Test Drive:2018 Subaru Crosstrek

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Jul 19, 2017


When Subaru changed course with the Impreza Outback Sport, placing it on a raised suspension, giving it more rugged styling cues, and changing its name to XV Crosstrek, the company had no expectations that the result would become one of its best-selling models. But that is exactly what happened.

Since this crossover SUV arrived for the 2013 model year, sales have increased annually. Now, the redesigned 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is poised to assume that role and responsibility.

2018 Subaru Crosstrek Premium front quarter left photoStill based on the Impreza hatchback, the 2018 Crosstrek formula isn't different, just new and improved. Subaru upgrades the model's powertrain, safety, and infotainment system, while adding greater refinement, comfort, utility, and dynamism.

The lineup includes base, Premium, and Limited trim levels, all equipped with a 4-cylinder engine and standard all-wheel drive (AWD). You can choose between a 6-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with 7 programmed ratios, and the Crosstrek continues to provide 8.7 ins. of blizzard-busting ground clearance, matched in the segment only by the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.

To sample the changes first-hand, I headed to the Black Hills of South Dakota and spent a couple of days behind the new Crosstrek's steering wheel.

Styling and Design

Good looks have never been a Subaru hallmark, but then, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. To my eyes, the new Crosstrek's design is just as funky as before, smoothed a bit over here and sculpted a bit over there. But this is as it should be. Whether you like it or not, weirdness is part of Subaru's character, and its charm.

Quirks need to disappear inside of a car, though, and Subaru understands this. Nevertheless, the company goes to extremes to maximize outward visibility, dresses the Crosstrek Limited's cabin in orange contrast stitching, and adds a pod atop the dashboard equipped with a screen that shows various types of information. It even includes a traditional hand brake on the center console, a feature that is increasingly rare.

Front seats are comfortable, providing plenty of support despite a limited range of adjustment. The driver grips a thick-rimmed steering wheel that is pleasing to hold, and Subaru provides soft places to rest arms and elbows.

Rear seats are relatively roomy, and because the Crosstrek sits up high on its suspension, perceived comfort is greater than the Impreza hatchback on which it is based. Subaru does not, however, supply air conditioning vents to rear occupants, which could prove contentious on hot days. Also missing: USB charging ports for the back-seat passengers.

Cargo space measures 20.8 cu. ft. behind the Crosstrek's rear seat, which expands to 55.3 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded down. Roof rails are standard, and when equipped with cross bars a Crosstrek accommodates a wide range of dealer-installed accessories designed to carry just about anything and everything.

Features and Controls

Unconventional is a terrible descriptor for the new Crosstrek's control layout. With the possible exception of the seat heater buttons, located on the center console, everything is placed where you expect to find it and operates the way you expect it to.

By upgrading from base trim ($21,795) to Premium trim ($22,595), buyers obtain a windshield de-icing system, wiper-linked headlight operation, heated front seats, and heated exterior mirrors. The Crosstrek Premium also includes Starlink connected services, acoustic windshield, and welcome lighting, and paves the way to option packages that install a bevy of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems.

Choosing the Crosstrek Limited ($26,295) provides a CVT with Subaru's X-Mode traction and hill-descent control technology. Limited trim also equips the car with leather seats, a 6-way power-adjustable driver's seat, Starlink infotainment system with a larger 8-in. display, and keyless access with push-button engine starting. A blind-spot monitoring system is also standard for this version of the new Crosstrek, paired with a rear cross-traffic alert system.

Subaru also includes a PIN-code access system on the Crosstrek Limited. If you're an outdoorsy type who would prefer to leave your keys in your car, this feature allows you to do that, gaining access to the interior using a code. Finally, you can identify the Limited by its larger and more stylish 18-in. aluminum wheels, as well as its steering-responsive LED headlights and LED taillights.

Safety and Technology

Starlink connected services, standard for Premium and Limited trims, provides subscription-based features that can help make the new Crosstrek even safer and more convenient.

Free for the first year of ownership, Starlink Safety Plus service includes automatic collision notification, SOS emergency calling, and enhanced roadside assistance. Adding Security Plus (discounted for the first year) provides stolen-vehicle recovery service, along with a remote vehicle locator, vehicle security notification, and remote access to the horn, lights, and locks.

Aside from a power sunroof, the majority of the 2018 Crosstrek's factory options are related to safety and technology. Accessing them, however, requires the purchase of Premium or Limited trim.

As long as your Crosstrek Premium is equipped with a CVT, you can install blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and Subaru's EyeSight package of driver-assistance and collision-avoidance systems. EyeSight contains adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping assist systems.

EyeSight is also available for the Crosstrek Limited. Exclusive options for this version include automatic high-beam assist, reverse automatic braking, navigation system, and an 8-speaker premium Harman Kardon sound system.

If a collision does occur, rest assured that the Crosstrek is likely to do an excellent job of protecting you and your loved ones. The underlying structure is, according to Subaru, 40% more absorbent of crash energy compared to the outgoing model, which excelled in most individual crash tests performed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and in all impact tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). As this review is written, though, the 2018 Crosstrek had not been assessed by either organization.

Driving Impressions

Thanks to the robust new vehicle architecture, Subaru is able to refine the Crosstrek's ride and handling without diluting the car's scrappy driving character.

A direct-injection, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is the only one available, and it makes 152 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 145 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,500 rpm. A new 6-speed manual gearbox is standard in base and Premium trims, while the Limited has a CVT with 7 programmed ratios and a set of paddle shifters.

All-wheel drive is standard, continuous with the manual transmission. With the CVT, it actively transfers power to the rear wheels as is necessary. The Active Torque Split AWD system also gets X-Mode for 2018, Subaru's sophisticated traction and hill-descent control system.

Reworked suspension tuning, a quicker-ratio electric steering system, and a 4-wheel-disc braking system with active torque vectoring and ventilated front discs are also along for the ride. Base and Premium trims have 17-in. aluminum wheels, while the Limited is equipped with 18-in. wheels and tires.

Generally speaking, my preference is the Limited with the CVT. Given the conservative power figures and the Crosstrek Limited's 3,230-lb. curb weight, the CVT makes maximum use of the available power. Of course, Deadwood, South Dakota sits at an elevation of more than 4,500 ft., so the thinner air of the testing location could also have something to do with this preference.

In any case, the Limited's bigger wheels and tires add grip on pavement. It takes a few miles to get accustomed to the Crosstrek's quick steering, especially given the small amount of on-center play, but the brakes behave beautifully from your first application of the pedal.

On steep descents, X-Mode automatically limits speed to a crawl, allowing the driver to focus on getting down a hill safely and securely. It worked well in mud, too, though the all-season tires weren't necessarily suited to slippery surfaces. People selecting the manual gearbox will appreciate the hill-holder clutch, which holds the Crosstrek in place while a driver gets it launched.

Overall, the new Crosstrek feels more compliant in terms of its ride quality, more responsive in terms of its handling, quieter in terms of interior noise on the highway, and more talented when off-roading. It is capable in every reasonable situation, even if it is not particularly rewarding to drive. A turbocharger would go a long way toward solving that latter issue.


Over the course of two days, I trekked across the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming in Subaru's new compact crossover SUV. The entire time, it remained comfortable, useful, and capable, a faithful companion eager to explore the great outdoors. Still, the trip was memorable more for the surroundings than the vehicle itself.

The new Crosstrek could definitely use more power. It could also use a handful of extra amenities. And it sure would be nice to have a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. Overall, though, the redesigned 2018 Subaru Crosstrek represents excellent value in its market segment, backed by a reputation for safety and dependability.

Oh, and now Subaru is building it in Indiana, too, alongside the Impreza, Legacy, and Outback. Something tells me they might want to add an extra shift.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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