News of a new AWD wagon-esque/crossover-type vehicle from Subaru isn't exactly earth-shattering. That's what Subaru does best (well, that and rally cars). Getting excited about a new Subaru, though, means getting excited for new potential, even if you hardly ever use it. And the rest of the time (which is to say, most of the time) is a reasonably comfortable and pretty reliable ride, a comfy but not cushy five-door hatch with a decent amount of cargo space.
So what's the big deal about the Subaru Crosstrek? It is, essentially, a lifted Impreza Sport (and in fact, in other countries, the Crosstrek is just called the Impreza XV). The slightly goofy-looking wheel gap is the main visual differentiator between the former and the latter, but it serves a noble purpose -- if you ever go off-roading, it provides crucial ground clearance. Plastic trim panels protect the paint's most vulnerable areas from rocks and gravel. The suspension reportedly feels firmer than the base Impreza. In other words, roam with confidence, Subaru says.
EPA fuel economy estimates rate the Crosstrek as the most efficient AWD crossover available, but reviewers say that efficiency comes at a price. Although the body is attractive and comfortable, and Subaru's capabilities in the areas of sportiness and utility aren't to be underestimated, the engine and transmission are the Crosstrek's weak link. The CVT automatic transmission matches to the engine in an unpleasantly noisy way and saps the drivetrain of precious horsepower (the engine comes in at a scant 148-horsepower) [source: Neil]. The manual transmission option might provide a more satisfying driving experience, but it causes the EPA's fuel ratings to drop from 25/33 to 23/30.
Other than that, the Crosstrek is vacation ready. Go ahead, make fun of the roof rack. Joke that the Crosstrek looks naked without a surfboard or canoe. It doesn't matter -- even a Crosstrek that's temporarily de-accessorized is probably a Crosstrek that's had some good times.