Take one all-wheel-drive Subaru Impreza, jack the compact hatchback up 3 inches to create 8.7 inches of ground clearance, toughen it up a bit and you’ve got the Subaru XV Crosstrek crossover vehicle.. Then, a couple of years later, offer an alternative gasoline/electric powerplant and, voila, you’ve got the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid.
Welcome to the sometimes weird, often wonderful world of Subaru, the off-beat Japanese manufacturer that has piled sales record upon sales record throughout the great recession while other manufacturers have had near-death experiences that called for government resuscitation or limped along until the slow recovery began to take hold.
Of course, hybrid powerplants are nothing new in the automotive industry —Honda was first to the U.S.market with its tiny Insight some 15 year ago and Toyota has been leading the industry with its Prius for a dozen or more years.
Subaru? It has soldiered on with its four-and six-cylinder horizontally opposed (boxer) gasoline engines and, while they are not fuel-efficiency leaders, they have proven themselves over and over again to legions of motorists who love their rugged dependability and the all-wheel-drive systems that Subaru builds into every car it sells in the United States.
Now, for the first time, Subaru has built a hybrid system by teaming its 2-liter, 148-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 13.4-horsepower electric motor that is integrated into its continuously variable automatic transmission.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. The Crosstrek Hybrid’s engine was massaged to reduce friction in its moving parts, a stop-start system was installed to shut down the engine at stops signs and traffic signals, and the Subaru can move from a stop for short distances on electric power alone if the driver keeps a very light foot on the accelerator.
In addition, low-rolling-resistance tires are fitted on to new aluminum alloy wheels and an Active Grille Shutter system closes the shutters to lessen wind resistance and improve fuel economy during highway driving.
The electrical power is stored in a nickel-metal hydride battery that is replenished by coasting, regenerative braking and, when needed, an electric drive motor powered by the gasoline engine.
The downside is that the battery replaces the spare tire. Crosstrek Hybrid buyers get only a flat-tire repair kit, a kind of scary thought for those who plan to do some serious off-roading in their Subaru.
The upside is that the battery placement allows the hybrid Crosstrek to have interior space nearly identical to the gasoline-powered model. There is room for five passengers, 21.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seat and 50.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the second-row setbacks folded forward.
The hybrid system has two primary advantage over standard gasoline power. It generates 160 horsepower, compared to 148, and it achieves an EPA-estimated average of 29 mpg in the city/33 on the highway. That compares to the 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway figures for the standard gasoline engine. In my time with the Crosstrek hybrid, it averaged between 27 and 32 mpg.