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The Subaru Crosstrek is a popular subcompact SUV that fully adheres to the niche Subaru has carved out for itself—affordable crossovers that have more all-terrain capability than their competitors, standard all-wheel drive, respectable pricing and pragmaticism and interiors you still feel you can hose down after a day on the trails.

As such, the Crosstrek certainly has its appeal, and overall, it’s a solid if not still niche choice in its segment. However, a week behind the wheel of the 2024 Crosstrek shows its far more at home in wilderness than in the urban jungle—and its powertrain is to blame.

The Crosstrek gets some notable updates for 2024

The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek back end
The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek | Subaru

The 2024 Crosstrek receives some notable updates to mark the arrival of the model’s third generation. Styling updates include a revised front fascia, a broader stance, and the addition of black wheel arch cladding and rocker panels.

Additionally, Subaru says the front seats have been redesigned for added comfort, the chassis is now 10-percent stiffer and Subaru’s 11.6-inch Starlink infotainment system is now available. Subaru’s EyeSight, a suite of advanced driver assist features, is now standard.

The all-terrain focused Wilderness trim, which has been available on other Subie models, is now available for the Crosstrek. The range-topping Wilderness model ups the Crosstrek’s ground clearance from 8.7 to 9.3 inches, improves approach and departure angles by several degrees and includes a revised gear ratio for improved low-speed and off-road performance. The Wilderness trim also sports water-resistant upholstery.

Unfortunately for some, the 2024 Crosstrek is no longer available with a manual transmission, all models are now equipped with a CVT.

What remains unchanged is the Crosstrek’s engine lineup. The standard unit is a 2.0-liter flat-four developing 152 horsepower while a 2.5-liter flat-four is equipped in Sport, Limited and Wilderness trims with an additional 30 horsepower.

While these engines undoubtedly help the Crosstrek’s fuel economy against its AWD drivetrain, even the more powerful version isn’t up to the task of traversing tarmac of the paved paths.

Even the 2024 Crosstrek’s optional engine feels lethargic

On paper, the Crosstrek isn’t underpowered with either engine. The base unit’s 152 ponies is just slightly below that of the 158 horsepower offered by the Honda HR-V and Volkswagen Taos, and not far off the 169-hp of the Toyota Corolla Cross. The 2.5-liter’s 182 horsepower is just slightly less than what can be had with the Kia Seltos’ optional engine (195-hp) or the base powertrain of the Mazda CX-30 (191-hp).

But it’s not always down to numbers. The Crosstrek, even with the more potent engine, feels too slow on major highways and around built-up areas. And this isn’t just a passing comment of some jaded automotive reviewer. There were plenty of situations in my time behind the wheel of the 2024 Crosstrek Limited that will cause its lethargic performance to become a hassle for any driver.

For instance, passing on the highway takes some planning. You can’t just slam on the noisy pedal—and the Boxer engine’s note is pervasive and not pleasant—and complete the pass unless the lane to your left is fully clear. Otherwise, you’ll merge while the engine makes a lot of noise without much change in momentum and slow down any cars rapidly approaching on your left.

I sat at a stop sign needing to cross two lanes of busy traffic for what felt like ages. The problem was that passing cars were spaced out just far enough that I knew the Crosstrek’s paltry grunt couldn’t traverse the intersection without the risk of me cutting off crossing traffic.

When people ask why you need a fast car even if you’re only going to drive it on public roads, well, if I had been driving, say, a sporty offering with a plethora of power, I wouldn’t have had to wait so long to continue my journey.

The issue isn’t simply down to power, though. As is the case with many CVT-equipped models, the Crosstrek’s transmission is often clumsy under initial acceleration. The Limited model nets buyers paddle shifters so you can have more control over the powertrain’s performance to negate this issue. Or so you think.

What actually happens is anytime the revs get anywhere in the same neighborhood as the redline the Crosstrek will figuratively point its finger at you in a threatening way and automatically switch back to doing the “shifting” itself.

The trouble is, these issues were encountered as I was traveling to the Crosstrek’s home territory—country lanes and slightly rutted gravel/dirt trails. Once I finally got there, the Crosstrek came into its own.

Despite its lack of power, this is a solid subcompact SUV

Engine annoyances aside, the Crosstrek has plenty of appeal, and venturing away from built-up areas allows its better characteristics to shine.

It’s not a trail hero, per se, but it’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance and AWD system handled some easy trails without a single hiccup. The interior is spacious, especially for rear legroom, and its 20-cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats is ample for most everyday needs.

The suspension and more rigid chassis soak up road imperfections with relative ease, the steering is light but accurate, and brake performance is exactly what you should expect from a small SUV.

My Limited tester also includes creature comforts like leather seats that are heated in the front and wireless charging. It was also equipped with an optional package that includes a moonroof, Harman Kardon audio system and Subaru’s 11.6-inch tablet-like Starlink touchscreen.

There are still some other gripes to be lodged at the Crosstrek. For instance, the Starlink system’s performance is about as quick as the engine—that is to say, not at all. Even for a Subaru the interior felt a bit too low rent for the Limited model’s $30,895 MSRP. And though Subaru claims it has made improvements to the Crosstrek’s front seat comfort, more work is needed.  

But driving along slow-going rural roads eliminated much of the frustration of the Crosstrek’s powertrain. And if you can look beyond its performance, there’s a lot to like about the model.

It now makes sense why I noticed so many Subarus, and specifically Crosstreks, when I traveled to Grand Teton National Park in 2022. The Crosstrek’s performance makes it a much better fit for the relaxed nature of rural driving versus the hustle and bustle of the city. Intended or not, even Subaru’s engines appear to be adhering to the brand’s focus on providing “lifestyle oriented” vehicles.


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