Subaru’s First Hybrid

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid.

When hybrid cars first came onto the scene at the dawn of this millennium, they quickly became a natural for drivers who felt a connection to earthy pursuits. Between their fuel economy and green image, hybrids are often the darling of people who identify themselves as environmentalists.

And for many years, Subaru has built all wheel drive cars and wagons that attracted outdoorsy types who like to experience nature, hiking, kayaking and snowboarding. There’s a running joke that a rusty Subaru wagon is the state car of Colorado.

So there’s a bit of kismet in the company’s newest offering: the XV Crosstrek Hybrid. Yes, finally, a hybrid from the brand that probably has more Birkenstock shoes touching its pedals than any other. Folks who love the planet – and love the outdoors – can now show up at their favorite trailhead or Greenpeace fundraiser in a Subaru hybrid.

Like many hybrids, the new Crosstrek utilizes an electric motor and battery pack, which can operate separately from the gasoline engine. At low speeds, if there’s sufficient charge in the battery, the new Subie glides along silently and free of exhaust emissions.

But when both power systems are needed, they combine to send 160 horsepower through the CVT automatic transmission and out to all four wheels. (Yes, in the recent Subaru tradition, the Crosstrek Hybrid is all wheel drive.) Compare that to the conventional version of this car’s 148 horsepower, and you can see that there’s a power advantage to the hybrid.

Of course there’s a weight disadvantage, just as there is with any hybrid model which has a non-hybrid equivalent beside it on the showroom floor. But the extra hybrid hardware is packaged very efficiently in this one, with a barely noticeable loss in cargo capacity. We’re talking less than the equivalent of a small duffle bag.

And in general, the XV Crosstrek is a dandy little package, based on the Impreza wagon. Not too big and not too small, with reasonable fuel economy and on-road manners. Think of the Crosstrek as a baby brother to the legendary Subaru Outback.

Like all Subarus, this one utilizes the company’s signature horizontally-opposed or “flat” four cylinder engine under the hood. But unlike most hybrids, when you go to start it, it starts just like a conventional engine. Most hybrids have this magic “it just begins to run” sequence when the ignition key is turned. Subaru must have their reasons for this, but it does lose a tiny bit of the hybrid mystique, starting as it does like every other Subaru.

Standard on the XV Crosstrek Hybrid is a central display for various functions, including operation of the hybrid system. You can see how the power is flowing to and from the battery, and thus adjust your driving toward maximum efficiency.

If you are efficient, the EPA says the Subaru hybrid is good for 29 miles per gallon city and 33 highway. What’s a little odd is that in pretty much every other hybrid using a parallel system like this, the city number is better than the highway number. In my own non-scientific testing, I did notice that the gas engine seemed to be running quite a bit, again in comparison to other hybrids I’ve driven.

Base price for a 2014 XV Crosstrek Hybrid “Premium” (that’s what Subaru calls the base model) is $25,995. The upgrade to the Limited trim level gets you a navigation system, moonroof and leather seats, and runs $29,295. One cool exclusive to the hybrid model is a new choice of color, Plasma Green Pearl. In a sea of silver cars, this interesting shade of lime green really does stand out.

And this hybrid really does stand out in the car market. The only two vehicles I could think of that are even close to being a small hybrid crossover SUV are the Ford C-Max (no all wheel drive, and it looks more like a wagon) and the Audi Q5 Hybrid (really expensive at about $50,000 and very limited production).

No, this Subaru’s an individual, for sure. Just as many environmentalists and nature lovers probably prefer.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz

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