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2013 Subaru Crosstrek

Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru Crosstrek Wheelbase Media

Is this Subaru for real, or is the new XV Crosstrek arriving this fall just faking it?

If another automaker attempted to elevate one of its small wagons to the status of “off-roader,” it would risk becoming an industry laughing stock. But Subaru is different. It always has been. And just when you think the Japan-based company has settled down and become a conservative member of the community, it ratchets up the funkiness and creates this bold and brash offshoot of its Impreza wagon. You just gotta love it.

In developing the niche-oriented Crosstrek, the Impreza wagon was an ideal starting point. Subaru completely reinvented its popular entry-level model for the 2012 model year, making it larger, better looking and significantly more fuel-efficient (albeit less powerful) than before. And with its standard four-wheel-drive, the Impreza has the right stuff to be converted into a pseudo Rubicon Trail-conquering hero.

The reality, however, is that the Crosstrek is best suited for rough road and weather conditions plus limited off-trail adventuring. Anyone familiar with Volvo’s XC70 wagon will think of this Subie as a scaled-down and less expensive copycat as well as sharing kinship with the now-retired Impreza Outback Sport and current Subaru Outback wagon.

The right look is critical for any sport ute-style vehicle and Subaru has provided the Crosstrek with its own distinctive nosepiece, front and rear bumpers, roof rails and rear spoiler. In addition, extra cladding for the wheel arches and rocker panel has been installed. The meaner macho look is completed with darker window tinting and a set of 17-inch all-season tires mounted to custom-look rims. You might not find them entirely to your taste, but they do set the Crosstrek apart from its lower-key Impreza roots.

The slightly bigger front brake rotors add stopping power and a hiked-up suspension provides 8.7 inches of ground clearance, which is three more than the Impreza. That’s just shy of the competing Jeep Patriot’s 9.0-inch stance and should be plenty for straddling rock-strewn terrain and fording shallow streams.

Finally, Crosstrek owners who undertake more desolate journeys will appreciate the 15.9-gallon gas tank, which is a gain of 1.4 gallons over the Impreza.

The more generous fuel reservoir should go a long way when feeding the Crosstrek’s 148-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that comes straight from the Impreza. That’s significantly less oomph than the pre-2012 170-horsepower Impreza, but the offset is a 25-mpg city number and 33 mpg on the highway, ratings that crush the old “Imp’s” 20/27 numbers. The horizontally opposed engine layout, with one pair of cylinders located at 180 degrees to the other pair, lowers the center of gravity and provides all kinds of underhood room.

The Crosstrek’s five-speed manual transmission has Incline Start Assist to prevent the car from rolling backward when moving your right foot from the brake to the gas pedal while stopped on a hill. Optional is a continuously variable unit with paddle-shifters that has six preset ratios. An “ECO” gauge encourages fuel-saving driving habits with either transmission.

The Crosstrek’s standard all-wheel-drive systems are, not surprisingly, Impreza-based. Manual-gearbox models split the torque 50:50 in normal driving situations, but will apportion up to 80 percent to either front or rear wheels when slippage is detected. With the automatic trans, the Active Torque Split system maintains a 60:40 front:rear division, but automatically directs up to 100 percent of the torque to either set of wheels when necessary.

Along with AWD, the base Crosstrek Premium is adorned with the usual suite of power and comfort accessories plus a removable waterproof cargo tray, tie-downs and grocery-bag hooks that are ideal when stowing damp and dirty outdoorsy gear.

Upgrading to the Limited adds climate control, leather-covered seats (heated in front), and a rearview camera. A navigation system and a power moonroof are optional.

Adding the XV Crosstrek to a growing lineup that now also includes the BRZ sports coupe gives Subaru a wider cross-section of vehicles. It’s by no means a Jeep- or Land Rover-style rock-crawler, but for more typical rugged outdoor activities, the XV Crosstrek is about as real as it gets.