2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Improved city mileage without compromising AWD prowess 2016 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
Frankly, after Toyota bought an 8.7-percent stake in Subaru way back in 2005 that’s since expanded to just under 16.5-percent, I expected a hybrid much sooner than this 2016 model year. Now, a decade later, the Japanese brand’s storied boxer is electrically assisted, and while this move might not seem necessary when considering the Crosstrek already achieves good fuel economy for an all-wheel drive crossover and Subaru has long offered some of the cleanest PZEV vehicles available, it at least goes a step further to enhance the brand’s image.
Let’s face it. Unless we’re talking about Toyota’s Prius, that’s found initial and repeat sales numbers no challenger has come anywhere near duplicating, hybrids aren’t exactly burning up the sales charts. They were having enough challenges attracting would-be buyers before last year’s plunging oil prices, but now that a gallon of regular unleaded costs less than we’ve seen in years, electrification isn’t quite as popular as it used to be.
What’s more, Subaru’s current mild hybrid system isn’t exactly state of the art. There’s no plug to charge a motive battery capable of getting you back and forth to work with nominal cost to wallet or environment. Heck, it’s not even the usual full-hybrid design capable of running purely on electric power for short distances at low-speed. Rather, it’s a mild hybrid similar to those used for more than a decade by Honda as well as some powering GM’s less intensive hybrids. Basically, the Crosstrek Hybrid’s power unit sandwiches a low-hp electric motor between the engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) to assist the engine with increased torque when needed, while otherwise wasted energy produced from braking friction as well as overrun power gets recaptured to charge a small Nickel-Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) traction battery. Last but not least, the Crosstrek features a consumption- and emissions-reducing auto stop/start system that turns off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, which I must admit was a bit abrupt when restarting. Let’s call it a first step in electrification, one that at the very least puts Subaru on the hybrid map while offering some pretty decent savings at the pump when used for city driving.
The EPA estimates 30 mpg in the city for the Crosstrek Hybrid compared to 26 for the conventionally powered Crosstrek with its optional CVT, which is a fairly decent advantage that could make owning one worthwhile for those who mostly drive in town. It doesn’t disadvantage on the freeway either, of course, but its claimed 34-mpg highway mileage is identical to the regular Crosstrek; combined mileage is 31 mpg for the Hybrid and 29 for the non-HEV. As for environmental concerns, where the regular Crosstrek meets Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) standards the Hybrid goes one step better by achieving Advanced Technology PZEV (AT-PZEV) status, which is certainly a feather in its cap. On top of this the Crosstrek Hybrid is built in a zero-landfill assembly plant, where 100 percent of waste is recycled or turned into electricity.
As is often the case with electrified models, Subaru ups the Crosstrek Hybrid’s standard content so that some of its hybrid component expense gets absorbed by extras that normally provide profit, this keeping the price more affordable. Additionally, knowing that its take-rate will be lower in volume, Subaru only offers the Hybrid in two trims including this base unit simply dubbed Crosstrek Hybrid and top-tier Touring. Both Hybrid models get exterior detailing that appears more like the conventional model’s Limited trim whereas the interior is more akin the Premium model. This means that LED turn signals are integrated into its body-color side mirror caps and chrome graces the door handles, while its extended rooftop spoiler in back is totally unique to the Hybrid. Lastly, Subaru finished off the Hybrid’s look with a special set of aerodynamically designed lightweight five-spoke 17-inch alloys, while my tester’s classy Quartz Blue Pearl paint isn’t a Crosstrek Hybrid exclusive but looks great just the same.
I should also mention that all of these upgrades get added to a mildly restyled 2016 Crosstrek, featuring a new more assertive grille, updated headlamps, a reshaped front bumper and lower fascia, the latter with chromed L-shaped trim angling around new fog lamps, plus reworked taillight lenses with integrated LEDs, and a new rear fascia, while Subaru also dropped the XV portion of its name so that it’s simply known as Crosstrek (now you know I wasn’t just being lazy earlier).
As noted a moment ago, the base Hybrid model tested leans more toward Premium trim than Limited inside, in that its touchscreen infotainment system is 6.2 inches in diameter instead of 7.0 while capacitive touch sensitivity, SMS text messaging, navigation and SiriusXM Traffic aren’t included. Neither is dual-zone automatic climate control, high-gloss black trim or leather upholstery, with the Crosstrek Hybrid alternatively fitted with the Sport model’s two-tone black and gray-weave cloth upholstery with sporty orange accents, plus silver trim in key areas. What’s more, the HVAC system may not be dual-zone but it’s nevertheless automatic and therefore set-it-and-leav-it simple just the way I like it, while the 6.2-inch Starlink-infused touchscreen is still plenty useful with a rearview camera, news, food, weather, music, podcasts, audiobooks, and other multimedia content via its own apps or Aha and Pandora, plus there’s a “Settings” section for personalizing the infotainment system as well as the car’s various functions, and of course an interface for phone setup and use. My phone connected easily and worked flawlessly throughout my test, while the stereo played music and podcasts from my smartphone via Bluetooth audio streaming. It actually has a built-in automated graphic equalizer that lets you quickly switch from bass- and treble-centric settings to a flat sound that’s better for talk radio, or instead you can create customized presets for different music genres. It’s a slick system that sounds superb when optimized for the style of music you’re listening to.
I must admit to not expecting the Hybrid’s unique primary gauge cluster featuring a brighter blue luminescent sport theme with red needles and white backlighting. While a small monochromatic trip computer sits within those primary gauges, all Crosstreks get a large color 4.3-inch multi-information display atop the center dash, although the Hybrid’s MID is upgraded with special fuel saving and hybrid energy flow info to help make the most of its advanced electro-mechanicals.
As noted earlier you can upgrade to a Hybrid Touring model that includes leather upholstery, seven-inch infotainment with navigation and everything else already mentioned, dual USB ports, a moonroof, and Starlink safety and security connected services such automatic collision notification, SOS emergency assistance, enhanced roadside assistance, stolen vehicle recovery, diagnostic security and remote services functions, this trim adding $3,600 to the base Crosstrek Hybrid’s $26,395 price, but I must admit the lack of available EyeSight, Subaru’s driving assist system that includes adaptive cruise control, lead vehicle start alert, lane departure warning, lane sway warning, pre-collision brake assist, and pre-collision throttle management, is a big loss. When so equipped the Crosstrek qualifies for an IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating.
Fortunately all trims achieve a five-star NHTSA crash test rating as it is, so the solidly built little compact five-door is plenty safe, while other standard Crosstrek features that get grandfathered up to Hybrid trim include auto on/off projector headlights, fog lamps, proximity access with pushbutton ignition (including a particularly nice substantive feeling key fob featuring a big Subaru logo on front and sides that looked as if they were made from billet aluminum), cruise control, tilt and telescopic steering, heatable powered side mirrors, heatable front seats and more, plus the usual assortment of safety gear including an extra airbag for the driver’s knees.
Additionally, all of this upscale content comes in one of the nicest premium-level interiors in the mainstream volume-branded business, boasting a soft-touch dash top and instrument panel, the latter wrapping right down to the midway point of the center stack, plus soft pliable door uppers. A similar padded black weave to the seat upholstery gets added to the door inserts, while padded black leatherette armrests boast more cool orange stitching, that theme showing up elsewhere around the cabin too, such as the center armrest, leather shifter knob and boot, and of course the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
It’s plenty practical too, with almost as much cargo space as the regular Crosstrek, the Hybrid measuring 21.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats compared to 22.3 cubic feet for the conventionally powered model, or 50.2 cubic feet compared to 51.9 cubic feet when those 60/40 seatbacks are laid flat. We can thank the smaller battery of its mild hybrid drivetrain for all that utility, while the less complicated system also allowed Subaru to keep its coveted symmetrical full-time AWD.
Rumor has it that a quest for better fuel economy may cause Subaru to adopt a similar front internal combustion- and rear electric-powered all-wheel drive system to Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid for future hybrid models, which will do the job albeit not to the same level of light- to medium-duty off-road duty as the Crosstrek Hybrid. This well proven yet still advanced AWD system joins an impressive 8.7 inches of ground clearance, 3.0 inches more than the regular Subaru Impreza 5-Door the model is based on, to help matters off pavement, and while I can appreciate you may never take yours on a rock-strewn, semi-washed out logging road, across a babbling brook, through a muddy bog or onto a sandy beach (make sure the sand is wet and firm as there’s no low gearing range included with this model), you probably will take advantage of its capability in snow where symmetrical AWD makes easy work of even the deep powdery stuff.
The AWD system aids handling in regular wet and dry conditions too, the Crosstrek Hybrid quite capable through fast-paced corners where it remains relatively flat even during side-to-side transitional shifts. Its ride is smooth and comfortable as well, even over choppy, worn blacktop where its fully independent suspension couldn’t be shaken off-line. I took opportunity to get it up to highway speeds where it performed well too, the 148 horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 13.4 horsepower electric motor combining for 160 net horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque along with resultantly impressive passing maneuvers. The CVT provides effortlessly smooth operation, while Subaru also includes a set of paddle shifters and six forward speeds that are actually quite engaging for downshifts, although I found leaving it to its own devices when accelerating worked best.
All in all I enjoyed time spent with the Crosstrek Hybrid, but mostly because I’m a fan of the regular Crosstrek. That’s really the best news about the Hybrid. It feels much the same as the conventionally powered model while giving up little in utility, yet noticeably improves fuel economy in the city. The new Crosstrek Hybrid is certainly an easy car to like.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.