moonroof, heated steering wheel, and an upgraded infotainment system with built-in navigation and premium audio for $2,500. That brought the total price of our test vehicle to $38,470.

The Crosstrek Hybrid appears so similar to its conventional sibling that it can be hard to tell them apart unless the PHEV is wearing its exclusive Lagoon Blue Pearl paint. Or if you spot the charging port door, emblazoned with the word “Plug-In,” on the driver’s side rear fender. The Hybrid retains the Crosstrek’s tough-ish high-riding look, along with the 8.7-inches of ground clearance such a stance affords. An electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system gives it legitimate off-road capability, and ensures this Subaru is really a Subaru, although the bits that make it a hybrid come from Toyota.

Something Borrowed, Something Blue

With plastic body cladding and an off-road-ish stance, the outside says, all Subaru. The hybrid mechanical components however, are sourced from Toyota.

 

The two automakers have been partners since 2005; this latest collaboration involves Subaru borrowing the two electric motors from Toyota’s Camry Hybrid, one to drive the wheels and the other to work as a combined starter and generator, as well as adapting the rest of Toyota’s hybrid system to work in the Crosstrek. So like the Prius Prime, the Subaru hybrid has an 8.8 kWh battery and 3.3 kW onboard charger.

On a standard wall plug it takes five hours to fully charge an empty battery, or two hours from a Level 2 charger. Subaru also includes a driving mode that juices up the battery while driving, by running the gasoline engine harder.

That engine is based on Subaru’s 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder that powers non-hybrid Crosstreks, although tuned to run on the Atkinson cycle for greater efficiency. The resultant powertrain makes a combined 148 horsepower and Subaru says it can propel the Crosstrek Hybrid to 60 miles per hour a full second quicker than non-hybrid models. Most buyers will be more interested in the 17 miles of all-electric range at speeds of up to 65 miles per hour. Like some other plug-in hybrids, pressing too hard on the accelerator will cause the internal combustion engine to fire up and interrupt all-electric mode. When operating as a hybrid, the plug-in Crosstrek is rated at just 35 miles per gallon by the EPA; although not outstanding, this is six better than the non-hybrid Crosstrek.

Insta-Torque

The engine in the Crosstrek Hybrid is the same as found in the non-hybrid model. The addition of of a hybrid drivetrain means this is not only the most efficient Crosstrek but also the fastest.

 

The instant torque of its electric drive motor makes the Crosstrek Hybrid much more responsive in passing situations and freeway merging than the non-hybrid. When operating as a hybrid, however, drivers will have to endure the disconnected revving of the gasoline engine and a rubber-band-like power delivery. This can be somewhat mitigated by choosing sport mode via a button on the steering wheel, but don’t expect the Crosstrek to transform itself into a sports car.

The 487 extra pounds that the hybrid system add bring curb weight to 3,726 lb, which is a lot for a compact crossover and enough that Subaru had to beef up the structure. This does help make the Crosstrek Hybrid quieter and more substantial feeling than the non-hybrid. Subaru also upgraded the brakes, which are nicely progressive and the blending between the regenerative system and the friction brakes is seamless. The steering is actually slower in the hybrid, and tuned to call no attention to itself. It is possible to feel those moments that the gas engine fires up while driving, as a minor vibration comes through the steering column, but this all but disappears once you get used to it.

The Pros And Cons Of Hybrids

The Hybrid version of the Crosstrek will force you to be a little more selective of the junk you put in your trunk.

 

There’s really only one aspect of the Crosstrek Hybrid that is compromised, and that’s the luggage hold. Packaging the battery requires eating up almost a quarter of the Crosstrek’s cargo capacity, so popping the rear hatch of the hybrid reveals a raised load floor. This is somewhat disconcerting given the obvious appeal of the Crosstrek Hybrid to those for whom stuffing the back with outdoor gear is part and parcel of ownership.

Compared to figuring out the break-even point of a regular hybrid, a PHEV demands a whole higher order of spreadsheet calculus. Solving your own n=1 equation becomes much easier, however, if your paramount interest in the vehicle is using it as a vehicle. Remove ultimate economy as the primary objective and something like the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid can be compelling even if the numbers don’t entirely crunch.


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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