ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When carmakers find a successful formula, they often attempt to replicate it with other models in their lineup. Subaru, capitalizing on its niche as a purveyor of all-wheel-drive vehicles, parlayed its expertise into what was possibly the first-ever crossover vehicle, the original Subaru Outback, for the 1996 model year. By taking the Legacy station wagon, beefing up and raising the suspension for increased ground clearance, and adding some off-roady trim inside and out, Subaru struck sales pay dirt. Right in the midst of America’s truck-based sport-utility vehicle craze, along came a sensibly sized, more fuel-efficient, all-wheel-drive SUV wannabe that could traverse snow-covered roads en route to ski resorts or haul the family to remote fishing spots over rough Forest Service roads. Bingo — an instant hit. Over the intervening years, the Outback has grown in both size and price. So with the release for 2012 of a well-received, all-new Impreza compact sedan and hatchback, Subaru decided to see if lightning would strike twice, in a downsized package: Say howdy to the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, just in time to cash in on the burgeoning mini-CUV craze. Following the original formula the hatchback Crosstrek is dressed in outdoors adventurer’s garb. There are the requisite black wheel-well cladding, a set of tough-looking alloys and 17-inch all-season tires and some front and rear fascia trim. A set of rails decorate the roof. My significant other described it as looking somewhat like a hiking boot. Inside, there’s virtually no difference from a normal Impreza. There are generous room for four (five in a pinch) and quite useful cargo space, especially with the flat-folding rear split bench in the down position. The firm seats are quite comfortable, and the soft-touch dash and door trim is attractive if rather austere. Simple controls add to the purposeful mood.
In a vehicle weighing more than 3,000 pounds, the four-cylinder “boxer” engine’s 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque are just beyond adequate. The tradeoff for leisurely performance is excellent fuel economy: Our tester with a manual five-speed transmission is rated at 30 mpg on the highway, with the optional CVT automatic at an even better 33 mpg. The raised-and-retuned suspension gives the Crosstrek a generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance, 1.2 inches more than a Toyota RAV4. It also supplies excellent handling, giving the little XV a fun-to-drive demeanor. Its light controls, taut steering and excellent brakes deliver a downright sporty experience. An honorable mention: With its elevated height and large windows, the visibility out of the Crosstrek is simply superb, a welcome safety feature. In all, there’s a heapin’ helping of value packed into this pint-sized CUV.