Subaru could classify its cars into two categories: naughty and nice. Its breadand- butter models are crossover wagons like the Forester and the Outback. Practical and rugged, those Subarus are hiking boots for the road—nice cars you'd want your mother to drive.

On the other end of the Subaru spectrum are cars like the new BR Z and the turbocharged WRX. These two hellions offer scintillating performance, are a blast to drive, and prove that Subaru still knows how to make sporty cars.

The new XV Crosstrek fits in with the granola side of the family, but it also manages to have a mean streak. Based on the Impreza five-door wagon, the XV Crosstrek is compact on the outside, but still boasts adult-size rear seats with ample legroom and a longweekend- grade cargo compartment. On the exterior, its appearance is far tougher than the dowdy Impreza. Black trim around the wheel arches and rocker panels, a body-colored spoiler, and black alloy wheels with fatter tires give the XV Crosstrek a sporty vibe.

Test Drive: 2013 Ford Focus ST >>>

To make sure the Crosstrek has some actual outdoor credibility, Subaru has lifted the body and increased the wheel travel, resulting in an SUV-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Together with standard all-wheel drive, the XV Crosstrek is more than ready for spontaneous off-road adventures.

 

Most drivers will keep the XV on paved roads—fortunately, it drives brilliantly on asphalt. The extra ground clearance and long-travel suspension yield a supple ride and a vast view out the windshield. Responsive steering and deft handling give the XV an unshakable feel that connects it to the sporty side of the Subaru family.

What grounds the XV Crosstrek firmly in the hiking-boot camp is the 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter, flat-four engine. Equipped with the optional CVT automatic transmission ($1,000), the XV responds to green lights as if you forgot to lift the handbrake. Once rolling, the automatic transmission does its best to keep the engine on boil, but we'd rather have the involvement and control of the standard manual transmission. However, the automatic does offer commendable fuel economy for an allwheel- drive crossover: 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. Meanwhile, manual versions manage 23 city and 30 highway.

 

Next: Test Drive the XV CrossTrek >>>

[pagebreak]

Subaru XV Crosstrek Interior

Prices start at $22,790 and climb past $27,000 for the luxurious Limited model with navigation, leather seats, and an automatic transmission. Most competing crossover SUVs are more expensive, but they also cast a larger shadow. But big isn't necessarily better. The XV's smaller size graces it with a nimble feel, a lively character, and small-car fuel economy. It's a hiking shoe with athletic aspirations— just maybe not the 100-meter sprint.

Test Drives: 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 >>>

More About Subaru
● Subaru's flat-four engine is a compact, low-slung design that's inherently balanced.

● In the 1990s, Subaru won the World Rally Manufacturer Championship three times in a row.

● Subaru got its start in the U.S. in 1968 with the diminutive 360, a 25-hp two-cylinder microcar.

● Subaru's logo is a Japanese symbol for the cluster of six stars known in the West as the Pleiades.

● Founded as Nakajima Aircraft Co., Subaru first made aircraft for the Japanese military. Production ceased in 1945, Nakajima was renamed Fuji Heavy Industries, and motor-vehicle production ensued.

● If you drop the dough for the XV Crosstrek Limited package, you'll be rewarded with automatic headlights, climate control, leather upholstery, and a 4.3-inch LCD display for your music.

● The Crosstrek's fuelefficient engine averages 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway (on the automatic version) while packing 145 foot-pounds of torque.

● With 17-inch wheels and 8.7 inches of ground clearance, you'll have no problem keeping your Crosstrek's suspension clear should you encounter a particularly nasty pothole.