Traversing the Himalayas, especially in winter, can be a very daunting task, not unlike Toronto roads during a snowstorm.
On one particularly snowy morning last winter the Subaru XV Crosstrek's ethos flourished. It was as unstoppable as a Himalayan mountain goat wearing studded hiking boots.
The Crosstrek follows Subaru's formula used for the Outback Sport since 1997. It is essentially an Impreza, inside and out, with the exception of a few styling cues. Much of the bodywork and architecture is mutual between the two, but the Crosstrek wears different bumpers, matte black fender flares and rocker panels down the side.
It also sits 22 centimetres off the ground, taller than many pseudo-CUVs and SUVs out there, including the Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman and Chevrolet Trax.
It even has a higher ground clearance than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The ride height, paired with the bodywork and chunky, black-and-silver 17-inch alloy rims, won't win any beauty contests, but at least it looks better than the Juke.
Subaru has never quite been the industry benchmark for interior design and quality, although in the past six years, it did come close to nailing it with the Tribeca and the previous-generation Legacy. Most other models have been seas of hard black plastic that scratches easily, although stepping into something like a WRX STI, caressing the dashboard isn't the driver's prime directive.
The Crosstrek slots in the grey zone, between Subaru's best and worst. On one hand, the layout is boring, wearing the infamous monotonous black colour scheme. On the other hand, the materials are exponentially better and the layout is logical and functional. Everything does what it's supposed to do and is within reach of the driver, except for the heated seat switches, which are below the armrest.
Like the Impreza, a useful information readout sits atop the dashboard. Although it seems an afterthought, it keeps track of necessary information.
Menus keeping track of fuel consumption, which wheels have traction and which don't, and, of course, the time, can be accessed through controls mounted on the steering wheel.
The interior's saving grace is that the Crosstrek is well-equipped. The Touring model starts at $24,495, and gets you the standard kit of power equipment in addition to heated seats, fog lights, automatic climate control, Bluetooth, an iPod-compatible audio system and, of course, Subaru's absolutely incredible all-wheel-drive system.
The normally aspirated, 2.0-litre four-cylinder Boxer engine produces 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. It's the only engine option, and can be mated to two transmissions, and hence two absolutely incredible AWD systems.
The five-speed manual splits torque 50/50 between the front and rear axles under all weather conditions. However, the CVT is matched to a more advanced system, splitting torque 60/40 front to rear. When it detects wheelspin, it can distribute torque evenly.
Unfortunately, the CVT is quite noisy, especially on the highway, emitting a whine and making the engine sound as if it's complaining under acceleration. Combined with the motor's already low displacement and horsepower numbers, it felt downright unwilling to accelerate while passing or merging on the highway.
The CVT is equipped with a manual mode, though. It lets the driver shift through pre-programmed gear ratios, which made the engine a little less anemic, and a little more willing to go. Not to mention, it cut down on the whining considerably.
Thanks to the beefed-up suspension components and ground clearance, the ride is comfortable and composed, although body roll is present. At highway speeds, the Crosstrek is stable, but wind noise is evident -- reminiscent of the days when Subaru's doors were frameless. Bigger brakes are also part of the Crosstrek's CUV package, although the soft brake pedal took some getting used to.
Of course, these quibbles are very, very easy to forgive when the snow falls. Few cars can match Subaru's legacy of reliability and durability, and even fewer cars on the road are as composed and confident as the Crosstrek in adverse weather conditions.
-- Postmedia News