One of the best gets better
THE GOOD
  • Snappy new engine
  • Good efficiency
  • Excellent AWD system
THE BAD
  • Crummy headlights
  • CVT
  • Seats could be comfier
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor Review

Not long before evaluating the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek, I was speaking with a woman in her 20s whose old, hand-me-down sedan was on its last legs.

Her boyfriend’s car was in a similar state, and she spoke longingly of the replacement they both really wanted: a Crosstrek. As an educated, active, and outdoorsy couple, these two could’ve been plucked right from a Subaru ad, and despite neither of them having come from “Subaru families,” the Crosstrek was nevertheless the aspirational purchase for them.

They’re certainly not alone. Subaru’s subcompact crossover is the brand’s top-selling model in recent years – a trend that only seems to grow with each passing year. In fact, while most of the competition have suffered double-digit sales declines in 2020, the Crosstrek is up more than five per cent year-to-date, and heading toward another record-breaking year.

Canadians love the Crosstrek, and after a week with the updated 2021 model, it’s easy to see why.

Styling: 8/10

As part of the updates for 2021, Subaru has added an Outdoor trim to the Crosstrek lineup intended to maximize not only its utility, but also its machismo. Besides the blacked-out wheels, the only notable difference to the exterior is the addition of chunkier black, plastic trim around the wheel arches and fog lights, and some dark, titanium-coloured badging. They’re little details, but contrasted against the Plasma Yellow Pearl paint of my test car, it makes the Crosstrek stand out against the sea of blobby, white and grey SUVs in every suburban parking lot.

The interior is beginning to show its age with a design that’s familiar to current Crosstrek and Impreza owners. Still, within the category there’s little to criticize here, with most materials feeling of decent quality and being well-assembled. Meanwhile, the yellow contrast stitching and accent piece at the bottom of the steering wheel brighten up what’s otherwise a lot of various shades of black and grey plastic.

User Friendliness: 8/10

The Crosstrek’s interior isn’t beholden to the latest trends and it’s better off for it. The driver faces a pair of traditional, round dials for the speedometer and tachometer that flank a small information screen. The central dash is topped by another information screen in upper trims that can display amusing animations that showcase how the power is being distributed between wheels, fuel consumption, or what radio station you’re listening to. Below that is yet another screen – this time an eight-inch touchscreen unit, though a 6.5-inch display comes in cheaper trims – that serves as the heart of the Crosstrek’s infotainment system.

With a set of key-function buttons and both tune and volume knobs below the screen, it requires only minutes of a driver’s time to gain proficiency with the system. As usable as it is, reducing three screens down to two would certainly help keep eyes from wandering to multiple places away from the road.

A trait long appreciated in most Subaru models is outward visibility, particularly to the front and side. With the exterior door mirrors mounted low and well back on the door, the sightlines through the quarter windows on the front doors are excellent. Coupled with good rearward views, sizeable mirrors and, on the Outdoor trim, both rear and forward-facing cameras, it makes safe parking and low-speed manoeuvring around obstacles a breeze.

Comfort: 7/10

The heated front seats offer decent lateral support and the stuffing isn’t as hard as in some of the competitors’ models, but the lower cushion is quite short and provides precious little under-thigh support, which can cause lower back pain on extended drives. In the back, the Crosstrek’s legroom is competitive, but its headroom – despite the lack of sunroof – is shorter than some of its prime adversaries. Still, the Crosstrek’s rear seat certainly does not feel cramped for two adults, and is still reasonable even with three across.

Being the most rugged trim, the Crosstrek Outdoor’s seats are wrapped in a synthetic material that’s designed to be both durable and easily cleaned, but without perforation, it’s sure to make for some sweaty backs during hot summer days.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

The Crosstrek’s comfort is enhanced by its excellent ride quality. With enough undercarriage clearance to get the little wagon reasonably off-road, it’s also got the suspension to articulate, enabling good traction even when crawling over rutted trails or small rocks and stumps. The benefit on-road is that the supple suspension also swallows all but the worst potholes and frost heaves.

It would be reasonable to assume that such off-road prowess and on-road comfort would also result in wallowy, sloppy handling, but that’s not the case with the Crosstrek. While outright steering feel was a bit woolly due to a set of winter tires fitted here, the little Subaru’s steering is quick enough to be playful if the driver wants, and highly manoeuvrable in tight spots. What’s more, Subaru’s excellent full-time all-wheel-drive system means that even when driven with exuberance, the Crosstrek never loses its composure, always clawing its way to wherever the ham-fisted driver cranks the steering wheel.

While that sort of responsiveness is fun for enthusiasts, it also translates into safety during those situations where a driver might’ve gotten in over their head, particularly during nasty weather.

Power: 7.5/10

Until now, the primary complaint levelled against the Crosstrek was its lack of gusto. The looks and handling both suggested that the Crosstrek should be able to manage more power, and for this refresh Subaru has dropped the larger 2.5L four-cylinder engine from the Forester and Outback into the Crosstrek Outdoor and Limited.

At 182 hp, there are 30 more equines pulling the Crosstrek around than in the 2.0L four-cylinder still found in the Convenience, Touring, and Sport trims. Torque is up 31 lb-ft to 176 total, and the result is a compact SUV that has the oomph and urgency its style deserves. While its performance is not sports-car-like, the Crosstrek no longer has difficulty keeping up with traffic, and can easily and safely overtake slower vehicles when needed.

Power is directed through a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is still never going to excite a driving enthusiast. But its programmed steps do a decent job of mimicking a traditional automatic gear change. And, of course, all-wheel drive is standard equipment on all Crosstrek models.

Fuel Economy: 7.5/10

After a week of commuting in the Crosstrek with the majority of my time spent on the highway, I saw an indicated average of 7.9 L/100 km. This is almost spot-on the government’s 8.0 L/100 km rating for the Crosstrek’s combined consumption. On the highway, it’s rated at 7.0 L/100 km, and 8.8 in the city, aided by an automated stop-start feature that’s quite abrupt on its restarts.

Even though the larger engine consumes fractionally more fuel than the 2.0L engine, the Crosstrek still remains more efficient than most of the key competitors, plus, with its larger 63 L fuel tank, it has notably better range for each tank of regular unleaded, too.

Features: 7/10

Subaru offers both a Sport and Limited trim that provide more features than this Outdoor model, yet even at a mid-level trim, my tester had the up-level eight-inch touchscreen, heated seats, and, perhaps most importantly, Subaru’s EyeSight suite of driver aids. There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and a decent-sounding sound system, as well as automatic climate control, too.

Had the weather been more agreeable during my test, I might’ve missed the absent sunroof, and a power-actuated rear liftgate can be a nice luxury that this Subie didn’t have, but otherwise, as a daily driver, there’s not much else an owner should need.

The Outdoor trim also has a front-facing camera, and dual function X-Mode drive system that can help manage the vehicle in deep snow or mud, including hill descent speed control giving credibility to the Crosstrek’s rugged looks as the most off-road-capable car in its class.

Safety: 8/10

Subaru’s driver aid package not only offers on-road convenience with adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, but for 2021, it’s also got lane-centring assist, too. Beyond that, there’s pre-collision brake assist and reverse automatic braking, plus blind-spot monitoring. And, of course, all of this is in addition to the Crosstrek’s great grip and handling that’ll help a driver maintain control even in hairy situations. The only place Subaru has really let down Crosstrek buyers is with its mediocre halogen headlights on all but the upper two trims.

Practicality: 8/10

One of the primary reasons buyers continue flocking to SUVs is for the perceived practicality they provide. With all-weather capability, plus a reasonably spacious cabin for up to five people, and a cargo hold that’ll contain 588 L (or up to 1,565 L with the rear split-folding seats down), the compact Crosstrek is a very useful machine. But then so is the more affordable Impreza hatchback on which the Crosstrek is based.

When compared with some other small crossovers, the Crosstrek feels more substantial on-road and offers a ride that’s less brittle, too.

Value: 8.5/10

The compact crossover segment seems to be growing with great new offerings every day, and most of them provide tremendous value. The Crosstrek remains one of the best, particularly in this compelling, $29,995 mid-grade Outdoor edition that offers most of the key features buyers seek, the added security of Subaru’s full safety suite, and the benefit of the rugged interior that’ll likely hold up well over time.

Of particular note in the value quotient is that Subaru offers the top-level engine even in mid-level trims, which most of the competitors do not.

The Verdict

Where Subaru’s Outback, Ascent, and even Forester have started reaching into some pretty costly territory, the just-right-sized Crosstrek remains surprisingly affordable. The significant boost in power has made a tempting offering even better, and the Outdoor trim should be appealing to a lot of buyers.

The updates to the Subaru Crosstrek are likely to assure its sales increase for the near future, and continue to be an aspirational vehicle, not only for young, active buyers, but anyone shopping for a new compact crossover sport utility vehicle.

One of the best gets better 12/1/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.5L   Model Tested 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Outdoor
Engine Cylinders H4   Base Price $29,995
Peak Horsepower 182 hp @ 5,800 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 176 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm   Destination Fee $1,800
Fuel Economy 8.8 / 7.0 / 8.0 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $31,895
Cargo Space 588 L / 1,565 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
None