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Subaru multi-tool: The XV Crosstrek

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Subaru multi-tool: The XV Crosstrek

Based on the Impreza hatchback, the XV Crosstrek adds a raised ride height, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, bigger front brakes, beefed-up suspension and a larger, 15.9-gallon gas tank.

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POSTED December 5, 2012 7:02 p.m.

Subaru gets up and dirty for trail riders with its XV Crosstrek, a compact, all-wheel-drive five-door hatchback.

The Crosstrek is more of what this frugal carmaker does well: Take a traditional, all-wheel-drive car, wagon or crossover and beef it up for off-road driving, some of which can be downright dirty.

It's a roomy little rig, based on the Impreza hatchback, but with a raised ride height, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, bigger front brakes, high-strength suspension and a larger 15.9-gallon gas tank.

From its 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder — with horizontally opposed pistons, boxer style — Crosstrek is rated 25 mpg city and 33 highway. That works out to a huge driving range for adventurers, on regular unleaded.

Sold in premium and limited trim levels with five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmissions, pricing starts at $22,790 and $25,290, including the $790 freight charge from Japan. The premium test car with CVT was $25,790, which included the moonroof and navigation package, $2,000. The package adds useful stuff for the contemporary rambler, including a 6.1-inch touchscreen display, voice control, iTunes tagging, text messaging, satellite radio, XM NavTraffic and a rearview camera.

The limited comes with the CVT and moonroof-navi package and adds leather-trimmed upholstery and a few other extras.

Safety features include seven air bags, stability and traction controls and a top crash rating of "good" from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in frontal overlap collisions and for side, rollover and rear impact evaluations.

The Crosstrek is a low maintenance car to enjoy, maximizing Subaru's keep-it-simple format. And it may be one of the few new cars that look good with some dirt and trail pinstriping. There is lots of black interior plastic, but it's appropriate for the mission.

The ride height is three inches taller than the Impreza, which gives a good view down the road. And the small 34.8-foot turning circle is an asset off-road or on.

The driver area is uncomplicated — almost minimalist — with large, readable knobs for fan-temp-AC. The navigation-phone-audio unit is compact and multitasking, and my phone connected on the first try. There are plenty of cup holders and storage places for phones or other devices and a locking glovebox. The visors are large with covered mirrors and there is a grab handle at every door.

The back seat has adult leg and footroom at the window seats, a comfortable seatback angle and door-panel cup holders. The limited's fold-down armrest will be useful if there will be frequent back-seat passengers.

Ride quality is quite settled and responsive for an off-roader and the cabin is surprisingly quiet at highway speeds. Subaru says liquid (hydraulic) engine mounts (with the CVT) help damp out vibration. The double-wishbone rear suspension has pillow ball bushings, which are a homerun of comfort, stability and agility.

The cargo area opening is 37 inches width by 30 inches tall, which is generous for loading bikes and gear. Roof rails are standard, but it takes the $200 crossbars to tie down a surfboard. The back seat folds to form flat cargo space and there are tie-down hooks and grocery bag hooks in the way back.

Horsepower comes on quickly off the line, with some noise on hard acceleration, but the CVT is not quick to give downshifts for urgent acceleration needs. The manual mode simulates six speeds so the driver can always double down for passing power.

The Crosstrek is a curiosity, but it works as a weekend explorer and the daily driver. In concept, it is kind of a four-door Jeep Wrangler, which seemed a totally weird concept but turned into a big moneymaker. Crosstrek, with its fair pricing, fun driving and fuel economy, could be that kind of phenomenon.

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