2023 Subaru Crosstrek Review: Simple, capable, sells like hotcakes

2023 Subaru Crosstrek Review: Simple, capable, sells like hotcakes

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Pros: More capable than similarly priced SUVs; good fuel economy; standard AWD; real roof rails

Cons: Slow base engine; roly-poly handling; some head-scratching interior controls; Hybrid’s iffy value

If you read this 2023 Subaru Crosstrek review and go, “Hey, that sure seems like the car for me,” make sure to get cracking on contacting a dealership, because you’re going to have to act fast. Turns out the Crosstrek is the fastest-selling car in the United States, meaning it takes only 12.9 days on average to sell once it arrives on a dealer lot. It seems that the combination of an efficient engine and an adventure-ready all-wheel-drive hatchback with an almost comical amount of ground clearance makes a lot of people go, “That sure seems like the car for me.”


And yes, we just called it a hatchback, because even if “crossover” and “SUV” get thrown around a lot, the Crosstrek is really just an Impreza hatchback with some body cladding, chunky roof rails and that comical lift. It’s way cooler as a result – more capable, too – and serves as a way for the Crosstrek to be an alternative to at least two size segments of small SUV and compact hatchbacks like the Mazda3 and Honda Civic. Perhaps that’s another reason for its popularity. That it’s no longer so dang slow (OK, some versions are still dang slow) makes a big difference, too, as does a ride tuned for comfort.

Considering how allergic Americans seem to be to hatchbacks, it’s a little surprising that the Crosstrek’s enhancements provide enough automotive Benedryl to make it popular. Yet, this simple, versatile and capable little (whatever it is) is nevertheless a hit, and we definitely recommend checking it out. Just make sure to do it quickly.

Interior & Technology   |   Passenger & Cargo Space   |   Performance & Fuel Economy

What it's like to drive   |   Pricing & Trim Levels   |   Crash Ratings & Safety Features

What's new for 2023?

A new Special Edition debuts featuring an exclusive paint color (Desert Khaki), black wheels, and unique interior finishes that includes red fabric seat centers and interior stitching (pictured below).

What are the Crosstrek interior and in-car technology like?

The interior is comfortable and feels light and airy due to its upright pillars and plenty of glass. Apart from some fun-colored trim, it's not particularly exciting to look at, but the plastics are all high quality pieces and upper-trim models get two-tone seats and, depending on trim level, yellow or orange accents. Those do a good job of keeping the interior from feeling like an all-black sea of sameness.

There are buttons and dials for the radio and climate controls, which we appreciate. A 6.5-inch touchscreen comes standard; an 8-inch is available on the Sport and Limited (pictured below left). Both are refreshingly simple, painless to use and feature large icons. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.

The main tech annoyance is that various vehicle functions are displayed and controlled through the touchscreen, an instrument panel display and Subaru's distinctive dash top display (below right). The latter two displays are operated using buttons on the steering wheel. It's always confusing to know which of the three possibilities controls what, especially driver assistance functions … or whether it's just a stand-alone button.

2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid
2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid

How big is the Crosstrek?

Here’s where the Crosstrek really being a hatchback comes into play. When comparing specs, it’s important to remember that cars are packaged differently than more SUV-like vehicles – in short, an SUV’s seats are higher and more chair-like. That means they can provide sufficient legroom despite the two seating rows being close together. The Crosstrek is technically a car – it’s seats are further apart – which means that despite what the specs may say, it still has plenty of space for four 6-foot-tall passengers to fit comfortably. There’s also a stronger chance that a front passenger will be able to sit comfortably in front of a rear-facing child seat.

There's 20.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 55.3 with those seats folded. That may be less than the shockingly spacious  Nissan Kicks, but it's more than every other subcompact and pretty comparable to various midcompact SUVs. The area is deep and wide, which makes up for its comparative lack of height. You can read our real-world cargo capacity test here where we managed to fit six pieces of luggage back there. A word of warning, though: none of the above applies to the Crosstrek Hybrid. Pictured above right, its battery pack raises the cargo floor considerably and thus greatly reduces space both on paper (15.9 cubic-feet) and in terms of what you can actually store back there since it reduces the cargo area's height even more.

This makes it even worse than the Crosstrek Hybrid only has less versatile flush roof rails (they're more aerodynamic) for storing extra stuff up on the roof. Every other Crosstrek's standard roof rails are big, sturdy and are of the raised design, meaning you can use your own crossbars of choice that can most likely be transferred between cars. The Crosstrek's roof is also lower than the typical crossover SUV, making it easier to load things up top. Ask us how we know

What are the Crosstrek fuel economy and performance specs?

The Crosstrek's base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. That modest stable of ponies is sent through a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional continuously variable automatic. All-wheel drive is standard across the board. Subaru says this base engine can push a Crosstrek to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds, which is very slow, even for this segment of slow vehicles. CVT-equipped 2.0-liter Crosstreks get EPA ratings of 28 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. The few shift-for-yourselfers who choose the standard six-speed manual fare far worse with EPA ratings of 22/29/25.

Sport and Limited models come standard with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque. Subaru says Crosstreks equipped with the larger engine can do 0-60 in a far more competitive 8.2 seconds, a time achieved (for some reason) with a driver, a passenger and a dog onboard (Great Dane or Chihuahua? Subaru didn’t specify). The bigger engine doesn’t have a noticeable effect on fuel efficiency. The larger 2.5 gets basically the same fuel economy at 27/34/29, so if you can push the budget, definitely get the Sport or Limited.

Buyers looking for the most fuel efficient Crosstrek will want to look at the plug-in hybrid version. It pairs a 2.0-liter engine with a pair of electric motors and an 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack supplied by Toyota. Total power output for the hybrid drivetrain is 148 horsepower. Unfortunately, the plug-in is only good for a modest 17 miles of all-electric range. On the other hand, it's rated at 90 MPGe combined gas and electric, and a solid 35 mpg combined on gas only. Additionally, it doesn't take long at all to charge it up. It'll refill in about two hours on a Level 2 charge, or five hours on a regular household 120-volt outlet. Just take note of the compromised cargo area described above.