Last year – which is still actually this model year – Subaru’s Crosstrek was pretty much the only small crossover that still came standard with a manual transmission.
Or even offered one.
Next model year – which is still this calendar year – the Crosstrek joins the rest of its rivals in being automatic (CVT) only.
That’s a shame – because it’s not on account of lack of demand. The manual Crosstrek was so popular it was difficult to find one. This writer’s sister ordered one and had to wait four months to get it. So why would Subaru stop selling that which sells?
Take one guess . . .
What It Is
The Crosstrek is Subaru’s very popular compact crossover wagon. It’s popular because it’s affordable, practical, economical and fun – especially with the manual transmission that’s no longer available.
Prices start at $24,995 for the base trim with a 2.0 liter engine and a continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission. Sport ($28,995) Limited ($30,895) and the new Wilderness ($31,995) trims all come standard with a larger, more powerful 2.5 liter engine – also paired with a CVT automatic.
All Crosstreks come standard with Subaru’s “symmetric” all-wheel-drive system.
What’s New for 2024
Though it looks the same – at a glance – as the outgoing ’23 model – the ’24 Crosstrek is all-new. Most of the changes are not visually obvious and include standard-in-all-trims LED headlights that follow the curves, a revised steering system similar to the one used in Subaru’s WRX sport sedan and standard driver-selectable Si Modes for the now-standard CVT automatic.
Higher trims also get a new, 11.6-inch LCD touchscreen.
There also a new Wilderness version of the Crosstrek that’s similar to the Wilderness version of the Outback – just in a smaller, more affordable package. The Wilderness version of the Outback lists for $39,960 – almost $8k more than the Crosstrek Wilderness.
It comes standard with 17 inch all-terrain tires, body cladding and a lifted suspension, among other upgrades, that gives it off-road abilities close to those of a 4×4 SUV.
Still affordable and practical.
Wilderness version is more capable.
More than just one take-it-or-leave-it engine.
What’s Not So Good
Just one take-it-or-leave-it transmission, no matter which engine you pick.
A bit less affordable than it was (the base price of the ’24 is $1,350 higher than that of the ’23).
Standard 2.0 engine is much less fun without the no-longer-available manual transmission.
There are two engines to consider – and something else to consider about both of them.
Both are “boxer” fours. The cylinders lay flat rather than upright and each pair opposes its opposite pair. The layout balances the weight of the engine equally on either side of the car and keeps the weight of the engine low in the car. The only other car brand that sells engines of this type is Porsche – ad Porsches cost a lot more than Subarus.
Also – and unlike Porsche engines – neither the standard 2.0 liter four (152 hp) nor the optional 2.5 liter four (182 hp) are turbocharged, which is arguably a good thing – if you’re wanting to avoid Porsche-esque expenses at some point down the road.
The absence of a turbo even in entry level cars is becoming unusual as car companies put smaller and smaller engines in vehicles that haven’t gotten any smaller – and still need enough power to move them adequately. These smaller engines have the potential to use less gas – until you need the vehicle to move adequately. Then they need boost – a pressurized mix of air and fuel – to get more power out of less engine. What you often end up with is an engine that uses about as much gas under boost as a larger engine that doesn’t need to be boosted does.
Think about that for a minute.
Boost increases power. But it also increases pressure – literally. On everything inside the turbocharged engine. Things like bearings and pistons and piston rings. When these wear out, it’ll cost you a lot more than a 5 percent difference in advertised gas mileage that probably isn’t even that in real-world driving.
There is also no turbo (or intercooler) to wear out. You will never have to pay to replace either – or both – with either of the Crosstrek’s two available engines.
And there’s a reason for that. It is 22 city, 29 highway. That was – and still is – the rated mileage the Crosstrek posted last year (still technically this year) when equipped with the 2.0 liter engine and the formerly standard six speed manual transmission. The same 2.0 liter engine – mated to the now-standard CVT automatic – rates 27 city and 34 highway.
It’s a difference of about 5 MPG.
That’s a big-deal difference when you’re Subaru – and having to find a way to comply with the federal government’s minimum MPG mandates (CAFE) which are currently set at around 35 MPG on average. Anything that falls below that lowers a car company’s “fleet average” and that triggers fines for “gas guzzling” that are transferred, via increased car prices, to car buyers.
And that’s why all ’24 Crosstreks are CVT automatic-only now, even though the manual-equipped Crosstrek was so popular Subaru couldn’t meet the demand for them. It’s also worth noting that while the automatic-only ’24 does get better gas mileage, it is also $1,350 more expensive.
On the upside, both of the Soobie’s engines – not being turbo-boosted – do not need premium gas to deliver on their advertised fuel economy numbers.
Whether you go with the 2.0 or the 2.5 engine, every Crosstrek comes standard with all-wheel-drive. Subaru calls it symmetrical AWD because it can torque vector, which means it can route power from side-to-side as well as front-to-back, which improves dry/wet road handling stability as well as traction on slippery surfaces.
On The Road
The ’23 Crosstrek with the 2.0 engine and the six-speed manual transmission didn’t go as far on a gallon of gas as the ’24 with the same 2.0 and the CVT automatic – but it got there a lot quicker.
With the manual, the ’23 Crosstrek could achieve 60 MPH in 8.6 seconds; with the CVT, the time it takes to do the same goes up to 9.2 seconds. It’s a significant difference and more than just that. The ’23 with the manual felt quicker, as manual versions of any car always do. That’s because you’re doing something more than waiting for the car to build up speed. You are involved in the process and each time, it’s a little different because each time, you shift sooner or later. Sometimes, you time it just right and that can be very gratifying because it was you that did it.
A stick – and a clutch – make up for a lot of the power that isn’t there in a car like the Crosstrek.
The CVT takes that away.
More accurately – in this case – the government took it away.
It also took away something else in that now it’s more necessary to opt for the 2.5 engine, which has the power to make driving the Crosstrek more emotionally engaging. But to get the 2.5 engine you must buy at least the Sport trim – and that one stickers for $28,995. In effect, the government has made an enjoyable Crosstrek much more expensive – to the tune of $5,350. That is the difference in price between the base ’23 Crosstrek with the 2.0 and the manual and the ’24 Sport with the 2.5 engine and the CVT.
The new Wilderness version is without doubt the most capable – and the most fun – version of the Crosstrek.
Even with the unavoidable CVT.
Though its standard 2.5 liter engine is the same as the one that’s standard in the Sport and Limited, it feels stronger because this one has a much more aggressive 4.11 final drive ratio (the others get a 3.70 final drive) that’s a boon to both off-the-line acceleration and low-speed slogging, as through heavy snow and mud. The X-Mode CVT in the Wilderness has also been set up to deliver maximum low-speed leverage; it has what Subaru calls Low Ratio Gradient Control, which means the CVT hunkers down to a 4.066:1 ratio when it sense the Wilderness is trying to scale a steep incline at low speed. It’s similar in function to a 4×4’s Low range gearing, but without the two-speed transfer case.
The upgraded CVT in the Wilderness also comes with an oil cooler and this ups the tow rating in this model to 3,500 lbs.
All other versions of the Crosstrek are not rated to pull more than 1,500 lbs.
That plus the lifted suspension (and 9.3 inches of ground clearance) that adds some inches to both approach and departure angles makes this littlest Soobie one of the most capable small crossovers on the market.
At The Curb
The Crosstrek is as small as it was last year – just 176.4 inches end to end, or almost a foot shorter, end to end, than the Honda Civic sedan (184 inches) I reviewed last week,. And the Civic’s a compact.
Something more practical.
Its hatchback/crossover wagon shape endows it with 55.3 total cubic feet of cargo capacity – as opposed to the 14.8 cubic feet of space inside the Civic’s trunk. The Civic does have about three inches more backseat legroom (37.4 inches vs. 34 inches for the Soobie) but those numbers can be modified by scooting the Soobie’s front seats forward just a bit. It’s not as easy to quadruple the space available for cargo in a compact-sized sedan like the Civic. You can get the latter as a hatchback sedan – and that helps – but even then, you’ve only got about half as much space (24 cubic feet) because of the lowered roofline/profile.
And that – plus the standard AWD – is a big part of the reason why this little crossover is so popular.
It’s got enough room to serve as a small family car – and it’s a superb poor weather car. It’s also a much less expensive than an SUV.
While a large (11.6 inch) LCD touchscreen is standard in the Premium and higher trims, there are still rotary knobs fort controlling the volume of the audio system and to change stations.
Similarly, there are up/down buttons for raising or lowering the cabin temp and all of these controls can be easily used by feel – without taking your eyes off the road.
The Wilderness has upgraded roof racks that can handle up to 700 pounds of loading. A tent system for sleeping on the roof in the wilderness is available.
One very charming thing about the Crosstrek is that when you turn off the multitude of “advanced driver assistance technologies” – which includes Lane Centering/Lane Departure Mitigation – they stay off. Even after you turn the car off. When you restart it, it remembers that you prefer not to be “assisted.” Most other makes/models default to back on after you turn the car off – so that when you go for your next drive, you have to go through the hassle of turning them all off again.
Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to skip all of the “advanced driver assistance technology.”
Last year, you could – because the base Crosstrek with the manual didn’t come with most of this stuff – which Subaru bundles together under the rubric, Eyesight technology (so named because the cameras that are an integral part of the system are mounted higher up than in most cars. You can see them if you look up; they are embedded in the rearview mirror, at eyesight level).
This year, every Crosstrek comes standard with Eyesight.
The Bottom Line
It’s not as inexpensive – or as engaging – as it was last year. But it’s still a very practical – and more-capable-than-ever – little crossover.
Maybe that’ll be enough to take people’s minds off the manual they can’t get anymore.
. . .
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