With a punchier engine, the already good Crosstrek gets a bit better.
The only thing we’ve ever really disliked about the Subaru Crosstrek was how lethargic it was. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine simply wasn't punchy enough, even for such a small crossover. But Subaru listened, and this year the company introduced a new Sport model that adds a punchier 2.5-liter engine, and we really like the result.
The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek now produces a solid 182 horsepower – 30 more than the base 2.0-cylinder model – and it does so with a bit more panache, thanks to the new Sport trim. The Crosstrek Sport dons new wheels, lime green–accented badges, and some additional interior cues and exterior hues to make it all a bit more interesting.
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Unlike the fussier-looking Forester Sport with its orange accents and striking flourishes, Subaru kept the styling of the Crosstrek Sport relatively simple. Alongside updated elements found throughout the range, like revised headlights and a new rear design, the sportier wagon adopts trim-specific 17-inch wheels finished in dark grey, a shade that also makes its way to the grille, mirror caps, roof rails, and badges. The darkened accents pop even more when matched with our car's Horizon Blue Pearl paint job, and in general, the Crosstrek is still very much a looker.
The only other indication of the Crosstrek's new character is a “Sport” badge on the trunklid surrounded by lime green trim. That's the only place the color appears on the exterior of the vehicle, but those accents do carry over to the cabin, draped atop the steering wheel and shifter, embroidered into the floor mats, and stitched in the seatbacks. The lime green finishes aren't offensive to the eye, but they are bold and plentiful.
Otherwise, the inside of the Crosstrek Sport looks pretty generic. Black leather covers the steering wheel and shift knob, while the seats and dash wear a waterproof faux leather that looks and feels close to real cowhide.
Even though the Crosstrek Sport doesn't have leather seating surfaces – only the range-topping Limited does – the StarTex material on the seats and dash does an excellent job of mimicking the real stuff. It's soft, supple, and supportive, especially in the front two seats. Driver and front passenger should be more than comfortable in these buckets over long stretches. Plus, there's plenty of room in the front compartment; the Crosstrek Sport's 39.8 inches of front headroom and 43.1 inches of legroom are some of the best dimensions in the class.
The second row feels plenty spacious, too, with more than enough head and legroom for your six-foot-tall author to sit comfortably. That said, the 36.5 inches of legroom are middling for the class, as are the 38.0 inches of headroom. Plus that dramatically sloped roof does make for a really tight rear entryway.
In terms of ride quality, the Crosstrek has a suspension that can't be beat. It's one of the cushiest options in the class and floats over the pavement – smooth and imperfect – without shrugging. That also helps it off the road; when the going gets tough, the Crosstrek's setup soaks up impacts from even the rockiest dirt roads.
Standard on the Crosstrek Sport is a 6.5-inch touchscreen with the brand's Starlink infotainment system baked in. But our car gets the optional 8.0-inch touchscreen as part of a $1,600 package that also includes blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and a sunroof. The screen isn't huge, but the home layout is clean, the graphics are crisp, and touch responsiveness is on par with the quickness of a modern smartphone. And even on the base 6.5-inch screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.
The Sport model also gets 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity and a relatively basic multifunction screen within the analog gauge clusters, a Harmon-Kardon premium audio system, and two USB-A ports for front passengers. But there are some missing features that you might find in the alternatives, like wireless charging and USB-C ports.
As we mentioned, the Crosstrek Sport fixes the only major issue we’ve ever really had with the model: the engine. Although the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder Boxer from last year carries over on the base and Premium models, our tester (and the range-topping Limited) get a punchier 2.5-liter four-cylinder. This engine produces 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet, or 30 hp and 29 lb-ft more than the base 2.0-liter.
Torque is ample down low, giving the Sport model great verve off the line, while there's still enough juice at highway speeds for easy overtaking without having to mash the gas pedal (as you might do in the base engine). Paired to that new engine is a continuously variable transmission that's one of the better options in the segment, although the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue sound less whiny at speed with their respective CVTs.
One thing that's noticeable while driving the Crosstrek Sport on the road is that this car is designed to tackle the tougher stuff, much like its sibling the Outback. The suspension is cushy, the steering is light (and maybe a touch too vague), and the brakes feel – for lack of a better word – mushy. We experienced some of those same sensations in the Outback, which excels on the trails. We didn't have a chance to take the Crosstrek off-road, but we assume it'd feel very similar.
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Subaru's advanced EyeSight driver assist feature comes standard on the Crosstrek Sport (as well as the Limited), and includes adaptive cruise control with distance assist, lane-keep assist with a sway warning, and automatic emergency braking. Our car also comes standard with high-beam assist and gets a $1,600 package that includes blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, as well as lane change assist.
And all of the Subaru Crosstrek's safety systems work as intended. The adaptive cruise control maintains a steady distance to the car in front of it, rear cross-traffic alert warns you of oncoming traffic from a considerable distance, and the automatic high beams click on and off seamlessly as the vehicle sees fit. The only complaint we have is that lane-keep assist, which gives off a high-pitched beep when you cross over a lane, is very sensitive.
The Subaru Crosstrek Sport has a fuel economy rating of 27 miles per gallon city, 34 highway, and 29 combined. The base 2.0-liter engine with a CVT is slightly better, achieving 28 city, 33 highway, and 30 combined. Against front-wheel-drive alternatives, the Subaru's fuel economy is middling. But against all-wheel-drive options, the Subaru Sport has some of the best fuel economy in the class.
The Crosstrek Sport’s 29 combined mpg puts it at the top of the pack alongside the Kia Seltos. The Honda HR-V and the Hyundai Kona with all-wheel drive both get just 28 mpg combined, the Mazda CX-30 Turbo achieves 27 mpg, the Fiat 500X gets 26 mpg, and the Ford EcoSport and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport achieve just 25 mpg combined.
The most affordable Subaru Crosstrek is the base model, which costs $22,245. But the entry point of the Crosstrek Sport with the punchier engine is $26,495. Compared to its nearest competitors with optional turbocharged units, the Crosstrek Sport is one of the pricier options of the bunch; the turbocharged Jeep Renegade costs $29,145, the Kia Seltos Turbo costs $25,490, and the boosted Hyundai Kona costs $26,100. Only the Mazda CX-30 Turbo is more expensive, asking $29,900 to start.
But the Crosstrek Sport is well-equipped with seven no-cost exterior colors – including the handsome Horizon Blue Pearl tested here – and standard Eyesight active safety. The lone option is a $1,600 package that adds a moonroof, blind-spot detection, and the larger infotainment screen. With that (plus handling and destination), our car costs $29,145.
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Gallery: 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport: Review
2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport