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2014 Crosstrek Hybrid not quite there yet

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Subaru decided to add a hybrid vehicle to their line for 2014 and chose the XV Crosstrek to be their entry vehicle – and, frankly, we are a bit perplexed at that decision.

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The Subaru XV Crosstrek crossover hatchback small SUV – introduced in late 2012 as a 2013 model year vehicle - is already a winner with consumers with its XV Crosstrek gasoline powered version. With its smart styling, Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system, 2.0L Boxer engine mated with a 5-speed manual or optional Lineartronic CVT automatic transmission and sporty driving character – all backed by the solid reputation of Subaru engineering, quality and safety – it has gained popularity quickly, selling right at 60,000 vehicles in North America in 2013.

We had the opportunity to drive the 2013 Subaru Crosstrek a couple of times in 2013 - equipped with both the manual and CVT transmission - and were impressed with its room, comfort, ride and handling characteristics both on and off-road. It is not a rock climber off-road, but it does handle moderate to medium off-road trails (it has a ground height of 8.7-inches) very nicely.

So it came as a bit of surprise to us that Subaru chose to enter the hybrid vehicle market with the Crosstrek instead of maybe the Impreza hatchback or other vehicle that may have been a better choice, with less risk– in our opinion.

Based on our just completed week-long ride and drive of a 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid, we think it does not quite match up to the driving performance of the non-hybrid XV Crosstrek.

Taking the long view to start, the XV Crosstrek Hybrid with the CVT transmission, at an MSRP of $25,995, carries a premium of $3,000 over the XV Crosstrek non-hybrid. While the hybrid fuel economy rating is better (non-hybrid version with 25/33 mpg City Highway and an expected average of 28 mpg compared to the hybrid at 29/33 mpg City/Highway and expected average of 31 mpg) – the marginal improvement in gas mileage from one to the other is not all that significant.

Subaru did upgrade a number of features in the Crosstrek Hybrid at the Premium trim level which we tested. They included items such as the rear LED combination lights that illuminate the surface uniformly for a high-tech look, aerodynamically styled aluminum alloy wheels with low rolling resistance tires, a new Plasma Green Pearl exterior color that is exclusive to the XV Crosstrek Hybrid plus chrome exterior door handles add to the upscale touch.

On the inside, the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid’s distinctive instrument cluster, exclusive to this model, uses gradations of the blue color scheme to provide a sense of depth. It brings forward all of the the standard equipment from the XV Crosstrek Premium model and then adds an automatic climate control system, the upgraded instrument cluster, high-grade multi-function display, body-color foldable side mirrors with integral turn signals, leather-wrapped steering wheel with silver stitching, Keyless Access & Start and more.

A high-grade color multi-function display is exclusive to the XV Crosstrek Hybrid and featured on both of the hybrid trim levels. The 4.3-in. LCD screen, which can be easily viewed from any seat, can show the hybrid system’s energy flow according to driving conditions. Using switching screens, the display was designed to combine driving operation information with entertainment content.

A Touring trim level (MSRP $29,795) was added for the Hybrid line. It has some upgraded features compared to the Limited non-hybrid (MSRP $24,495) adding a touch-screen navigation system, leather-trimmed seating and a power moon roof for that $5,300 upcharge.

The Crosstrek Hybrid has done a nice job of with the physical placement of the hybrid system components including the batteries. They have been able to maintain the same passenger cabin room as in the non-hybrid model (97 cu. ft.), while giving up only a small amount of cargo space to the battery pack.

Where we found the 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid lacking was with its performance due to problems (as we see it) with the integration of the mechanical and related elements of the hybrid power train.

The Subaru-engineered hybrid system uses an AC synchronous electric drive motor, which produces 13.4 hp from 1,500 rpm-6,000 rpm, for initial vehicle acceleration and then starts the gasoline engine – a Boxer 2.0L 4 cylinder - once underway. The electric motor also provides motor assist for acceleration in parallel with the gasoline engine, and the EV mode will operate the vehicle on battery power only in certain low-speed situations.

Subaru says that the 2.0-liter BOXER engine in the hybrid has been tuned for this hybrid system delivering 148 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque that runs parallel to the electric motor. The combined power train is rated at 160 horsepower. The additional torque from the electric drive motor contributes 47.9 lb.-ft. of torque from 0-1,500 rpm which enables a total system torque of 163 lb.-ft. at just 2,000 rpm, compared to 145 lb.-ft. at 4,200 rpm for the non-hybrid model. As you would expect, the Crosstrek Hybrid does have decent ‘off the line’ acceleration which is a good thing.

Unfortunately the hybrid power train for the Crosstrek overall does not deliver quite as advertised.

We found that the automatic integration of the gasoline and electric drive systems was not well synchronized and (very noticeably) shifted from hybrid to gas to electric at what appeared to be random intervals instead of where we would have expected the performance demands to dictate those shifts. The designed integration that includes things like road and environment conditions, pressure on accelerator pedal, state of battery charge, air conditioner use and other factors is not yet right.

Additionally, the new Auto Stop-Start which stops the engine to help reduce fuel consumption is also not well calibrated – particular when the A/C is operating at certain levels in response to demand and environment. During our test drives, it sometimes stopped the engine and other times it did not. And, when it did restart when the brake was released, it was usually an annoying jerky transition.

We also were alarmed, and then also irritated, by the tendency of the hybrid to ‘roll back’ when shifting the CVT transmission from REVERSE to DRIVE. We suspect that this is a due, in some part, to a calibration of the integration of the electric drive motor with the CVT.

But having said all of that, our last word is that you absolutely should consider a 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek if you are looking for a very well-engineered, very capable, safe and solid performing 5-passenger crossover SUV.

Just make it the non-hybrid version as the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid still needs a bit more work.

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