Testing Subaru's first plug-in hybrid
When Subaru introduced the Crosstrek Hybrid plug-in, the crossover instantly carved out a niche of its own: a capable, compact, plug-in crossover. The electrified Crosstrek is also an important step forward for a company not known for hybrids. Subaru claims the new off-roadable Crosstrek variant is the quickest, most efficient, and best Crosstrek ever. So did Subaru deliver a half-baked variant, or is its first plug-in worthy of joining the ranks with other proven models from the brand?
Is it quicker?
We’ve criticized the non-hybrid Crosstrek for is its mediocre acceleration. It took 9.0 seconds for our long-term Crosstrek Premium to hit 60 mph and 16.9 seconds for the quarter mile with a speed of 83.4 mph (134.2 km/h). A slightly heavier Crosstrek Limited accelerated to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds. On the drag strip, the Crosstrek Hybrid clocked a 0–60 time of 8.3 seconds on its way to a quarter-mile time of 16.5 seconds at 83.5 mph (134.4 km/h). That makes it the quickest Crosstrek we’ve ever tested. Road test editor Chris Walton noted a very smooth takeoff, and unlike some hybrids, it didn’t lose much—if any—time or speed over the course of the three acceleration runs.
Considering the plug-in’s 500 pounds (227 kg) of extra heft, braking is impressive with a stopping distance of 118 feet from 60 mph, 2 feet shorter than our long-term Crosstrek. Walton noticed a good amount of dive during hard braking but noted that all three attempts were straight, consistent, and shorter than he had predicted. Testing director Kim Reynolds also noticed a significant about of dive under hard braking during his figure-eight laps and noted that it was followed by a big rebound oscillation. He questioned the accuracy of the damping and spring rates, which have been adjusted for the extra weight of the hybrid system. Around town in normal driving, however, I didn’t notice an issue with the suspension tuning.
Is it still capable?
During our drive event in Santa Barbara, Subaru stressed that the Crosstrek Hybrid is still very capable—unlike some all-wheel-drive hybrid crossovers that don’t always power all four wheels. To prove the automaker’s point, we traversed a 10-mile (16-km) off-road trail with large rocks, deep ruts, and steep grades. The Crosstrek Hybrid made easy work of the trail, barely struggling even with two wheels in the air. Subaru had us activate the X-Mode off-road mode on the trail, but we apparently didn’t need it because I traveled most of the trail without it. The combination of the brand’s Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system and the crossover’s 8.7 inches of ground clearance was more than enough for the rugged trail and more than most owners will ever need.
But my favorite part of the trail wasn’t the scenic mountain and coastal views or the friendly hikers we passed. It was the fact that we did the whole trail in EV mode. EV mode made the off-road trek quiet, and the instant torque shined when crawling over large rocks—no need to rev the engine out.
The regular Crosstrek can still claim superiority over the hybrid in two areas, however: cargo space and towing. The Hybrid’s towing capacity is just 1,000 pounds (454 kg)—500 (227 kg) less than the non-hybrid’s 1,500-pound (680-kg) limit—and cargo room is down from 20.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats to 15.9 cubic feet. Cargo space with the rear seats folded down is 43.1 cubic feet, less than the 55.3 found in the regular model. The reduced cargo space is a result of the battery pack mounted below the cargo area.
How does it drive?
You barely feel the Crosstrek Hybrid’s extra weight around town because it’s much quicker off the line than the non-hybrid model. Thanks to the instant torque from the electric motor, you don’t have to wait for the loud gasoline engine to rev to power. The electric motor produces 149 lb-ft of torque alone, 4 more than the 2.0-liter flat-four produces at 4,000 rpm in the regular Crosstrek. If more than half throttle is applied or if the battery is low, the Atkinson-cycle flat-four will kick on for additional thrust. Occasionally, the engine turning on sends a small jolt through the driveline. At highway speeds, the 148-hp hybrid system (4 hp less than the regular Crosstrek) did struggle to get the 3,732-pound (1,693-kg) crossover to speed during some passing and merging maneuvers on L.A.’s busy highways.
Subaru did its best to make the Crosstrek Hybrid drive as normal as possible. Like a regular gasoline vehicle, the Hybrid creeps forward from a stop in any drive mode, and the shifter looks and operates just like a regular one with the exception of the B position that increases engine braking for downhill stretches.
When lifting off the gas pedal, hybrids and plug-ins regenerate power through braking, and this can feel unnatural to drivers not familiar with it. This isn’t an issue in the Crosstrek because regenerative braking is almost unnoticeable. However, individuals new to plug-ins might find the sound of the electric motors to be strange at first, especially when coupled with the pedestrian warning sound (activates in EV mode below 20 mph (32 km/h)).
How efficient is it?
During my time with the plug-in, I did drive the claimed 17 miles (27 km) on all-electric energy but only with a light foot. Driving like I normally do (somewhat quick) shrank the range to 12–15 miles (19-24 km). Sport mode (instead of the normal Intelligent mode) significantly increases throttle response but also hurts the EV range.
When the battery is low, the Crosstrek acts like a regular hybrid and delivers a Subaru-claimed 35 mpg (6.7 L/100km) combined. In the two weeks I had the Hybrid, I achieved 42 mpg (5.6 L/100km) overall (including EV travel time). But if I had the ability to charge at home every night, I would rarely use the gas motor because my workday round-trip commute is 8 miles (13 km), well within the EV range. For some perspective, the much larger Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has a 22-mile (35-km) EV range and is rated at 25 mpg (9.4 L/100km) combined. But its smaller gas tank gives it a total driving range of 310 miles (499 km) versus the Crosstrek’s 480 miles (772 km) (based on 45 percent highway and 55 percent city driving).
If owners want to save or charge their battery pack for future use, Subaru offers Save and Charge modes. The former uses the gasoline engine more often in order to save the battery for later use. Charge mode uses the flat-four to charge the battery pack in case you don’t have access to a charger and want to use EV power later. However, this is the least fuel-efficient mode.
What will my wallet think?
Subaru offers the 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid in one loaded trim that starts at $35,970 USD before EV rebates. Opting for the one available package will cost another $2,500 USD for a moonroof, upgraded sound system, heated steering wheel, and integrated navigation, bringing the pre-rebate total to $38,470 USD. That might sound like a hefty amount, but those who qualify for federal tax credits and state rebates can significantly reduce the vehicle’s overall cost while saving money at the pump. Additionally, the Crosstrek Hybrid will be sold in every state (but in some places, expect a wait time after it’s ordered).
The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is a solid choice for someone considering their first plug-in or for folks who want to save money at the pump while experiencing daily driving and off-roading on all-electric power. The Subaru might not be the most efficient or have the longest EV range among plug-in hybrids, but it’s a rare bird in a plug-in crossover market filled with mostly expensive options.
|2019 Subaru Crosstrek AWD Plug-In Hybrid|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$38,470|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/137-hp/134-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve flat-4 plus 118-hp/149-lb-ft electric motor; 148 hp comb|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,732 lb (54/46%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||175.8 x 71.0 x 62.8 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.5 sec @ 83.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.3 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||35 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, COMB||96 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.55 lb/mile|