2020 Subaru Crosstrek subcompact crossover: go-anywhere cred, plug-in-hybrid cool, but there’s a problem

2020 Subaru Crosstrek

What changes will make the 2020 Subaru Crosstrek different?

Little of consequence as America’s most popular subcompact crossover settles into its second-generation design. All new for model-year 2018, Crosstrek for ’19 added a plug-in-hybrid variant, becoming the only subcompact crossover to combine gas-electric propulsion with all-wheel drive (AWD).

You’ll only find the Crosstrek Hybrid at Subaru dealers in 10 low-emissions-mandated states, however. The lion’s share of 2020 Crosstrek sales will remain with the gas-only line. Returning for ‘20 as the Japanese automaker’s smallest crossover, this youth-oriented five-seater will again slot below Subaru’s more family-targeted Forester compact crossover and the midsize Outback.

Crosstrek’s next significant update should come via a midcycle refresh, around model-year 2022. Subaru, though, may be compelled to make more extensive changes than is the midcycle norm. Crosstrek sales slipped a sobering 22 percent in the first quarter of 2019. That’s a dramatic reversal from the 31-percent jump in the first year of the redesign and demonstrates the competitiveness of the subcompact-crossover segment.

It may also reflect potential buyers discovering this latest Crosstrek’s main fault: the gas-only models feel underpowered. Still, the 2019 Crosstrek was clinging to the No. 1 sales position in the segment, a spot it’s held for several years even as rivals like the Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, and Jeep Renegade were gaining ground.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek. Where the ’20 might be different, we’ll reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy a 2019?

Little reason to wait. The 2020 Crosstrek should be a virtual rerun of the ’19, although prices are almost certain to increase. It’ll again be laudably space-efficient and fuel-stingy, with standard AWD, sporty handling on-road, and capability off-road matched in this segment only by the Renegade Trailhawk.

Gas-only versions of the ’20 Crosstrek will return with a 152-horsepower four-cylinder engine and remain badged 2.0i models. They’ll repeat Base, Premium and Limited trim levels. Along with certain Renegade models, the ’20 Crosstrek 2.0i Base and Premium grades should again be the only subcompact crossovers available with a manual transmission.

Subaru for 2019 extended availability of its optional EyeSight driver-assist system to the 2.0i Base model. It includes autonomous emergency braking, among other safety features. It should return as standard on the 2.0i Limited and on the Hybrid model, and the automaker could include it as standard on the 2020 2.0i Premium as a sales inducement.

Expect the 2020 Crosstrek Hybrid to return in a single trim level, essentially equivalent to the 2.0i Limited and with EyeSight as standard. It’ll have less horsepower than its gas-only brethren — a net 148 – but better performance, plus the ability to travel 17 emissions-free miles on battery power alone. It also will again qualify for High Occupancy Vehicle permits in many states.

For model-year 2020, the Crosstrek Hybrid is likely to remain one of just three AWD plug-in hybrids in the non-luxury market, the others being the subcompact Mini Cooper S E Countryman and the compact Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. In Europe, Jeep sells plug-in-hybrid versions of the Renegade and compact Compass crossovers, but hasn’t announced plans to sell them in the U.S. It has confirmed, however, that it’ll offer U.S. buyers a plug-in variant of its Wrangler SUV as a 2020 or ’21 model.

One caveat that applied to the ’19 Crosstrek Hybrid and probably will hold for the 2020: Subaru dealers nationwide are free to sell you one, but the automaker guarantees only those in states that follow California’s stringent vehicle-emissions standards are trained to provide full service for the crossover’s Lithium-ion battery. As of early 2019, those dealers were in California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Will the styling be different?

No, aside from perhaps a new color choice or two. The ’20 Crosstrek will again look much like Subaru’s Impreza compact hatchback, which it essential is – albeit with contrasting-color lower-body cladding and a suspension raised to provide 8.7 inches of ground clearance, an asset matched in the class only by the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.

In the 2.0i line, expect visual differences between models to include details such as black mirrors vs. body-colored for the Base model, and for the Limited, LED headlamps and 18-inch alloy wheels vs. 17s.

The ’20 Crosstrek Hybrid will again be distinguished by blue headlight rings, silver-metallic-finished grille and body trim, unique 18-inch alloy wheels, and a black rear spoiler and low-profile roof rails. It’ll wear “Plug-In Hybrid” badges and in addition to the fuel door on the right rear fender, a charge-port door on left rear fender labeled “Plug-in.”

Inside, rely on the same good-for-the price materials and roomy front buckets. Rear passengers will again get a bench stingy on thigh support and won’t enjoy much excess headroom. But they’ll be treated to better-than-class-average legroom.

The 2.0i Base and Premium cabins should return with handsome simulated carbon-fiber trim and durable cloth upholstery. The Premium will again dress up with orange stitching; a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift handle; and illumination for the ignition ring, glovebox, and all power-window switches.

The 2020 Limited will have all that, plus leather upholstery. The ’19 Crosstrek Hybrid came with blue-themed interior accents and leather upholstery in an exclusive gray-and-blue combo; Subaru could add other schemes for ’20.

All ’20 Crosstreks will again share a dashboard that blends modern form and straight-forward function. The 2.0i Base and Premium should return with a 6.5-inch central screen supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 2.0i Limited and the Hybrid will get an 8-inch screen and will likely remain the only 2020 Crosstreks upgradable with optional imbedded navigation. The Hybrid will also be back with a multi-function instrument screen to display range, power flow, state of charge, and related data.

Numerous generously sized bins and pockets will remain a cabin highlight. All ’20 Crosstreks will again have 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. The 2.0i line will return with 20.8 cubic feet of cargo volume with the seatbacks up, 55.3 cubic feet with them folded. Both figures are above average for the segment.

Making room for the battery pack requires a plastic housing that elevates the Hybrid’s cargo floor several inches. This reduces overall volume to 15.9 and 43.1 cubic feet, respectively, and compromises Crosstrek’s otherwise easy liftover height. Don’t look for Subaru to introduce a power liftgate for 2020.

Any mechanical changes?

No. The 2.0i models will continue with one engine, a 2.0-liter four with horizontally opposed cylinders. Appreciated for its compactness and low center of gravity, this “boxer” design is used by Subaru in all its cars and crossovers. Here, it’ll almost certainly return with 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. That output will again be about par for the competitive set, but a 2.0i Crosstrek nonetheless feels tepid; road test a ’20 thoroughly to see if you can live with its acceleration.

Expect the 2020 2.0i Base and Premium models to continue among the very few crossovers of any strip available with manual transmission, here a six-speed. The lion’s share of 2.0i Crosstreks, however, will again be sold with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It’ll be standard on the 2.0i Limited and optional for the other 2.0i models. Subaru calibrates this CVT to approximate the stepped gear changes of a conventional automatic, and Premium and Limited grades will again get paddle shifters for a semblance of manual-type control.

But ultimately, the CVT throws a wet blanket on performance. It saps throttle response and allows the overly coarse engine to drone intrusively during acceleration. The six-speed manual is more fun, but pickup is mediocre at best with either transmission. At a leisurely 9.2 seconds 0-60 mph, it’s among the slowest crossovers in the competitive set. And be advised that highway-speed passing and merging benefits from careful planning.

The 2020 Crosstrek Hybrid will return a modified version of the 2.0i model’s four-cylinder engine with electric-motor assist. Net output is 148 horsepower. Subaru doesn’t publish a torque figure, but torque is the key ingredient in acceleration and in practice, the electric motor’s ability to generate it near instantly makes the Hybrid feel far livelier than any gas-only Crosstrek. The Hybrid uses a CTV, too, (sans paddle shifters), but nonetheless furnishes alert midrange throttle response and confident passing power. It does 0-60 in a respectable 8.3 seconds, although its subject to the same intrusive engine drone that plagues the 2.0i models during rapid acceleration.

The 8.8-kilowatt battery pack can draw enough initial charge from a residential or commercial outlet to propel the Crosstrek Hybrid solely on electricity for up to 17 miles or up to 65 mph. When that range is expended or 65 mph exceeded, the Crosstrek plug-in automatically reverts to conventional-hybrid mode, recharging via regenerative braking and coasting. In this mode, sensors automatically determine the optimal mix of gas and electric power. Unlike some plug-in hybrids, this Crosstrek doesn’t give its driver an EV button to lock in battery-only driving. It does, however, have a “B-range” shift mode to maximize regenerative engine braking.

Ride and handling will again be selling points for any 2020 Crosstrek. It’s notably rigid substructure teams with astute suspension tuning to furnish impressive absorbency even over big ruts and sharp ridges. Steering feel is firm and natural, and Crosstrek changes direction confidently and remains true to its line even through bumpy turns.

Every ’20 Crosstrek will again be a surprisingly adept bulldog off pavement, too. Lavish ground clearance is a plus, and so is the standard AWD, which automatically transfers torque to the wheels with the best traction. Acting as low-range gearing for extra tenacity off-road is Subaru’s X-mode setting included with the CVT. Note that while most other plug-in hybrids achieve AWD with a dedicated electric motor to power the rear wheels as needed, the Crosstrek Hybrid retains the mechanical system used by its gas-only sibling.

Will fuel economy improve?

The unchanged gas-only 2020 Crosstreks should repeat their model-year-2019 EPA ratings. That would place them on par with AWD rivals, though many of those competitors have more power and stronger acceleration. Look for the 2.0i models to again rate 23/29/25 mpg city/highway/combined with the six-speed manual transmission and 27/33/29 with the CVT.

Expect the 2020 Crosstrek Hybrid to rate the equivalent of 90 mpg when operating on electricity alone and 35 mpg city-highway combined when running as a conventional hybrid. Note that at 13.2 gallons, its gas tank holds 3.4 gallons less than the 2.0i model’s, although both have a roughly 480-mile range between fillups.

Will it have new features?

Subaru may shuffle a few items among trim levels, but don’t count on it to introduce new features. We applaud the automaker’s decision to expand availability of its respected EyeSight driver-assist system to the 2.0i Base model – although it’s too bad its available only with manual transmission there and on the 2.0i Premium.

In addition to autonomous emergency braking that can stop the Crosstrek to mitigate a frontal collision, EyeSight includes adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, plus lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction. If it remains an option for the 2020 2.0i Base CVT model, expect it to again cost a very reasonably $850 or so.

As noted, EyeSight should return as standard on the 2020 Crosstrek 2.0i Limited and on the Hybrid, where it’ll be supplemented with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, plus reverse autonomous braking and automatic highbeam headlamps.

As an option on the 2.0i Premium with CVT, it should again run around $1,395 packaged with blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection; expect to add another $1,000 for an option that bundles all that with a power moonroof. If for some reason you wanted a 2019 2.0i Premium with the CVT, the moonroof, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection but not EyeSight, you could specify a $1,400 option package. We’d urge Subaru to simply make blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection standard on the 2020 2.0i Crosstrek Premium.

In addition to the aforementioned connectivity and mechanical features, expect the 2020 Crosstrek 2.0i Base model to return with 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, and remote keyless entry. The ’20 2.0i Premium should again add to that fog lamps, heated front seats and mirrors, a windshield wiper de-icer, a sound insulated windshield, a retractable cargo cover, and welcome lighting.

Look for the ’20 Crosstrek 2.0i Limited to again build on the Premium with 18-inch alloy wheels, the orange-stitched leather upholstery, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a power driver’s seat, and steering-linked bi-LED headlamps. Those standard features should again be duplicated by the 2020 Crosstrek Hybrid.

How will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll assuredly rise, although slipping Crosstrek sales and red-hot competition in one of the industry’s fastest-growing market segments should minimize the increase. Expect ’20 Crosstrek pricing to again be competitive with AWD versions of most rivals. Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $975 on the 2019 Crosstrek.

Estimated base price for the ’20 2.0i Base trim is $22,990 with manual transmission and $23,990 with the CVT. For the ’20 2.0i Premium, expect prices to start around $24,990 with manual and $25,990 with the CVT.

Estimated base price for the ’20 2.0i Limited, with CVT standard, is $28,300. Look for the Limited to again be available with the moonroof as a stand-alone $1,000 option and a roughly $2,350 package that includes the moonroof, imbedded navigation, and an upgraded harman kardon audio system.

Estimated base price for the 2020 Crosstrek Hybrid is $36,200, although buyers should again be eligible for a $4,500 federal tax credit, as well as additional state credits that may be offered to qualified buyers. The moonroof, navigation, and premium audio, plus a heated steering wheel, should return as a roughly $2,500 option for the 2020 Crosstrek Hybrid.

Overall, the 2020 Crosstrek’s go-anywhere attitude — backed by genuine off-road ability – should again give this little four-door wagon a measure of personality missing in most rivals.

Apathetic acceleration might be a deal-breaker for some 2.0i shoppers, but the Hybrid should remain a competitive value in a small AWD plug-in cohort that includes the Mini Countryman ALL4 (221 horsepower, EV range of 12 miles, starting price around $38,000) and the slightly larger Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (197 horsepower, 22-mile EV range, starting around $34,300).

Even without options, a ’20 Crosstrek 2.0i Limited would again be priced within range of lower-trim-line compact crossovers that probably wouldn’t feature leather upholstery but would be roomier and more powerful. That includes Subaru’s own Forester.

When will it come out?

Look for a 2020 Crosstrek release date during third quarter 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, Mini Cooper Countryman, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Toyota C-HR.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]