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Motoring: Crosstrek delivers - what does that mean for sales?

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 22nd, 2012

I have come across many people who have told me point-blank that auto journalists don't know much about what makes a car suitable for the everyday buyer and hence our advice is useless.

Looking at sales figures for certain cars proves that oftentimes our advice is not taken very seriously. The cars we praise don't sell, and the ones we dislike sell by the boat loads.

Take the Ford Flex, for instance. Many auto journalists have praised its styling, its features and its value for money, yet it is the slowest selling mass-produced Ford vehicle in history. Then there is the Toyota Corolla, a car that is so depressing to drive, I'd rather take the bus, yet Toyota sells roughly a million of them globally every year.

Closer to today's subject, let's take a look at the Subaru Impreza. It has been around for two decades now, and while it has done okay, it had not set any sales records in its class. I particularly liked its second generation model (2000 to 2007), but in Canada, it was about as popular as Justin Guarini (and I bet no one remembers him).

The current fourth-generation Impreza, which has been on sale for a year now, is a vehicle I am not a big fan of. It is fine when equipped with the manual gearbox, but the CVT automatic version I drove at a Subaru event last year was probably the worst Subaru vehicle I had ever driven. And yet, this model with this CVT transmission is the best-selling Subaru vehicle to have gone on sale in Canada, ever.

Auto journalists' opinions don't count for much, it seems. But today I am writing about another new Subaru vehicle, so will my opinion help it by being negative or harm its sales by being positive about it?

Well, Subaru, apologies in advance, because my opinion for this vehicle is mostly positive. If that is a kiss of death for its sales numbers, I'm sorry, because I quite like the XV Crosstrek.

First thing's first, what is an XV Crosstrek? Think of it as the more adventurous sibling of the current Impreza model. It is, after all, based on the Impreza platform — it uses its engine, all-wheel drive system and also its transmission. Yes, that transmission includes the CVT automatic that I didn't like very much, but I will say, having driven an XV with the CVT at its launch in Collingwood, Ontario, this transmission felt very much improved over the Impreza's unit I drove a year ago. Subaru is, after all, an engineer's company, so I shouldn't be too surprised that they have been tinkering with their gearbox, making it better.

Back on topic, the XV Crosstrek is a higher-riding version of the Impreza hatchback, now with some body cladding, unique wheels and vivid paint schemes. After all, at their presentation, a Subaru exec did say that the XV is designed for "hot soccer moms."

That means it will compete with the likes of the Mitsubishi RVR, the Nissan Juke and the Mini Countryman (none of which sell in big numbers).

What is the XV like? From a styling point of view, it's not bad at all. I love the wheels (they look like they've been nicked from a concept car), I like the cladding and its other exterior enhancements, and I like its raised ground clearance, which will honestly help you clear mountains of snow in winter.

Step inside and you'll find that the interior is the same as you'd find in the Impreza. The only difference I could see is that in the XV the CVT automatic comes with manual-override paddle-shifters on the steering wheel as standard.

The interior design is nothing fancy (an advantage the Juke and the Countryman enjoy), but it is spacious enough for a family of five, and the seats are decently comfortable. You also get plenty of toys like standard automatic climate control (dual-zone in the 'Limited' package), and Bluetooth connectivity. Plus on the Limited model, you even get a touchscreen navigation system. In terms of features, it's not lacking.

Where you do feel the need for more is under the hood. Currently, the XV is only available with a 2.0- litre, flat-four cylinder motor (a.k.a. Boxer) that produces 148 hp and 145 lb/ft of torque. Power is fed to all wheels via ether a fivespeed manual gearbox or the aforementioned CVT automatic.

Subaru's tried and tested Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive system splits the power 50/50 in the manual, but the CVT model is configured to get 60 per cent power to the front and 40 per cent to the rear, but if conditions require, it too will split the power 50/50 to get you out of any sticky situation.

Subaru really wanted to prove to us that their vehicle can make it out of situations that normal vehicles just can't and hence put us on a route that had many challenging treks. I'm happy to say that the XV handled these situations like a pro, although having a stronger motor with more torque would have helped even more.

Out on the road, I really did wish the XV had the option of a turbocharged motor, because while it offers decent performance, it does make you wish it had more to offer. On the road, where most of its buyers will be driving it pretty much all the time, the XV is just as much fun as the Juke.

However, the XV rides and handles better than most of its adversaries, and depending on where you live, it could be a better choice of vehicle to have.

At the event, I drove both the manual and CVT automatic versions and came away thinking that this would be a good car for the family man, or that "hot soccer mom" that Subaru exec was referring to.

It won't cost much to run, either. Subaru claims it will manage 8.2 litres/100km in the city and 6.0 litres/100km on the highway for the CVT equipped model. It is not, however, that cheap to buy. The base Touring model is yours from $24,495. The mid-range Sport Package model is yours from $26,495, while the range topping Limited model starts at $28,995. The Juke and the RVR are cheaper, but neither of them will work where the road ends — the XV will just keep going.

I quite like the XV and would not hesitate recommending it to anyone I know who is looking to buy such a vehicle. Hope this doesn't mean, its sales will crash and burn.
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