2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid First Drive: The Overachiever
. . . Under the Crosstrek Hybrid’s skin is an advanced powertrain with a lot to cover, even by PHEV standards. We start with a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle boxer engine and an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (eCVT). Subaru tweaked those elements to work alongside two motor-generators, one positioned just behind the front axle and the other just in front of the rear axle. An 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack protrudes into the Crosstrek’s cargo area and provides 17 miles of all-electric range.
If that 17 miles is accurate for the EPA, it's disappointing.
Some of the Crosstrek’s plug-in hybrid technology does come from Toyota. The Crosstrek’s battery stacks, for example, are found in the Prius Prime, and the two motor generators come from the Camry Hybrid. And although it’s similar in concept to Toyota’s transmission, Subaru did develop the eCVT in the Crosstrek Hybrid. But despite these similarities, the Subaru’s always-on all-wheel-drive system falls short of the Prius Prime’s 25 miles of all-electric range.
The Crosstrek Hybrid achieves 35 miles per gallon combined and the equivalent of 90 MPG when operating on electricity alone, which clearly bests the standard Crosstrek’s combined 25 MPG. A full charge takes five hours using a standard 120-volt outlet and two hours using a 240V plug. The 2.0-liter gas engine alone is good for 139 horsepower, though total system output is 148 horsepower, with 149 lb-ft of torque available from zero RPM, thanks to the electric motors.
The Crosstrek, like other PHEVs, offers driving modes that can save and recharge the battery packs, as well as a Normal mode. The good news is that regardless of which mode you select, the Crosstrek Hybrid retains its all-wheel-drive setup – a unique selling point among plug-in hybrids, especially affordable ones. Thanks to the gas engine’s mechanical connection to all four wheels, the Subaru’s AWD system works all the time – even when the battery is drained.
Normal mode keeps the Crosstrek eco-minded with a combination of gas and EV driving, depending on its charge level and your throttle inputs. Push the gas pedal past 50 percent and the gas unit kicks in to help out. The Save mode forces the Crosstrek to, well, save its 17 miles of electric charge for later use, like after a long highway drive when you’re about to hit city streets. And lastly, Charge mode fires up the gas engine and makes it work to refill the batteries as you continue driving.
So, sounds like they include a true 'Hold' mode, unlike the Prime. We'll have to wait until the owner's manual is available or for more testing to confirm that.
I cycled through each drive mode multiple times during my drive in and around Santa Barbara, California, noting few changes in how the car behaved switching from one mode to another. The most noticeable difference was slightly reduced acceleration in Save mode. Regardless of which drive mode you select, regenerative braking is there to help at all four corners of the car. After a brief “getting to know you” period, the regen becomes a friend, recouping energy without some of the bad manners of other regenerative brake rigs. A roughly 10-mile-long descent through the Santa Barbara mountains allowed us to regain nearly half of the electric range by the time the car returned to sea level. That’s an extreme case, but regen braking really does work to extend your EV driving range.
The Crosstrek Hybrid was less happy climbing hills, where the CVT kept the RPMs high enough that the powertrain felt stressed by its task. Aside from that concession, the Crosstrek Hybrid is a fine road trip vehicle, though it’d be smart to build up some momentum before overtaking other drivers or prior to climbing mountains. . . .
Cargo space is down a full 24 percent compared to the non-hybrid: 20.8 cubic feet for the standard Crosstrek versus 15.9 cubic feet in the hybrid model. Blame that big battery pack. For a customer base that loves loading up their pets on the weekends, it’s worth mentioning that your golden retriever may resent you for choosing the PHEV, as it has less wiggle room due to the raised floor. . . .
Otherwise, the Hybrid gets the same equipment found in the Crosstrek Limited. This includes the eight-inch Starlink infotainment system (complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), automatic climate control, and keyless entry as standard. Sought-after safety features such as blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and rear cross traffic alert also come standard as part of Subaru’s well-regarded EyeSight system. The only available option package – priced at $2,500 – adds a moonroof, heated steering wheel, voice-activated navigation, and Harmon Kardon sound system. . . .
Once you press the X-Mode button to engage the vehicle’s off-road setting, the car attacks the dirt with little hesitation. X-Mode also fires up Hill Descent Control, which uses the car’s brake regeneration system to keep things in check moving downhill, while also adding some extra juice back into the battery (brief applause for innovation). And remember, the all-wheel-drive system is working all the time, even when using purely electric power. So, when the going gets a little hairy, the Crosstrek is always ready for the challenge. . . .
Prices start at $34,995, or $7,800 less [Sic. More] than the $27,195 gas-only Limited, though the Crosstrek Hybrid qualifies for a $4,500 federal income-tax credit, as well as state credits, depending on location. Unfortunately, Subaru only plans to stock the car at dealers in 10 California Air Resource Board (CARB)-compliant states, though customers may order the Crosstrek Hybrid and have it delivered anywhere in the remaining 40. . . .
The second-generation Crosstrek Hybrid has its issues – tight cargo space, limited power, and a hefty starting price, so don’t expect it to become the brand’s top seller or supplant its cheaper, non-hybrid sibling. However, it stands out as an over-achiever, finding the balance between electric efficiency and off-road capability. Flaws aside, it’s the most interesting car in the Subaru family right now.
I'll look at it but I'm underwhelmed (as I've always been by the Crosstrek, preferring the regular Impreza hatch, or my Forester). Still, between this and the Outlander PHEV, the Crosstrek XV (Plug-in) Hybrid fits my needs better.
Update: GCR's article goes into more detail about the driving dynamics and some other features:
2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid: First drive of 17-mile, 35-mpg plug-in crossover
. . . The 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid is about a second quicker to 60 mph than the 2019 Crosstrek and the difference feels even more pronounced quick passing maneuvers. As the Subaru flat-4 rises in and out of the mix in hybrid operation, the Crosstrek Hybrid has a familiar Boxer-thrum sound, but one that feels mostly disconnected from the power flow. . . .
The Crosstrek Hybrid doesn’t ride or corner any worse for 487 added pounds of weight versus the non-hybrid Crosstrek. To cope with more weight on the rear wheels—the Crosstrek Hybrid has unique spring and damper tuning, as well as a slower steering ratio than the standard Crosstrek.
Although it’s hardly sporty, we found reasonably good, safe handling, well-coordinated for quick esses and lane-changes. Subaru also notes that since the system has brake regeneration through all four wheels that it’s inherently more stable during moderate braking. Rear brakes are upgraded in the Hybrid; but the system can recover up to 40 kw via regenerative braking from all four wheels, and in real-world driving it does up to 80 percent of the work. Its brake blending felt extremely smooth as we came to the final few feet of a stop. . . .
On a steep drive route that took us out of EV mode within a few miles, we were unable to comment on real-world range. Anecdotally, once we’d used a charge we saw mpg figures in the low 30s according to the trip computer—or low 20s in Charge mode. . . .
But as with many other plug-in hybrids on the market, you need to learn the parameters of how to stay in EV mode—and they’re a bit complicated.
If you want to keep all-electric once you’ve charged, there are some things you’ll need to know. You can’t exceed 65 mph or half throttle. The temperature of the engine coolant can’t be below 14 degrees F either. Once you’ve triggered the gasoline engine to go on—provided there’s still adequate plug-in charge—you have to jump through some hoops to return to the all-electric side of things. You’ll need to keep under 62 mph and one-third throttle; and you may need to wait a few minutes as it has to bring the coolant temperature past 104 degrees F. And the battery temperature has to be above 10 degrees F.
Subaru made the heating resistive, and the engine doesn’t have to start up to provide climate control. . . .
Even though the Crosstrek Hybrid has a gas tank that’s 3.4 gallons smaller than the standard Crosstrek (13.2 gallons total), it has virtually the same driving range: 480 miles.
The difference between Intelligent and Sport modes is mainly a matter of accelerator mapping, and X-Mode is transferred from the standard Crosstrek. Press the button and it coordinates the powertrain, all-wheel drive, and brakes for the best low-speed stability. . . .
Furthermore, a set of connected services (with a 10-year free subscription) allows owners to remotely do a number of tasks like check the battery charge remotely or precondition the cabin. . . .
Here’s where that sturdy trail shoe drops: Subaru is only making the Crosstrek Hybrid available in [list of CARB ZEV states] - although it says that dealerships across the U.S. can sell them if they choose to. Officials didn’t say how many they would build.
Although that sounds like grounds for dismissal of the Crosstrek Hybrid as a compliance car, the flip side is that (outside of the clunky battery packaging) this vehicle doesn’t feel like a half-baked, one-off effort. Collectively, Subaru is calling its hybrid/AWD system StarDrive and won’t deny that we’ll be seeing more of the system in its other models, almost entirely built on the same platform now. Subaru made a very smart choice in going nearly all all-wheel drive decades ago; going all plug-in AWD could be an even smarter move.
There's a picture showing the rear cargo area, and the battery does make a substantial hump - I'm not at all sure that you'd have a no-step load floor with the rear seats down.