The latest iteration of the Subaru XV now bears the Crosstrek name used in America since the model's debut. However, it's all much of the same with this third-generation model which is both a good and bad thing.

What is it?

Since it first launched 11 years ago, the Impreza-based XV was one of the best-selling vehicles in Subaru’s lineup. Now, after two successful generations, there’s an all-new third-gen model with a new name.

The 2023 Subaru Crosstrek picks up where the old XV left off, unsurprisingly so since this new name is actually what it’s been sold as in North America since the model’s inception. Although it’s now based on the Subaru Global Architecture platform, the recipe remains the same – it’s a jacked-up hatchback that’s compact enough to be perfect for city buyers, but offers the ride height and off-road capabilities to make it ideal for those who like some outdoor adventures as well.

Three trim levels are available – L, R, and S – with the choice of a 2.0-litre petrol engine across the range, or a hybrid driveline on L and S variants. Here, we’re looking at the top-spec petrol-powered 2.0S model which comes at a price of $41,490 before on-road costs. Opting for the hybrid incurs a $3600 premium.

What’s new on the outside?

Although the Crosstrek is wearing an all-new design, it still feels incredibly familiar with its unmissable black plastic cladding and our tester’s bold Sun Blaze Pearl paint (which like all colours is a no-cost option) meaning it’s more of an evolution from the XV’s design, rather than a revolution.

With that said, the new Crosstrek does feature a sportier look with sharper, more angular lines. The more pronounced design of its cladding both at the corners of the car as well as around the wheel arches also adds to the bold new look, while the material is dimpled with the aim of increasing air flow – a small but thoughtful fuel-saving measure. Likewise, the wing mirrors are now 22mm shorter but the glass is 5mm wider to improve aerodynamics and visibility with a wider viewing angle, while the roof rails also sit 5mm shorter. The bonnet and front fenders are also now made from aluminium to save some extra weight.

Entry-level L variants feature a black 17-inch alloy wheel shod in Yokohama Geolandar tyres, while R and S variants like the 2.0S you see here feature an 18-inch machine-finished alloy wheel with Falken Ziex tyres. All models feature automatic LED headlights, but R and S variants add a cornering function and LED daytime running lights.

What’s the 2023 Subaru Crosstrek like inside?

The interior of the Crosstrek is both where some of the biggest advancements are made, but also where some of the pitfalls of Subaru’s current model architecture can be seen. Despite being an all-new model, there are still some very dated touches. The fact there’s still no digital instrument cluster even in this top-spec model is the first thing that springs to mind, with only a small 4.2-inch display between two rather basic analogue dials. The TomTom sat nav is also now feeling laggy.

Thankfully, it does now have wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to cure that on its massive 11.6-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen which is also now a bit more driver-friendly thanks to functions such as the brake auto hold now being on the homescreen, rather than buried behind multiple fiddly menus. Top-spec models also score an impressive 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system as well.

Mind you, not all of it is as slick as it could be – despite other Subaru models with this screen such as the Outback and WRX placing the heated seat buttons on the touchscreen, there are digital blank switches in the Crosstrek with some rocker switches placed on the transmission tunnel. Yep, the same ones Subaru has been using in some other models for nearly a decade now.

With that said, there are some major advancements in the Crosstrek’s cabin design. The seats are the most notable improvement over the XV – they’re now bolted straight into the chassis so they sit lower and feel more rigid, while the seat base offers far better thigh support which the XV sorely lacked. I’m a fan of the light grey leather and plastic trim found in this S model as well, with it lifting the cabin ambience while also fitting the Crosstrek’s off-road-ready image.

As you’d expect from a Subaru, the build quality is absolutely top notch. The quality of the materials is good, and the solid feeling you get from how it’s been bolted together is even better. Aside from the indicator stalks which return to centre after you’ve turned them on, making turning them off again frustratingly fiddly, the rest of the switchgear all feels top notch. It’s not something talked about as often as it should be, but I truly believe Subaru’s build quality is what scores the brand so many repeat customers.

Do be aware that boot space has actually dropped by 19 litres compared to the XV, with the Crosstrek’s 291-litre boot now being one of the smallest in the class. However, loading it is easier thanks to a slightly wider boot opening and flat-loading floor. Petrol models only receive a space-saver spare wheel and not a full-size spare, although hybrid models don’t get one at all, instead coming with a tyre repair kit.

What’s under the bonnet of the 2023 Subaru Crosstrek?

Petrol-only Crosstrek variants like our tester come powered by a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-four engine producing 115kW at 6000rpm and 196Nm at 4000rpm. Those outputs are identical to the outgoing model, although Subaru claims there have been some refinements made to the engine.

It comes backed by an upgraded CVT automatic with an eight-speed manual mode – a new calibration versus the XV’s seven-speed tuning to offer punchier acceleration in lower gears – and Subaru’s iconic full-time symmetrical all-wheel drive system.

Hybrid models also see unchanged outputs compared to the XV, with its 2.0-litre atmo flat-four still hooked up to a 12.3kW/66Nm electric motor, with a maximum system output of 110kW from 5800-6000rpm and 196Nm at 4000rpm. It uses the same CVT transmission as before with a seven-speed manual mode.

What’s it like to drive?

If you’re an XV owner looking to trade in for the latest model, you’ll be glad to hear that the way the Crosstrek drives is familiar but undoubtedly better. With its suspension being largely overhauled with revised spring rates and front stabiliser clamp, along with altered front and rear subframe designs, the Crosstrek finds a fabulous balance between ride comfort and handling. (Do note that while it uses a typical MacPherson strut front suspension setup, there’s actually a double-wishbone setup in the rear, rather impressively.

It eats up potholes and speed bumps for breakfast, managing to dampen out even these biggest of hits with confidence, while on a twisty bit of road it remains flat and planted. Naturally, the all-wheel drive system only adds to its competence, with Subaru’s trademark system giving a truly balanced feel to how the power is delivered. The light but confident variable-ratio steering is also very responsive and gives a pleasant but never overbearing amount of feel.

The catch, however, is the power the engine serves up – or rather the lack thereof. While the reworked CVT has definitely improved pickup off the line at lower speeds and in lower gears, the bar for improvement wasn’t exactly set that high. It’s a shame we don’t get the 2.5-litre engine offered in some other markets, because the 2.0-litre already felt underpowered before in the old XV. Now, it feels outclassed by smaller yet torquier turbocharged engines which many other rivals are employing.

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However, what the Crosstrek lacks in performance it makes up for with its off-road ability which is unparalleled in the class. With and impressive 220mm of ground clearance – as much as a Toyota Prado – it’s the one small SUV that’s immune to the ‘soft-roader’ label, as it’ll never be flummoxed by chewed-up trails to campsites or mountain bike tracks the way others would be.

The confidence it displays on gravel tracks and even through wet and muddy sections reminds me of the original Subaru Forester from the 1990s – a spiritual predecessor to it of sorts as it was then based on the Impreza’s platform, and a car which I once used to own. Being so small, light, and nimble, it shows that for the majority of people who like the odd outdoor adventure, this is actually all you need to get yourself there.

It’s a crying shame that the Crosstrek is still so lacking in the engine department, as the way it drives otherwise is a real treat as with all Subaru offerings. It’s the one area the XV’s replacement really needed a big sign of improvement, and while it’s evolved noticeably in other ways, performance sadly isn’t one of them.

How do the numbers add up?

Subaru claims fuel consumption of a mere 7.2L/100km for petrol-only 2023 Crosstrek variants, and after 789km of testing I saw a return of 8.0L/100km – an impressive return for a vehicle with an atmo engine and constant all-wheel drive. For hybrid variants, claimed fuel consumption drops to 6.5L/100km. Petrol models feature a 65-litre fuel tank, but hybrids only get a 48-litre tank. All variants are 91RON compatible.

Like all other Subaru models, the 2023 Crosstrek is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, along with one year of complimentary roadside assistance. Servicing is required every 12 months/15,000km with capped pricing on the first five visits at an average cost of $474.64 per service.

When it comes to the Crosstrek’s price point, it’s worth noting that it still stacks up quite well against its rivals. With the cheapest variant starting at just $34,990 before on-roads and the range topping out at $45,090 it manages to undercut the likes of the Jeep Compass and Volkswagen T-Roc. The Toyota Corolla Cross and Mazda CX-30 do come in cheaper, but all four of these models only come with front-wheel drive as standard with all-wheel drive a costly option, while others such as the Honda HR-V don’t offer the option of it at all. That means the Crosstrek works out far more competitively given all-wheel drive is standard and its off-road abilities exceed all of these.

So, what’s the verdict?

Subaru has perhaps played it a bit safe with the 2023 Crosstrek, but that’s something that will cement its appeal to the brand’s core customers, many of whom may now have owned one of each generation of the XV before this. Serving up the strong build quality and impressive driving dynamics Subaru has built its name off, the improvements this next-gen model offers will clearly ensure its success.

However, it’s a shame Subaru hasn’t been a bit more daring in giving it more power. With many rivals switching to smaller turbo engines, Subaru sticking with a dated and underpowered atmo four-pot and lacklustre hybrid mean that while this will appeal to adventurous types for its off-road chops, city buyers may be better served by one of its punchier rivals.

I don’t doubt the Crosstrek will be a success, given Subaru sold over 100,000 XVs in the decade prior to this model’s launch, but it’s a shame to see it’s still yet to be improved in the area improvement has been called for most – performance.

2023 Subaru Crosstrek 2.0S List Price: $41,490
  • 7/10
    Performance - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Impressive ride quality and driving dynamics on even the most challenging surfaces, rock-solid build quality, familiar yet sportier styling will maintain its appeal to returning Subaru buyers, smart pricing
Cons: Still lacking power with too similar a drivetrain to the XV before it, some dated interior items, frustrating indicator stalk design, boot size has shrunk compared to its predecessor

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Subaru Australia for one week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel expenses were covered by the author.

Patrick Jackson
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