The thing I’ve always found about Subarus is that there’s a big difference between what you see on paper and what you feel when driving one. On paper, their specifications are par for the mainstream Japanese-car course: decent power, decent performance, average dimensions, and strong value for the money. But the moment you fire one up, and pull away, no matter what the model, you feel something a little bit different, a little bit special.

Subaru would like you to think this has to do with their trademark boxer engines and symmetrical all-wheel drive system, and to be fair, these two technical traits do mean something. The horizontally-oposed boxer engine, a configuration also favoured by Porsche, contributes to a lower centre of gravity and thus to better handling. And the all-wheel drive system provides a sense of confidence and security no matter what the weather. But there’s more to the Subaru feel than just that. All of them, including this sub-$30,000 2018 Crosstrek, share a unique feeling of being tough, agile, and generally up for anything you want to throw at them. Look beyond the specs and there’s an eager, rough-and-tumble athleticism to every Subaru model that makes them incredibly endearing to drive.
On paper, the Crosstrek, Subaru’s least-expensive quasi-SUV, doesn’t have much to shout about. Its boxer four produces just 152 hp, and unlike the current vogue, isn’t fortified by torque-boosting, economy-enhancing turbochargers. But, coupled to a standard six-speed manual, or the more-commonly optioned CVT transmission, the twin-cam 2.0-litre actually hauls this tall hatchback along at a very decent clip. The CVT has a very wide spread of gear ratios, making for strong acceleration away from stoplights, while allowing relaxed cruising and improved fuel economy at higher speeds. And while most continuously-variable transmissions are disliked by enthusiastic drivers because of the way they hold the engine revs at the torque or power peak (giving a curious rubber-band sensation as the transmission “catches up” to the engine), Subaru has programmed gear-like steps into the gearbox to give it a more natural feel under acceleration. The difference compared to other “stepped” CVTs is that when you’re cruising, the Subaru CVT reverts to its infinite ratios, maximizing the fuel economy benefit.
Refinement from the Crosstrek’s drivetrain is impressive, and comes coupled with what is, in all seriousness, the finest ride quality of any vehicle I’ve driven in the last 10 years. This is a seriously comfortable car in all conditions. And in all road (and off-road) surfaces, the combination of tall sidewalls on the Yokohama Geolandar tires, long-travel suspension, and strong, stiff body structure combining to give a sense of solidity and comfort that’s way beyond the Crosstrek’s modest asking price.
The smooth, comfortable ride does come at the expense of a fair bit of lean in the corners when you’re pushing the Crosstrek along a winding road or a fun off-ramp, but that’s not to say that this crossover doesn’t handle. Quite the opposite, in fact; thanks to the big footprint, and Subaru’s brilliant symmetrical all-wheel drive system, the Crosstrek will generate grip far beyond what you need in pretty much any situation, hanging on gamely no matter how hard you toss it around. It’s actually a blast to drive quickly, and you barely need to slow down when the weather, or the road surface, changes. While the Crosstrek is no sports car, it feels up for anything, and responds eagerly to every input.
Here’s the best thing about the Crosstrek, and why it has quickly become Subaru’s best-selling model: it’s an incredible value. Starting at just $23,695, and well-equipped as a Touring model with chunky 18-inch wheels, automatic transmission, touchscreen infotainment with CarPlay and Android Auto, and more, the Crosstrek is a stunning value. Its interior, while hardly the lap of luxury, is brilliantly practical, with 1,585 litres of cargo space when you fold the rear seats down and tons of useful storage throughout. The seats are terrific, upholstered in tough, grippy fabric with nifty orange contrasting stitching that would cost thousands on a luxury car, and there are thoughtful touches everywhere, from handy steering-wheel controls to a pass-through in the console bin for your phone charger.
In short, the Crosstrek is kind of a perfect inexpensive all-rounder for Canadian roads and driving conditions: economical to purchase and own, comfortable no matter what environment you’re driving in or through, tough enough to put up with the great outdoors and what your family will subject it to, and most importantly, a load of fun as well.
Pfaff Subaru opens this December. We can’t wait to start delivering our first Crosstreks.