2019 Subaru Crosstrek Plug-In Hybrid first drive: Get dirty while being clean

It’s safe to say that the majority of Subaru buyers are fans of the great outdoors. They like getting out in nature and being able to drive through any weather that might get in their way doing it. But as fans of Mother Nature, they might also want to reduce or at least mitigate their impact on the planet. With the new Crosstrek Hybrid PHEV, they can buy a car from their favorite manufacturer while reducing the impact that car has on the Earth they love.

Every crossover utility vehicle manufacturer in the world claims its buyers have “active lifestyles.” In their ads, they show hearty young supermodels toting kayaks and mountain bikes to lives of adventure the rest of us can only dream of. The thing is, if you’ve ever been to the trailheads where real kayakers, rock climbers and mountain bikers park, or the parking lots where windsurfers lay out their boards and sails, the cars you see there are almost always Subarus (or used Toyota pickup trucks with camper shells). Subaru owners really do live active lifestyles, and you really can (and owners do) take them off-road.

“We actually say it’s fine to take this vehicle off-road,” said Garrick Goh, Subaru of America’s product planning manager for the Crosstrek Hybrid. “Some competitors’ owner’s manuals warn against it.”

To emphasize this point, Subaru gave me a 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid and pointed west, toward a long dirt road that skirted a ridgeline of Southern California coastal mountains. Off I set.

The new Hybrid has the usual Subaru 2.0-liter flat four gasoline direct-injection engine, but it is mated to a heck of a transmission. In addition to the patented Subaru Lineartronic CVT component, perhaps the best CVT on the market (which might not be saying much), it has, inside the trans case, two motor/generators. In a deal similar to that which produced the perfectly wonderful BRZ, where the fuel injection was from Toyota, in this case, Toyota contributed much of the Crosstrek PHEV's electric componentry, specifically the two motor/generators. MG1 sits closest to the bell housing and generates electricity to charge the Crosstrek Hybrid’s 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. It also acts as the starter motor and generator for the 2.0-liter flat-four gasoline engine. MG2 makes electricity to drive the wheels as well as charges the battery during regenerative braking. Altogether the engine and generators make 148 hp.

Yes, that’s less than the regular 2.0-liter flat fours in the regular Crosstreks, but only four hp less, and the Crosstrek Hybrid returns 35 mpg combined versus the regular car’s 29 mpg; when you look at the whole drivetrain including the batteries and electric motors, the Hybrid is rated at 90 MPGe. It has a total range of 480 miles and it’ll go 17 miles on electricity alone, which ain’t bad. Subaru pointed out that, according to something it called the US government’s National Travel Survey, 85 percent of trips are less than 16 miles and 60 percent of trips less than six miles. So there you go.

Out of the parking lot, the Crosstrek Hybrid didn’t feel like what you’d call a rocket. Subaru says it’ll get to 60 in 9.3 seconds, which in today’s market is the equivalent of same-day service. Indeed, the Hybrid weighs 569 pounds more than the non-hybrid Crosstrek. So it weighs more and has less power to move itself around. But owners are probably focused on those 90 MPGes.

Regardless, it did get out of its own way, and by the time I hit the dirt section of the drive I was feeling like Petter Solberg. Well, a little, anyway. The perfect setup in the dirt, for my tastes and driving style, would have been straight rear-wheel drive where I could have drifted the car around every turn easily and with glee. The Subaru’s Symetrical All-Wheel Drive with its electronic coupling multi-plate transfer clutch, combined with Subaru’s Vehicle Dynamics Control with all-wheel, all-speed traction control, kind of kept me from living out my Finnish fantasy. The system sacrifices dirt-flinging fun for safety and stability. But I was nevertheless able to have a fair amount of fun on the 11-mile stretch of dirt.

Back on the pavement, the flat four was just a little harsh in terms of NVH. It's just not as smooth and quiet as competitive engines from Toyota and Honda, for instance, though it generally feels like it has better low-end torque.

This is not to whine about the Crosstrek. Inside it has room aplenty, with over 100 cubic feet of EPA passenger volume. Cargo volume is still 15.9 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 43.1 cubic feet if those seats are folded flat. The battery is stowed flat beneath the rear cargo area, raising it up a few inches but otherwise remaining fairly unobtrusive.

The biggest problem with the Crosstrek Hybrid is that batteries still don’t come cheap. Since it’s based on a well-loaded Crosstrek Limited, then adds all those hybrid components, pricing is $35,970 to start. That’s almost eight grand more than a non-hybrid Limited. The comparable Mini Cooper SE All4 and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEVs are comparably priced. Or you could get a straight gas-powered hatchback that offers similar efficiency but only front-wheel drive for around $20K. Either way, the Crosstrek Hybrid is a lot of coin, even after you deduct the $4500 Federal tax credit and whatever state incentive money you might get. Buyers might come from the former active lifestylers who were living in their old Subarus and finally sold an app and got rich, or at least achieved middle-class status, albeit while still maintaining their Earth mother/outdoor adventurer personas. For them, this could be the perfect vehicle.

Source: Read Full Article