2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid Touring: One for the road (on or off)

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Subaru is one of those automotive manufacturers that fly quietly under the radar, making great cars, doing great things for the world, and pleasing the most loyal customers in the industry. Its lineup of eight vehicles includes everything from the sporty and highly acclaimed BRZ, to the wild rally beast WRX STI, to the competent and versatile Outback wagon. It consistently scores well in crash tests, and is enjoying tremendous sales success, while at the same time remaining one of the best-kept secrets in the industry.

We recently spent some quality time in the Subaru Forester (here and here), which we felt was one of the best compact SUVs in the segment. This time around, we stepped up to the 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid Touring. The XV Crosstrek Hybrid the only all-wheel-drive Hybrid SUV in the marketplace. Subaru also offers a non-hybrid version of the XV Crosstrek, which our own Dave Boldt had a chance to put through its paces last year. Read what he had to say here. Living in Los Angeles, we thought that this is the perfect combination of a capable SUV, plus the bonus of a hybrid drive.

The XV Crosstrek is a nice-looking vehicle. Designers didn’t try to reinvent some new shapes or scare us with faces only a mother could love. It’s clean, modern, and designed to work hard and play hard. The Hybrid comes in as the top model in the XV lineup, and as such gets design elements to separate it from the rest of the herd. There are rear LED combo lights, unique wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires for fuel economy help, active grille shutters, chrome door handles, and, of course, the Hybrid badging. For those who like to be noticed, opt for the Plasma Green Pearl shade that’s unique to the Hybrid. We were happy with out Quartz Blue Pearl version, both because it was understated, and second because it’s our favorite shade of Los Angeles Dodgers blue, which fit in perfectly with our photo location at this iconic LA stadium.

DL_PRN_13032754702428384504__midInside, the XV Hybrid has its own IP with more shades of blue, and includes just about every feature available, plus automatic climate controls, body color sideview mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, Keyless Access, and more.

The Subaru combines its 2.0-liter flat four Boxer engine with a permanent-magnet AC synchronous electric drive motor. Total hybrid output for this XV is 160 horsepower versus 148 for the gas model. Torque is 163 lb-ft, and being a hybrid vehicle, means you get all of it the minute you take off. Shifting duties are left to Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT. Humorously, the CVT has paddle shifters, something I will never understand. Anyway, the battery is not lithium ion like most manufacturers are stepping into, but a fairly decent-sized 13.5 kW nickel-metal hydride unit that is located under the rear floor that’s been redesigned to fit the battery.

Like most EVs, the battery takes the low-speed work, leaving the gas engine to help when the right foot gets heavy on the throttle. What we can say about this vehicle is that, outside of an occasional blip upon start up, the transitions between electric and gas is imperceptible. That was a nice surprise, as so many hybrids make the transition with all the subtlety of a brass marching band. Auto Stop-Start is one of the most irritating inventions of this century, and we have nothing good ever to say about it except it can be turned off. It’s especially miserable when stuck in the nightmare that is LA traffic, but that’s not a reflection on the Subaru system as much as it is all of these supposed mileage-extender features.

DL_PRN_13032756422428393626__mid While the XV boasts EPA fuel economy numbers of 29 city/33 highway, we didn’t get anything close to that. The most we could muster was 23 mpg combined, but that’s not really a fault of the vehicle here, but more of the operators. We had the XV in Los Angeles during a mild heat wave, where every day in the San Fernando Valley hovered between 95 and 100 degrees. This meant every trip in the our XV included running the AC at full blast, which we all know is the devil to saving fuel. To that end, the XV when it came to a stop also affected the output of the AC, an annoying but understandable side effect of a hybrid vehicle.

Let’s try this one again in the winter, and we bet we’ll improve the efficiency by at least 30 to 40 percent.

The Subaru is big enough to haul people and things, but also small enough to have fun driving it on twisty roads. Subaru’s Symmetrical all-wheel drive system plays a big part of that equation. It may not have a ton of power at the high end, but the more you drive it, the more you realize it’s beyond adequate to get you where you need to go, and provide a few smiles on the way.

Other pluses of the Subaru: we liked the cargo area, the connectivity system, and the fact that it wasn’t a Toyota Prius. That may be our favorite of the list, mostly because we live in an area populated by celebrity wannabes who are politically coerced into driving a Prius when what they really want is a gas-guzzling super car or monster SUV. When I see one of those posers driving a Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid, I’ll know that’s a smart person who has given up his acting aspirations and become a director.

There are many manufacturers who walk the walk but don’t talk the talk; Subaru isn’t like that. This company has done so much to raise funds for so many charities, that just buying a Subaru makes you feel better about yourself. BMW may be the ultimate driving machine, but Subaru’s opinion of itself is just as solid: A brand that cares about people, the environment, and building great cars.

The Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid is about as close to having it all as you could want, and it does it at a surprisingly reasonable price of $26,820 including destination charges. And who doesn’t want that?

Lead photo: Scott Killeen/Team Killeen