Published April 13. 2013 4:00AM
o I've just rambled down a gravel road, kicking up some dust and getting some grins. I step out and look around the exterior to make sure I didn't do anything to the all-new XV Crosstrek that the folks at Subaru might frown upon.
I take in the front end with its aggressive, sweep-around headlights and a grille that seems to be sneering at me. That's when it hits me: This car's got some attitude.
Even looks aside, that's what Subaru engineers had in mind with the Crosstrek's 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel-drive. It's a go-anywhere, anytime attitude and, while it's not ready for rough-housing with the serious off-roaders, it is ready to take the adventuresome types where they want to bike, kayak, surf or ski.
The recipe was simple enough: Subaru took its Impreza Sport hatchback, raised it some, jazzed it up with fender cladding, lowered the front scoop, and added some neat wheels and cool colors like Tangerine Orange Pearl.
Oh, and a ton of accessories to customize the Crosstrek, like a sport mesh grille, body-side moldings or a hitch-mounted bike carrier.
The result is a compact crossover that's eager to please and fun to drive.
Propelling you on your excursion is the one and only engine available: a 2.0-liter boxer four, which - no surprise here - is the same one found in the Impreza. It puts out 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to get it done but not enough for real road thrills.
Fact is, it drives pretty much like an Impreza, which is uneventful. Zero-to-60 happened in 8.1 seconds, nothing special but not awful for a 2.0 engine. It has a tow rating of 1,500 pounds.
The good news is it gets similar mileage at 25 mpg city, 33 highway. Some of the thanks goes to the CVT (continuously variable transmission), which most will probably select. It offers paddle shifters, too. A five-speed manual is available if you want it. Tackling the rougher surfaces is managed nicely with Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which divvies up engine torque to all four wheels at all times. On soft, uneven surfaces, the wheels grabbed adequately as I revved it up.
On-road performance is enhanced by MacPherson struts up front and rear double-wishbones and coils at every corner. The fact that it's raised taller by 4 inches doesn't seem to affect the roll factor on corners.
The electric-assisted steering is rather dull, lacking any sense of sportiness. Braking was firm and gripped well even on steep inclines.
Inside there is decent room for everything from your backpack and pals and dog - plus the Big Gulp in the large beverage holder. There are bottle holders in every door so the pals ain't griping, and the various cabin-storage areas can handle 38 CDs, Subaru says.
The cargo area gets a removable liner so it's ready for rough treatment followed by easy cleaning. As in the Impreza, the 23 cubic feet of space can handle a decent amount of stuff. Fold the rear seats and it expands to 52 cubic feet. Roof rails offer even more carrying capability.
With the roomy feel inside comes ample headroom, legroom and shoulder room. Rear seats can accommodate three and offer an impressive 35.4 inches of legroom.
The instrument panel is clearly marked with white numerals on a black background. And the center console is easy to reach and use.
And Crosstrek is ready for all your electronic needs. Hands-free phone connectivity is standard in the Premium model, as are iPod and USB ports. So is a stereo with six speakers and single-disc CD player.
The Limited adds HD radio, 4.3-inch LCD screen (6.1-inch if you opt for the nav system), and rear-vision camera.
The Crosstrek is a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It offers side-curtain air bags, side air bags and driver's-side knee bags, plus rear-seat headrests for all three seating positions. Also available are ABS with brake assist, traction control and a stability system with rollover sensor.
Crosstrek comes in two flavors, the base Premium - which for my money has everything you need - and the Limited, which adds leather, automatic headlights, rear sensor and a 4.3-inch LCD screen for navigation and other controls.
This is a vehicle like no other. It has virtually no direct competitor. The Suzuki SX4 also has the 4-wheel-drive and is a few grand less on the sticker.
But I think Crosstrek will carve out a little niche for itself, especially for the young and active who go for the rugged. Yeah, those with that same attitude as the Crosstrek.