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A review of the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek: Even with Compacts - Bigger can be Better

In the world of compact sedans and 5-door models, “getting bigger” is usually a bad thing but in the case of the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek – the added height that comes via the XV’s unique high riding suspension system makes for a vehicle that offers the positioning and ride of a small crossover without compromising the fun to drive, go anywhere feel that you would expect from a modern Subaru.


The Subaru XV Crosstrek was introduced in concept form as a lifted version of the 5-door Impreza Sport (wagon) so in many ways, the XV Crosstrek is nearly identical to the Impreza. However, where the Impreza Sport offers more of a sporty, low slung posture – the XV Crosstrek sits quite a bit higher so it is ideal for those buyers who spend some time on the road less traveled…and less paved. The XV sits about 4 inches higher than the Impreza and with almost all of that coming by means of suspension and chassis modifications, all of that height is reflected in the ground clearance of this sporty 5-door. Also, the increased height of the XV offers a higher driving position, similar to what you would get with a small crossover but it does this without facing the downsides (like poor fuel economy) that come with many crossovers or small SUVs.

My 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek test vehicle was a 2.0I Premium trimline vehicle with no added options and a price of $22,790 including the $795 destination fee. This test car is literally as base as it gets for the XV Crosstrek lineup but you wouldn’t guess that after spending some time behind the wheel on the road and off.

The Exterior
In many ways, the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is physically identical to the smaller in stature Impreza Sport 5-door and while the basics of these two vehicles are the same – Subaru has made enough subtle changes to the XV design to make it more than just an Impreza Sport with a big suspension setup.

XV front

Across the front end, the XV Crosstrek wears a very similar headlight, hood and grille design to the Impreza. This includes sharp, angular headlights, a similarly angular grille and a hood line that comes down into the headlights to provide for an angry look across the face of this sporty wagon. Where the XV differs from the Impreza is in the lower front fascia, where the lower grille opening flows into a blacked out chin spoiler rather than the body colored chin of the Impreza. This change helps to further the high riding feel of the XV as the dark lower trim tricks the eye into seeing a vehicle that sits a little higher than is actually the case. Also, while both the XV and the Impreza have round fog lights mounted on the outer corners of the lower front fascia, the VX’s fog lights are molded into the body where the Impreza has contrasting dark colored bezels that house these extra lights.

XV side

Along the sides, the 2013 XV Crosstrek really stands apart from the Impreza thanks to the increased ride height that has the body sitting some 4 inches higher. That difference provides a much bigger gap between the tires and the body and that basic design gives the XV the natural look of a crossover or small SUV. Also, the XV has unique 17 inch wheels with black painted pockets and machined spokes that are far sportier than the standard rollers on the Impreza. Also, in addition to the black cladding along the lower rocker areas, the XV has dark contrasting wheel opening flares that help to contribute to the offroad ready look of this high riding sport wagon.

The back end of the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is also quite a bit different from the standard Impreza wagon thanks to the uniquely designed lower fascia that has a body colored diffuser that flows down from the rear hatch opening, flanked by dark contrasting reflector bezels on both sides that run into the dark rear rocker extensions. Compared to the Impreza Sport, which has a body colored area that extends down through the lower reflectors with a contrasting center section, the rear end of the XV looks more like something intended to hit the trails where the Impreza has more of an on-road sport compact design.

XV rear

When it comes down to it, if you like the looks of the modern Subaru Impreza you will like the looks of the new 2013 XV Crosstrek. This car has all of the design DNA of the Impreza but the few subtle changes around the exterior allow this high riding hatchback to differentiate itself from the traditional Impreza and it does so in a way that I think allows it to have a personality of its own. This is clearly a model based on the popular Impreza but the unique front and rear fascias combined with the unique wheels, the wheel opening flares and the steady dose of dark trim running along the bottom of the vehicle give the XV a very sporty, offroad ready look that I really like.

The Interior
My Subaru VX Crosstrek may be called a “Premium” trimline but it is a base model by all definitions. This means that cloth manual front seats and a folding cloth rear seat are standard but you do get features like power windows (including one touch driver’s window controls), a pretty solid sound system with auxiliary input and full steering wheel controls, cruise control and an integrated hands free phone system that is also controlled via a set of buttons on the steering wheel. The XV Crosstrek Premium doesn’t wow you with a bunch of expensive, high end gadgetry but it also doesn’t force you to go without any of the basic creature comforts that are available in most modern vehicles. The stereo is controlled by old fashioned buttons and knobs and the same is true of the heating and air conditioning system so prospective buyers who are looking to avoid the high tech (and sometimes high hassle) HVAC and infotainment systems are likely to love the simplicity of the XV Crosstrek Premium interior. The XV interior is basic but it is far from bare.

XV dash

Where the XV Crosstrek really shines is in terms of both passenger and cargo space. Unlike many compacts, the XV offers a ton of legroom for rear riding passengers even with the front seats adjusted to very comfortably seat a 6 foot tall driver and passenger. In fact, the XV is one of the few vehicles in the class that I have driven that will realistically and comfortably seat very tall adults in the rear seat so for anyone who spends lots of time with adult friends seated in the rear – or a family with very tall children – the XV offers spaciousness like few other vehicles in the class. Rear riders also benefit from a ton of headroom, hip room and shoulder room when there are only two people seated in the rear seats and while adding a third person to the middle certainly cramps things up a bit…the same is true of any vehicle in the class and most larger vehicles as well.

XV rear seats

Rear passenger room aside, the XV Crosstrek offers every bit as much space for the driver and passenger with enough adjustability in the front seats to comfortably position a driver who is 4’10” or 6’8” – offering plenty of space for the tallest drivers and passengers while also being able to adjust enough to make the vehicle safe to driver for someone who is of below average height.

XV front seats

Finally, the Subaru XV Crosstrek offers a massive rear cargo area that has a moving tonneau if you want to keep things hidden from prying eyes along with a protective cargo liner that prevents anything from spilling and making a mess of the rear carpet. With the rear seats in the upright and locked position, the XV offers enough storage space to load a couple week’s worth of groceries for a small family or even a couple bigger boxes. Fold the rear seats down and the XV offers comparable cargo hauling abilities to make SUVs with a nice large opening for larger items and plenty of cubic feet for lots of items of all sizes.

XV cargo area

The modern Subaru lineup makes a point of offering lots of interior space for both passengers and cargo so it comes as no surprise that the high riding 2013 XV Crosstrek follows that same trend. While this isnt a vehicle that looks like a compact, it is a compact but it doesn’t make the rear passengers sit with their knees pressed to their chests like some other vehicles in the class. If you are looking for an interior that offers all of the features that you would expect with tons of interior space but you want to avoid the headaches of modern interior technologies – the XV could be an ideal vehicle for you.

The Drive
The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is powered by the same 2.0L Boxer engine that is equipped in the Impreza sedan and sport 5-door with 148 horsepower and 145lb-ft of torque being channeled to all four wheels via a standard 5-speed manual transmission and an advanced all wheel drive system. On paper, the power output seems a little light for this seemingly large-ish 5-door wagon but those concerns of the XV being an underpowered chore to drive vanish within the first few minutes of driving.

First off, the fuel economy measures. My Subaru XV Crosstrek with the 5-speed manual transmission promises 23 miles per gallon around town, 30mpg on the open road and a combined figure of 26mpg. In my experiences, those figures are very accurate and with a near 50/50 mix of city and highway driving, I averaged 26.1 miles per gallon. I should point out that I hit those numbers while driving as I always do and that includes plenty of above-the-speed limit cruising on the highway so this is not a vehicle that needs to be babied to hit the EPA fuel economy figures. I would fully expect that someone who does a great deal of highway driving at or near the speed limit would have no problem comfortably exceeding the 26mpg average estimate.

XV low front

The key feature of the Subaru XV Crosstrek is the suspension setup that lifts this model some 4 inches higher than the “normal” Impreza Sport. That height is almost entirely felt through the posture relative to the road and with a higher stance comes a higher center of gravity and a high center of gravity leads to reduced handling capabilities. Fortunately, Subaru was able to lift the XV enough to make a difference in unpaved driving conditions without making this compact handling like an old pickup. The tall suspension setup is a bit stiffer than your average Impreza but it isnt enough to make a noticeable difference for most drivers whether you do lots of city or highway driving. More importantly, when you leave the paved road surfaces, the suspension of the XV makes for a smooth ride on the roughest surfaces and honestly, the XV feels right at home on rough dirt roads. While I wasn’t looking to do any offroading in the XV Crosstrek, my area is filled with rough unpaved roads that have ruts and ditches deep enough to kill your average new car. I put the XV through the paces on these rough roads and whether in sloppy mud or perfectly dry, hard conditions – the XV performed beautifully. In fact, it handled the rough roads well enough that I would call it fun to drive on these dirt roads as I harnessed my inner Ken Block…zipping through these narrow roads as I imagined myself trying to best Block’s lap time on some random stage rally course. Of course, the XV doesn’t pack the 600 horsepower that Block’s old Impreza STI race cars did but the combination of the lifted suspension and the advanced all wheel drive system made this car a blast to drive on the roughest, muddiest roads in my area.

Subaru XV

While performing well offroad is nice, the fact of the matter is that most Subaru XV Crosstrek owners likely spend a great deal more time on paved surfaces and in designing this car to be great offroad- the on-road comforts were not compromised. The XV performs just as smoothly and as calmly on the highway at 70 miles per hour as it does when it was digging its way through a muddy road at 35 miles per hour so unlike some vehicles that offer great offroading capabilities at the cost of harshness on paved roads – the XV feels right at home on all driving surfaces.

The Final Word
The Subaru brand has made a name for itself with vehicles that are fitted with all wheel drive and as virtue of such – they can do anywhere. The steady push for more efficient vehicles have led to advancements in aerodynamics that have many cars sitting very low to the ground – too low to deal with rough unpaved roads or full blown offroading situations. Because of that, those folks who are interested in the go-anywhere personality of the Subaru Impreza may find that the low ride height of the traditional 5-door hatchback models is too low to safely get them to their favorite hunting, fishing or hiking locations. However, the increased ride height of the XV Crosstrek allows for a great deal more ground clearance and that means that this high riding Subaru sport wagon is far more capable of tackling some roads that are just too aggressive for the Impreza or any other compact on the market today.

If you are the outdoorsy type who spends lots of time navigating rocky, uneven trails covered with mud and rocks with deep trenches and the occasional water crossing – the Subaru XV Crosstrek could be the ideal new car for you. It brings to the table all of the positive aspects of the popular Impreza lineup but the added ride height makes the XV a much better vehicle than anything outside of the SUV class. Best of all, Subaru has achieved this without hurting the drive quality or the fuel economy measures enjoyed by those folks with the long running Impreza. Finally, with a price under $23,000 – the XV Crosstrek can help you travel to new, uncharted places without paying big money for a sport utility vehicle.