CREATIVE CUV: Subaru conjures up nifty XV Crosstrek using successful formula

Subaru has perfected its formula for creating desirable, utilitarian vehicles out of what are basically affordable, middle-of-the-road cars.

The automotive division of Japan’s Fuji Heavy Industries has been making hay for years by capitalizing on its much-praised all-wheel drive system, not only for its on-road offerings, but by practically inventing the crossover utility vehicle category.

Take, for example, the popular Outback. Since its inception, it’s basically been a wagon version of the midsize Legacy, given a raised, toughened suspension and styling tweaks that play up an outdoorsy image. Check the correct options boxes and you can upgrade the interior to an almost-luxury level.

Finding ever-expanding success with the Outback, Subaru has applied the same approach to the compact-class Impreza hatchback. Jack up and sub in more robust bits to the suspension, grace the exterior with some black cladding, and add some tough-looking wheels, and voilá! you’ve got a compact CUV! Give it an evocative name, say something like XV Crosstrek, and watch the sales soar.

Given its DNA, it’s no wonder the Crosstrek drives much like the vehicle it’s derived from. And its carlike attributes are a large part of its appeal. The tall hatchback handles nothing like a truck, with confident cornering capabilities and a smooth, absorbent highway ride.

Steering and braking are both top-notch as well. And the generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance make it quite capable in snow and light off-road duty.

With its visual brawn on display, you might expect more underhood potency that the XV musters. Identical to the Impreza, the little 2.0-liter flat four-cylinder makes do with a marginally sufficient 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque.

The continuously variable automatic transmission is of scant help here, although for 2015 it has been reprogrammed to deliver artificial “shifts” during acceleration. There are also paddle shifters that can help squeeze every bit of the modest power from the engine.

The interior is a cut or two above economy class with decent materials and comfortable seats. Tech and infotainment gear are thankfully upgraded this year.

Our test vehicle – a Special Edition limited to 1,000 copies – was swathed in high-intesity, retina-searing Sunrise Yellow paint. No chance of losing this one in a crowded parking lot.

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