Behind the Wheel

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Review: This is what happens when you stop chasing and just deliver

The Subaru Crosstrek has been revised for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Subaru of America Inc.

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.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport 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.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport 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.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport 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.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport 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.

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What was your best car-related experience this year?

Chris Teague

This year has been a lot of things, but it hasn't been boring. Even if we focus only on the car world, there's plenty to talk about, from microchip-related new vehicle shortages to the wave of new electric vehicles hitting the market. That leaves us with a question for all of you: What was the best or most memorable car moment for you in 2021? I'll get the conversation started.

Porsche Cayenne GTS My SoCal Cayenne śaw snow for the first time in its nearly 200k-mile life last week.Chris Teague

I'd spent a good portion of 2021 wanting a new-old car to drive when I wasn't testing a new vehicle. That's harder than you'd think for someone who thinks, talks, and writes about cars all day, because there are so many interesting, risky, and downright funky options out there in every price range. The added headache for me was that I'd chosen to shop for a "fun" car in one of the most volatile car markets ever seen. Even the extremely high-mileage "untouchable" European cars I wanted to buy were commanding ridiculous prices.

After a solid few months of waffling between various rattletrap Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi S/RS cars, I landed on an option that had escaped me before: The Porsche Cayenne. First-generation Cayennes are a real bargain now, but the 955/957 (Porsche's internal code for the SUVs) can experience major problems that occur with or without regular maintenance and care. I was determined to buy one, and wasn't overly concerned about mileage, as long as I could count the number of owners on one hand. There was a beautiful 2009 Cayenne GTS with 90,000 miles but nine owners, a gorgeous 2004 Cayenne Turbo with a concerning engine tick, and many more just like them. Finally, I decided to risky-click a 196,000-mile Cayenne GTS in Southern California. It had one owner and one dealer-owner for a month or two prior to sale, its condition looked decent in photos, and I was able to negotiate a reasonable enough price that shipping it from San Diego to Maine wasn't a huge problem.

Porsche Cayenne GTS The pics look great, but hands-on tells another story.Chris Teague

I had two traveling Euro mechanics check the car out, and both confirmed that it was well-worn but mechanically sound, so I jumped. Ten days later, on a snowy, icy, dark Maine afternoon, the Cayenne arrived. Cosmetically, there were a few things the dealer and mechanics failed to mention, but overall, it looked good. The SUV passed Maine safety and emissions testing without problem, got a new set of Michelins, and I was on my way.

Porsche Cayenne GTS I'm in danger, but thankfully this should be a reasonable fix.Chris Teague

A few days of driving revealed what I was really in for. A check engine light revealed a camshaft position sensor error and the Cayenne displayed a nasty vibration at idle. A new sensor and motor mounts, and I'm on my way. I'll update you as more things break or miraculously work, but I want to hear your memories from 2021.

Email me at chris@automotivemap.com, and I will compile the best and most interesting stories for a story on New Year's Day. May you all have a wonderful 2022.

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Electric vehicles

NHTSA looking into Tesla's in-car video games

Some owners have discovered that their car's video games work when the car is moving.

Tesla

Tesla's vehicles are among the most advanced and forward-thinking products of any kind, but serious innovation doesn't come with tradeoffs. The automaker has been in the news recently because of issues with how its advanced cruise control systems function, and now, Autoblog reports that the NHTSA is asking questions about Tesla giving drivers the ability to play video games and browse the internet while driving.

Tesla Arcade hands-on: the Model 3 is your video game console youtu.be

The feature is intended to be used while the car is parked, such as while charging, so the discovery that people can use them while driving is a serious one. Vince Patton, the person who filed the complaint with the NHTSA, tested his car and found that he could play Solitaire and a fairly involved action game while it was in motion. Internet browsing was also possible, meaning the driver could take their attention completely off the road ahead for extended periods of time.

Tesla Model 3 Tesla's screens offer advanced functions that many others do not. Tesla

Tesla was already under investigation over crashes involving its Autopilot feature. Several collisions have occurred between Teslas and emergency vehicles stopped on the side of the road. Following the initiation of that investigation, the NHTSA raised other questions with the automaker over a buggy software update that was pushed out, retracted, fixed, and reissued outside of the normal recall process. Despite their names, it's important to clarify that neither the Autopilot nor Full Self-Driving features are capable of driving the cars without driver awareness and input.

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