Behind the Wheel
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Review: This is what happens when you stop chasing and just deliver
The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is an excellent example of what can happen when a car company stops spending its time, efforts, and marketing dollars on chasing the biggest competitors in the room and chooses instead to focus entirely on building and selling what its customers want.
The Crosstrek received a significant overhaul for the 2018 model year, but it's the updates that Subaru put in place for 2021 that have genuinely made it a complete car. Headlining the changes is a newly available engine, which at 2.5 liters is both larger and more powerful than the 2.0-liter mill that powered the Crosstrek line before. The car also got a nose job and new standard safety gear for 2021.
The Crosstrek has been given a new face.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.
The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is adequate but lacks power where it counts. With the lesser engine on board, reaching highway speeds is a real chore. There's far more noise and vibration involved than there should be, which accentuates the fact that, no matter how hard you stomp the accelerator pedal, it's not going anywhere fast.
The available 2.5-liter four-cylinder spices things up considerably, with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It's still paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), but the extra power mitigates many of the transmission's annoying quirks and makes the vehicle much more engaging overall. It's more refined, has great low-end grunt, and is much quieter in everyday use.
As you'd expect, a tall ride height makes the car more useful when the pavement ends, but what you might not expect is how well Subaru has tuned the suspension and chassis to gracefully deal with the lifted body. For the most part, the ride is sublime, as the beefy suspension and tires soak up all but the worst potholes and broken pavement. Despite that, the Crosstrek, which comes standard with all-wheel drive, remains surefooted when pushed, and like many crossovers, doesn't feel floppy or soft in the corners.
The dimensions of the Crosstrek have remained basically the same for the 2021 model year.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.
The Crosstrek's surprisingly spacious interior is a pleasant place to spend time, but luxurious is not a word that comes to mind to describe the cabin in any of the car's trim levels. Form here follows function, but that's not a terrible thing. Headroom is generous in both rows, though the driving position can lead shorter drivers to feel like their face is uncomfortably close to the windshield. Even so, there's plenty of hip and shoulder room, both front and back, and the back seat can squeeze a full-size rear-facing car seat without breaking a sweat.
The Sport trim I tested comes with synthetic leather upholstery that Subaru calls "StarTex," which is essentially a high-tech polyurethane material made from recycled plastics. It's far from leather, but it's equally as far from feeling entry-level or cheap. It's a different thing altogether, and while I didn't get to take my dog for a ride or take the car camping, I can see several situations where a water- and dirt-resistant synthetic upholstery material could come in handy.
The optional 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen sits high on the dash, making for excellent visibility and usability from either of the front seats. The upgraded screen in the Crosstrek Sport is a 1.5-inch step up from the standard display and makes good use of the extra real estate with bright, crisp text and images. It comes with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM radio, Bluetooth, two USB ports, voice controls, and HD Radio. The top-level Limited trim gets the same display with navigation, but most people will be just fine with maps provided by Apple or Google in other trim levels.
The interior of the Crosstrek is perfectly functional.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.
It'd be irresponsible to write this entire review without mentioning Subaru's safety efforts in the new car. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hasn't crashed the 2021 Crosstrek yet, but the organization awarded the 2020 model, which has the same core body structure, a Top Safety Pick designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rated it five stars overall.
Those successes come thanks in part to Subaru's standard EyeSight technology, which brings driver assistance features like pre-collision braking, lane departure alerts, and adaptive cruise control. The Sport trim adds high beam assist and is available with blind-spot monitors.
Dark accents and wheels make the Crosstrek Sport stand out in a crowd.Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.
If there's one thing that Subaru does better than anybody else, it's listening to its customers. The automaker knows that its buyers want a comfortable car but need one that won't fall apart at the first sign of abuse. It also knows that many people who walk onto a dealer's lot looking for a new Crosstrek are doing so because they believe it will be better for their active lifestyle, better at transporting their pets, and better at keeping them safe. The best part about all of that for buyers, besides the fact that their car company listens to them, is that Subaru hit the mark on all accounts.