2019 Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid First Drive: The Overachiever

The first-generation Subaru Crosstrek arrived in 2013 and aimed to capture the hearts of city-dwellers that spend their weekends outdoors. Customers who desired a compact SUV (or is it a lifted hatchback?) with off-road chops to travel beyond city limits began to take note of the Crosstrek’s credentials. With each model year, it built up its stature in the market, outselling itself again and again. In 2018, Subaru sold 280 percent more Crosstreks than it did the year the car launched five years ago, making it the brand’s third-best overall seller.

With the second-generation Crosstrek now a year old and selling in large numbers, the time is right for Subaru to add a new plug-in variant to the range. That’s right: though the car wears “Hybrid” in its title, owners can recharge the Crosstrek Hybrid by plugging it into a wall outlet (or at various charging locations across the country), making it the most fuel-efficient model in the Subaru family. Like any overachieving kid, the new plug-in wants to be the best at just about everything and spends a fair amount of time looking squarely at its non-hybrid sibling, sticking up its nose, and proudly teasing “anything you can do, I can do better.”

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...