The compact utility vehicle (aka CUV) market has continued to expand year over year over the last few years. Less econobox-looking and visually more rugged than the standard compact car, it is not surprising why young couples or families have flocked to this market segment.
In rainy Vancouver, the added availability of all-wheel-drive on most of these CUVs is an added safety net. After all, no one wants to be stuck when escaping the city with friends on a weekend jaunt up to the local ski hills or campsite.
Anton Pawczuk, Subaru Canada’s Director of Product Management and Sales Training says that the emerging “subcompact’” utility crossover segment continues to experience considerable growth as consumers are moving away from not only compact cars but traditional utility vehicles as well. Much of this growth is expected to be from new or freshly redesigned models.
Sensing profits at hand, or at least the ability to conquest first time new car buyers to a new brand, all major manufacturers have committed to this segment producing impressive new alternatives such as the Mazda CX-3 or Honda’s new HR-V. Not wanting to be left behind, Subaru has introduced an updated 2016 Crosstrek to compete with the latest from its competitors.
Who buys the Crosstrek?
Much has changed in the CUV landscape since the Crosstrek was introduced as a 2013 model. Back then, the Crosstrek’s original direct competitors only included the Nissan Juke and the Mitsubishi RVR.
Fast forward to present day, and the segment has blurred substantially with CUV shoppers cross-shopping not just the original sub-compact SUV competitors, Juke and RVR, but also large crossovers such as the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, and even compact cars such as the Golf Sportwagon, Golf hatchback, and the Ford Focus.
Subaru still expects that their Crosstrek buyers will consist of younger adults or couples between the age of 25-39 years old. 70% of them will likely be married but without kids. The company has even predicted that the Crosstrek will be slightly more popular with males versus females.
You may be wonder how the Crosstrek fits in within the Subaru line-up and whether it has been cannibalizing the Forester SUV’s sales. However, Subaru Canada isn’t too worried as history (and sales) have proven that Forester owners tend to be more mature (30-49), the majority with kids, and are looking for a true SUV.
Subaru thinks that the Crosstrek will appeal to customers who live a healthy active lifestyle and have a sense of adventure. These target customers will also likely be drawn to the brand due to its reputation for durability, quality, reliability, and safety.
Speaking of safety, Subaru’s excellent EyeSight collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control system can now also be fitted to the Crosstrek for 2016. More on that later.
What’s new for 2016?
Outside of North America, the Crosstrek is known as the “Subaru XV”. But perhaps one very subtle change that Canadian consumers may not notice is that for 2016, the vehicle is now referred to as simply “Crosstrek” versus “XV Crosstrek”. When was the last time you heard the “XV” nomenclature in real life anyway?
But really, the real name of the game in the Crosstrek’s case is to keep a good thing going. Sure there are a few things that have been tweaked outside (e.g. the obligatory bumper redesign and a subtle sportier grille), and a few more things upgraded inside (e.g. more soft touch materials, an updated steering wheel design, new orange stitching).
However, Subaru’s consumer testing indicated that Crosstrek customers loved the car the way it was, and for now, only a few technical updates to bring the Crosstrek in line with the rest of the Impreza range were necessary.
For me, the most significant update comes in the form of Subaru’s EyeSight collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control system. Subaru is currently the only manufacturer with IIHS’ Top Safety Pick rankings for all of their models for the last six consecutive years. Moreover, in a test of front crash prevention systems across the industry, EyeSight was given a 6 out of 6 rating.
Having spent a significant amount of time testing these systems in real world situations, be it in stop-and-go-traffic, on the highway, I know first hand how good Subaru’s stereoscopic camera-based system is. And for the first time ever, it is also available on the all automatic transmission equipped Crosstreks.
As an interesting statistic, Subaru Canada says that on its vehicles available with EyeSight, there is a 40% take rate in the optional system. Far more popular than I would have expected.
The Driving Experience
Subaru thinks that the Crosstrek is not too big, not too small, but indeed just right for urban adventurers. By this, they mean that the Crosstrek is the right size for getting around town in the city, but yet has ample storage and cargo space for going camping and hiking out of town on the weekends.
Going with the idea that not every off-roadable vehicle needs to be a lifted truck and with 220mm of ground clearance, Subaru Canada demonstrated how the Crosstrek is able to lift its “skirt” over most obstacles, even the a random tire laying on its side on the ground.
Although rough terrain may seem out of its element, the Crosstrek clawed through the mud and water and surprised most journalists that were present at the media launch. It certainly drove home the point that the Crosstrek’s all-wheel-drive system and raised suspension was more than adequate for 99% of its customers.
Power comes from Subaru’s horizontally-opposed 4-cylinder boxer engine producing 148 hp. Our test vehicles were equipped with the optional Lineatronic Continuously Variable Transmission with paddle shifters. A 5 speed manual transmission is available but isn’t expected to be a huge seller.
Okay, admittedly the CVT is still a bit whiney when pushed hard, and let’s be real. There are only 148 horses on tap and the CVT tries to make the best of them. The steps in the transmission (which simulate “real” gears) make the transmission liveable with the trade-off being higher fuel efficiency.
How does the Crosstrek stack up
Despite its small stature, the Crosstrek is a bit of a hidden gem. Cargo room is top of its class as is legroom.
Just because the vehicle is at the slightly lower end of the Subaru totem pole doesn’t mean that the company has skimped on its safety features.
Subaru’s philosophy is to have all of the same safety systems in their lower-end models versus their top vehicles. I can’t think of a single one of its direct competitors that has a combination of both its top safety rankings and available collision mitigation systems.
Subaru says that a lot of people come into the segment not knowing what they want, and they end up with the Crosstrek because it hits home a lot of points.
With the changes to the 2016 Crosstrek, I expect that we’ll be seeing even more of these vehicles on the street so long as the company can keep up with the strong nationwide demand.
Subaru’s refreshed Crosstrek proves once again that not every off-road capable vehicle needs to be a lifted pickup truck with knobbly tires and special terrain gizmos. For the most part, the Crosstrek will handle what the majority of consumers will need in their day-to-day lives and more.
Did you know that 97% of all Subaru vehicles sold in Canada are still on the road today? This speaks volumes about the company’s reputation for durability and quality.
It is no wonder that Subaru boasts one of the highest loyalty ratings in the auto industry. Studies have shown that many Subaru customers don’t sell their vehicles, but indeed pass it down to friends or family members.
Sure, the incremental updates to the 2016 Crosstrek may not be completely mind boggling, but they serve to improve a great vehicle even more so. While slightly more horsepower would make the Crosstrek even more fun to drive, I suspect that my lead footedness is the exception rather than the rule amongst the target audience.
If you’re looking for a compact utility vehicle, alas the bright and cheerful Tangarine Orange colour can no longer be had. In its place is a rather fetching Hyber Blue. Regardless of your colour preference, you should be sure to keep the Subaru Crosstrek to your short list when shopping for your next CUV!