Auto review: 2021 Subaru Crosstrek SUV powers up to take on new rivals

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Optional 8.0-inch touch screen in 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport. - Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press/TNS

The Subaru Crosstrek didn’t leave a lot of room for improvement, but the 2021 model gets more power and better ride and handling. A new animal-free upholstery that delivers comfort and breathability also arrives to help the Crosstrek ward off a host of new competitors like the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Kia Seltos.

Competition among subcompact SUVs has grown fierce since the Crosstrek arrived as one of the class’ pioneers in 2012. Smaller than popular SUVs like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape and Honda CR-V, the Crosstrek’s high seating position and standard all-wheel drive made it a hit, paving the way for models like the Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V and Jeep Compass.

Crosstrek is one of the larger and more accommodating small SUVs. “Small SUV” is an unavoidably vague term, by the way. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, arbiter of well-defined classifications like “compact” and “midsize” for car sizes, has yet to catch up with the proliferation of types of SUV.

The EPA’s official list of small SUVs includes everything from the three-row Cadillac XT6 (a foot longer than a Crosstrek) to the Trax, 8.9 inches shorter than the Subaru.

The Crosstrek further complicates the discussion by being nearly as roomy inside as more expensive models like the Escape and the Nissan Rogue, but priced to compete with vehicles that are pretty clearly a class smaller.

That combination of room and value are part of Crosstrek’s appeal. Subaru’s impressive list of standard safety features and reputation for reliability complete the picture.

Driving impressions

Nobody ever bought a Crosstrek for sporty handling and lively throttle response, though. An enthusiast’s evaluation on those fronts would likely be “adequate,” if he or she were feeling magnanimous.

The 2021 model raises that bar.

Subaru added an optional engine, a 2.5L four-cylinder that produces 182 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. Those figures won’t put you on pole position in many races, but they’re a healthy 30 hp and 31 pound-feet up from the base 2.0L. The Crosstrek’s 0-60 mph time fell a whopping 1.5 seconds, to 8.2 seconds.

Subaru almost smugly notes that it measures 0-60 times “with two people and a dog” in the car, a reasonable approximation of the Crosstrek’s daily duty-cycle — particularly if the dog’s one of the golden retrievers that star in the brand’s commercials. Honestly, they made a big enough deal of it I’ll feel cheated if they strapped a chihuahua into a carrier and call that “dog-tested.”

The standard continuously variable automatic transmission delivers the power with no fuss for confidence-inducing throttle response.

The 2.5L is standard on the Crosstrek Sport, a new trim level for 2021, and the top of the line Limited model.

The suspension got small but meaningful tweaks to reduce friction at its shocks and brakes. The result, Crosstrek product line manager Garrick Goh said, is better body control over bumps and a smoother ride. An X-mode setting with hill descent control and settings for deep snow and mud is exclusive to the Sport, which Subaru expects to attract slightly more outdoorsy owners.

I drove a Crosstrek Sport on twisty roads through the hills of southern Ohio’s Amish Country. The SUV’s body was stable and flat around quick curves, composed through dips and crests. The brakes were strong and easy to modulate in the strong decelerations common when a horse-drawn cart may be around the corner or over the next hill.

Exterior changes to the Crosstrek Sport include its grille, front bumper, wheel-arch cladding, fog lights, 17-inch dark gray wheels and Startex upholstery, an artificial material that’s smoother and more appealing than vinyl, breathable and washable. It’s an appealing alternative to leather, but don’t tell PETA-prone Crosstrek owners the steering wheel is still wrapped in dead cow.

How much?

All 2021 Crosstreks get the suspension upgrades. Visual changes for ‘21 include new wheel design, new yellow and blue exterior colors, redesigned front fascia and grille.

The base price rose just $100, to $22,245. The Sport model starts at $26,495. I tested a Sport with three options:

— Power sunroof

— Blind spot alert lane change assist and cross traffic alert

— 8-inch touch screen.

The Crosstrek Sport I drove stickered at $28,095, very competitive with similarly equipped models. All prices exclude destination charges.

Standard safety and driver assistance features

— Advanced Adaptive Cruise Control with Lane Centering

— Automatic Pre-Collision Braking;

— Pre-Collision Throttle Management

— Lane Departure Prevention

— Lead Vehicle Start Alert

— Rear seat reminder (standard on CVT models)

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2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport at a glance

Base price: $26,495

As tested: $28,095 (excluding destination charges)

All-wheel drive five-seat small SUV

Engine: 2.5L four-cylinder

Output: 182 hp @; 176 pound-feet of torque @

Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city/34 highway/29 combined. Regular gasoline.

Wheelbase: 104.9 inches

Length: 176.5 inches

Width: 79.5 inches, including mirrors

Height: 63.6 inches

Ground clearance: 8.7 inches

Curb weight: 3,265 pounds

Assembled in: Gunma, Japan

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at mmphelan@freepress.com.

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©2020 Detroit Free Press

The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport features a new 2.5L, 182-hp engine. - Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press/TNS
2021 SUbaru Crosstrek luggage compartment. - Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press/TNS
The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport features a 182-hp engine and touch-friendly animal-free upholstery. - Mark Phelan/Detroit Free Press/TNS