If you think the Subaru XV Crosstrek looks like a lifted Impreza you're right. The approach has been used by Subaru, Audi (allroad), Volvo (XC70 CrossCountry) and others: Take an existing car, slap on some sinister-dark body cladding and trim, roof rails, bigger wheels and lift it a few inches. To paraphrase Emeril, take it up a notch and Bam! a crossover utility contender.
Crosstrek shares its basics with Subaru's compact-sedan Impreza so a lot of parts are interchangeable while others are reinforced for the more severe use the XV is likely to encounter. The Crosstrek gets unique bumpers and grille, dark tint windows behind the front doors, the aforementioned shopping-cart repellant plastics and specific wheels that add machismo parked and give the look of really big brake discs in motion. Except for the center of the rear bumper, the cladding protects the entire lower perimeter from rocks, errant twigs and those curbs you get an eighth-inch too close to.
Hawkeye headlights and fog lights frame a grille mildly pinched in the middle rather than Lexus's squeezed pieces. A gaping lower grille will keep major objects out but when you stuff it in a snow-bank thinking all-wheel drive repealed the laws of physics remember to knock some snow out to keep air flowing through it.
The curious aspect is the front corner where the wide-section cladding drops off just ahead of the front wheel opening. When we quizzed Subaru if that was an aerodynamic tweak it was denied, attributed instead to styling. It draws your attention, so maybe that was the point.
Substantial corners on the rear bumpers look like the buttresses on a sportfishing boat, adding a visual degree of strength and, along with the wheels, a good improvement. The small closeout panel at bottom center covers the aperture used for rear fog lights in other markets and not a receiver hitch (a receiver hitch would go beneath the bumper). Exhausts are hidden to keep them from being dinged while adventuring.
Little nibs on the aft ends of the roof rails aid aerodynamics, which Subaru said is good for a one mile-per-gallon highway increase. We suspect this means it went from something like 29.48 to 29.51, which rounds to the higher number; otherwise all cars would have them. Roof cross bars are not standard because they kill highway mileage (on any car) so expect a noticeable decrease in highway mileage with any kayak, carrier or canoe up there.
The XV Crosstrek is four inches higher than an Impreza, which eases entry/exit for not-so-flexible bodies. Underneath, the Subaru has 8.7 inches of ground clearance at the exhaust pipe, a number superior to many competitors and some full-size pickups. Most parts are well protected and we'd expect the XV to be quite reliable.
The Subaru XV Crosstrek cabin is functional without being Spartan. Contrast-stitched fabric upholstery appears durable, breathes well to minimize temperature extremes and would be our choice if we're using the car to get dirty. Trim is matte-finish to avoid reflections, upper surfaces are soft-touch for comfort, and lower panels are plastic for easy cleaning and scuff resistance when you forget to take the cramp-ons off in a rush to warm up.
Manual seats and a tilt/telescoping wheel offer generous adjustment so almost anyone can get comfortable, and support is quite adequate for a tank of fuel or the next photo opportunity. We're pleased to find headrests that adjust for height and angle, and seat cushions long enough for Western-size inseams. Heated front seats are standard on every XV.
Rear seats echo those in the Impreza with plenty of headroom: Your 6-foot, 3-inch correspondent sat in the middle position without touching the roof, and the headroom in the back seats does not diminish if you add a moonroof. Only the Limited has a center armrest (with cupholders) but all XV models have seatbacks that fold nearly flat an inch or two above cargo deck height without removing the headrest, unless the front seat's well back and reclined. The split puts the narrow section behind the driver, so you have driver legroom and space for two passengers in back if needed. The center shoulder belt stows in the right side of the cargo area, out of the way of folded seats, not rattling about in a roof pocket or bisecting the mirror view rearward. Back doors open wide for easy entry and exit or securing awkward cargo.
Instrumentation is simply adorned, illuminated deep amber for night driving vision recovery and gradations around the pointers are highlighted. A rev counter and optimistic 150-mph speedometer frame a digital display for fuel level and gear data, with an analog economy gauge that merely follows your right foot. The top center display provides trip, time and ambient temperature, but the control knob is around the steering wheel.
Basic three-ring climate controls get desired heating and cooling with minimum fuss; automatic control comes on the Limited. Each dashboard vent closes individually and the darker window tint keeps the rear seat cooler than on the Impreza.
Side mirrors that look large on the Impreza look right at home here, the extra viewing handy off the pavement or on it. Outward visibility is superb forward and very good everywhere else, a benefit of slender windshield pillars, low hoodline, high windshield, articulated inside mirror, and outside mirrors set well back. Standard electric de-icers will thaw wipers frozen to the windshield soon after startup, eliminating scraper damage to them. Shading around the mirror helps driving into the sun, but the visors do not have extensions on them.
Cabin storage is varied in size and shape in the console, door pockets and glovebox. They are usable spaces rather than just the largest or biggest quantity.
The cargo area offers 22 cubic feet of volume behind the back seat and 52 with it folded down. One advantage of the increased ride and body height is that much more head clearance for taller people beneath the open hatch. The cargo cover will fit on the floor so you never need leave it home, and there's a temporary-use spare tire under the floor with room for the dead tire lifting the cargo deck up an inch or two.