We liked the original Subaru Crosstrek — an Impreza-based, butched-up, soft-roader hatchback — enough that it won our Subcompact SUV Challenge in 2015. Now, a second-generation Crosstrek has arrived, and while it may look similar to the outgoing one, it is indeed an all-new car. Sitting on the new Subaru Global Platform that will form the basis of nearly all of Subaru's future cars, the 2018 Crosstrek is more than 95 percent new. Again based on the Impreza, it's a compact hatchback with exceptional interior room and standard all-wheel drive.
The change from Impreza to Crosstrek starts with the parts you can see. The Crosstrek's sheet metal shares some panels with the Impreza, but gray plastic wheel arches, bumper covers and rocker panels add some durability to the look. It sits visibly higher than the Impreza, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
All the changes, like them or not, really do set it apart from the Impreza; it looks like a very different animal, and this is part of what its customers find appealing, according to Subaru. A lot of customers like that outdoorsy, rugged look — even if far more Crosstreks are sold in urban markets than in rural ones. But that higher ride height helps when dealing with broken pavement and the travails of the urban jungle, as well, such as curbs and potholes. And for buyers who are genuinely outdoorsy, the low overall roof height helps when loading things onto the roof rack.
Along with the new platform comes a new engine, although its specs will be familiar. Like the last Crosstrek, the new one comes with a 2.0-liter flat-four engine, this one making 152 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque. That's up slightly in the horsepower department from the past model. Though not turbocharged, it does now feature direct injection. It can be mated to a standard six-speed manual transmission (one gear more than last year's five-speed) or a continuously variable automatic with a stepped-gear function meant to make it feel and sound more like a traditional geared automatic. All-wheel drive is standard for both transmissions.
I sampled both transmissions and have come to the rare conclusion that the CVT-equipped model is the one to have. This is odd given my penchant for enjoying shifting on my own, but the problem here is the engine, not the transmission: My biggest beef with the old Crosstrek was that it couldn't get out of its own way — it was woefully underpowered with both the manual and automatic. This has not been solved with the new vehicle, as the 2.0-liter engine is still anemic. The engine is just gutless; merging onto a swift-moving highway will be challenging, and don't even think of attempting to pass anyone on a hill or with a full load of passengers or cargo.
From a standing start, it feels like acceleration can be measured with a calendar. If you've already got some momentum built, it's not quite so bad; the Crosstrek responds quickly when you power through a corner. The CVT is well-matched to the engine, always keeping it on boil if you're driving aggressively, but you'll need to be prepared for it to rev its heart out as it tries to deliver what little power it has. There's little oomph below 2,500 rpm, and it seems to run out a little after 4,000 rpm. If you opt for the manual transmission, you'll be shifting it like mad to try and keep your speed up even on slight grades. Save yourself the angst and go for the CVT; it's a much more pleasant experience.Read more on Cars.com site