Drive: Subaru’s Crosstrek Sport design becomes more refined year after year

For quite a few years, we’ve been trying to figure out what’s in the collective minds and hearts of the Japanese automaker Subaru. With each new model year, the cars seem to become more smooth and refined. Yet they’re rugged, too; every Subaru is capable of venturing off-road, thanks to their renowned all-wheel-drive systems and high stance even in small models like the Crosstrek. There’s the conundrum: They don’t feel nearly as rugged as they are. The rough edges — including the growly boxer engines, firm ride quality and cramped interiors — have been shaved off, leaving behind some of the characteristics that bred a small but vocal fan base.

So there we were in a little 2021 Crosstrek Sport, with an impressive 8.7-inch ground clearance, a 182-horsepower boxer engine and water-repellant imitation leather upholstery. From the outside, it looks like it’s ready for the Baja 1000. Inside, it’s all about soft surfaces, technology, and the pampering of drivers and passengers.

In reality, the Crosstrek delivers comfort for the 99.9 percent of the driving most people do, and off-road capability for the occasional departures from the open road. Fuel economy is acceptable, at 27 mpg city, 34 highway, and reliability is about what one would expect from a vehicle that’s built in Japan.

Our only complaint was the same one we’ve been making about most Subarus, curiously excepting the big Ascent sport-utility vehicle, for the last few years: lack of road feel. The Subarus we were weaned on — those ubiquitous little GL wagons from the early 1980s — instantly telegraphed every inconsistency in the road surface and angle. They were cramped, basic and kind of uncomfortable, but they made no attempt to conceal what was going on underneath of, and in front of, the driver.

We put some serious miles on our Crosstrek Sport and didn’t really find ourselves mourning the diminished road feel. Maybe we would if we took it off road. Instead, we kept to the highway, for the most part, including Interstate 84 in Connecticut and the New York State Thruway. Its 182-horsepower engine is a vast improvement over the 152-horsepower boxer Four that’s still found in all Crosstrek models except the Sport and Limited, and Subaru has developed a continuously variable automatic transmission that lacks the annoying traits of many other CVTs. The interior was fairly plush and filled with conveniences, including automatic climate control, a 6.5-inch display for the STARLINK infotainment system, smartphone connectivity, satellite radio, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, remote keyless entry and push-button start. Blind-spot, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-change assist, along with a power moonroof, were included in a $1,600 option package.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport

Price: $29,145

Engine: 2.5-liter horizontally opposed Four, 182 horsepower, 176 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: continuously variable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson struts, front; double-wishbone, rear

Curb weight: 3,265 lb.

Ground clearance: 8.7 in.

Wheels: 17x7-in. painted alloy

Tires: 225/605R17 98H all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 20.8 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 55.3 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 1,500 lb.

Fuel capacity: 16.6 gal.

Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 34 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

The base Crosstrek starts at $22,245. The base and Premium versions are available with a 6-speed manual transmission. Our test car had a sticker price, with options, destination and delivery charge, of $29,145.

Competitors include the Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Toyota C-HR and Mazda CX-3.

The 2020 Crosstrek was rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Steven Macoy ( is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.