Plug-in hybrid intriguing addition to 2019 Subaru Crosstrek. Do you qualify? Do you care?

2019 Subaru Crosstrek

2019 Subaru Crosstrek

What changes will make the 2019 Subaru Crosstrek different?

Introduction of a plug-in-hybrid variant that’ll create the only subcompact-crossover with gas-electric propulsion and all-wheel drive. The 2019 Crosstrek hybrid will join a Crosstrek lineup coming off a full model-year 2018 redesign. With returning models altered little if at all, attention will fall to the hybrid for its ability to accept an initial plug-in battery charge and run for limited distances on electricity alone.

It won’t, however, be available across the U.S.: sales are limited to California and the few other states that share its emissions standards. The gas-only Crosstreks will continue a success story begun with the model-year-2013 debut of this four-door wagon as Subaru’s smallest and least expensive crossover. A hit with young outdoorsy types, it quickly became Subaru’s third-best-selling model, behind its more family-oriented crossovers, the compact Forester and midsize Outback. The model-year-’18 redesign brought a restyled body, more sophisticated underpinnings, expanded features, and improved mechanicals.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

To audition the low-emissions advantages of the plug-in hybrid – but only if you live in California, Oregon, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, or the District of Columbia. If you do, you’ll experience a Crosstrek that augments the mainstream models’ four-cylinder gas engine with electric-motor propulsion, with just enough initial battery charge, Subaru says, to provide “pure electric drive for local commuting.”

The other 2019 Crosstreks will be virtual reruns of their model-2018 counterparts, so there’s little reason to wait. Subaru almost certainly will demand higher prices for the ‘19s, partly on the strength of surging demand. Sales of this second-generation Crosstrek increased an astounding 67 percent through April 2018, making it No. 1 in a competitive set that includes (in order of sales) the Jeep Renegade, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, as well as the Ford EcoSport, Mini Countryman, Nissan Rogue Sport, and Mazda CX-3. Also in the segment is the Hyundai Kona, which for model-year 2019 adds the Kona EV, a pure-electric model with no gas propulsion – but also without available all-wheel drive (AWD).

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

Yes, if you’re not a candidate for the hybrid and you like Crosstrek’s frisky go-anywhere ability – or just the image of it. You’ll be getting an affordable five-passenger four-door available with a laudable range of safety features, including autonomous emergency braking. The model-year-‘18 redesign moved it to the impressive new substructure Subaru stretches and condenses to suit a range of latest sedans, hatchbacks, and crossovers.

The gen-two Crosstrek keeps the basic exterior dimensions of its 2013-2017 predecessor but a 1.2-inch-longer wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles) helps make it roomier inside. Buying an ’18 gets you styling that won’t be changed until this generation’s midcycle freshening, which won’t come before model-year 2021. (The 2019 hybrid will have its own visual touches). The gas-only lineup fielded for 2018 will return for ’19, beginning with the 2.0i Base model, ascending through the better-equipped 2.0i Premium, and topping out with the flagship 2.0i Limited. Trim levels for the plug-in hybrid were not released in time for this review; we’d posit a Premium equivalent, at minimum.

Will the styling be different?

Not for the gas-only models, aside from perhaps a new color choice or two. The redesigned 2018 Crosstrek adopted the crisper edges and brand cues Subaru introduced on its 2017 Impreza compact car. Indeed, the Crosstrek looks much like an Impreza hatchback, which it essential is – albeit with contrasting-color lower-body cladding and lifted for 8.7 inches of ground clearance, an asset matched in the class only by the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk.

Subaru had not released ’19 Crosstrek hybrid styling details in time for this review. But expect it to be distinguished by some subtle visual touches, by the presence of a second fuel-filler-type door covering its plug-in-charging port, and by unique badging. What that badged will read is the subject of conjecture. The automaker recently registered the name Evoltis but hasn’t said whether it’ll apply it to the Crosstrek hybrid, to an all-new vehicle, or to market its hybrid or electric technology.

The plug-in hybrid will get instrumentation customized to display range, power flow, state of charge, and related data. But its dashboard will retain the same pleasingly functional layout of the other Crosstreks. Base and Premium should return with a 6.5-inch central dashboard screen supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Limited with an 8-incher that thus far has been the only one upgradable with optional imbedded navigation. Expect the same good-for-the price materials, roomy front buckets, and rear seating stingy on thigh support and sans excess headroom but with better-than-class-average legroom.

Numerous generously sized bins and pockets are a cabin highlight. Cargo volume behind the rear seat shrunk 7 percent in the 2018 redesign, to 20.8 cubic feet, but fold the 60/40 split seatbacks and it grows to 55.3 cubic feet, a 6.5-percent increase over gen-one. Both figures above average for the segment.

Any mechanical changes?

Not for the gas-only models. They’ll continue with one engine, a 2.0-liter with four horizontally opposed cylinders. Valued for its compactness and low center of gravity, this “boxer” design is a Subaru signature, used in 2.4-liter turbocharged form even for its new midsize Ascent 8-passenger crossover. The Crosstrek’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter was upgraded with direct fuel injection in the 2018 redesign and gained 4 horsepower, to 152, while retaining 145 pound-feet of torque — about par for the competitive set.

Expect the 2019 2.0i Base and Premium models to continue among the very few crossovers of any sort available with manual transmission, here upgraded to six speeds from five in the ’18 redesign. Most Crosstreks, though, are sold with the continuously variable automatic transmission that’s standard on the 2.0i Limited and optional for the other 2.0i models. This CVT is calibrated to approximate the stepped gear changes of a conventional automatic, and Premium and Limited grades get paddle shifters for a semblance of manual-type control. But ultimately, it’s a drag on performance, sapping throttle response and allowing the somewhat coarse-anyway engine to drone intrusively during acceleration. The six-speed manual is more fun, but pickup is mediocre at best with either transmission. Highway-speed passing and merging benefits from careful planning.

Happily, ride and handling are selling points. Subaru’s new substructure is a notably ridged platform and teams with astute suspension tuning to give the Crosstrek impressive absorbency even over big ruts and sharp ridges. Steering feel is firm and natural, and the Crosstrek changes direction confidently and remains true to its line even through bumpy turns. It’s 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.

Specifics about the hybrid powertrain were not released in time for this review, but Subaru confirms component sharing with Toyota, which offers plug-in technology in its front-wheel-drive-only Prius Prime hatchback. You’ll draw enough initial battery charge from a residential or commercial outlet to drive solely on electricity for limited distances. When its expended, the Crosstrek plug-in will automatically revert to conventional-hybrid mode, recharging via regenerative braking and coasting and sensors determining the optimal mix of gas and electric power. This vehicle will have AWD, although Subaru may accomplish that by fitting the rear axle with its own electric motor for power as needed.

Will fuel economy improve?

The unchanged gas-only 2019 Crosstreks should repeat their model-year-2018 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.

The plug-in hybrid’s ratings were not released in time for this review, but an electric-only range of less than 25 miles is a good bet. So is a combined city-highway rating of under 50 mpg in conventional-hybrid mode.

Will it have new features?

The 2018 redesign comprehensively upgraded Crosstrek’s features, so the possible migration of certain items among trim levels for 2019 is far more likely than the addition of new standard or optional equipment. On that note, we’d urge Subaru to expand availability of its EyeSight driver-assist system to the 2.0i Base model.

For 2018, EyeSight was an exclusive option for the 2.0i Premium and Limited grades. It includes autonomous emergency braking to mitigate a frontal collision, adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction. The option cost $1,395 on a Premium model. On the Limited, it included reverse autonomous braking and automatic highbeam headlamps and cost $2,095. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection was standard on the Limited and included with a moonroof in a $1,400 Premium-model option. Any EyeSight-equipped ’19 Crosstrek will again feature an individual-tire-pressure display.

In addition to the aforementioned connectivity and mechanical features, expect the 2019 Crosstrek 2.0i Base model to return with 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, and cool-looking black simulated carbon-fiber cabin accents. The ’19 2.0i Premium trim should again add to that fog lamps, heated front seats and mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with orange stitching, a windshield wiper de-icer, a sound insulated windshield, and welcome lighting.

Look for the ’19 Crosstrek 2.0i Limited to again build on the Premium with 18-inch alloy wheels, orange-stitched leather upholstery, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a power driver’s seat, and steering-linked bi-LED headlamps. In addition to its unique powertrain-related features, expect the 2019 Crosstrek hybird’s standard and optional equipment to mirror that of its gas-only trim-level counterpart(s).

How will 2019 prices be different?

They’ll assuredly rise, although red-hot competition in one of the industry’s fastest-growing market segments should minimize the increase. Expect ’19 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 $915 on the 2018 Crosstrek.

Estimated base price for the ’19 2.0i Base trim is $22,950 with manual transmission and $23,950 with the CVT. For the ’19 2.0i Premium, it’s $23,750 with manual and $24,750 with the CVT. Estimated base price for the ’19 2.0i Limited, with CVT standard, is $27,500.

As for options, expect a package that includes EyeSight, a moonroof, and blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection to again add around $2,395 to the Premium trim level. A loaded Limited would again be equipped with a roughly $3,450 package that includes EyeSight, imbedded navigation, reverse autonomous braking, automatic highbeams, and a premium Harman Kardon audio system.

Even without that option, a ’19 Crosstrek Limited will 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 redesigned 2019 r Forester compact crossover. Aimed at a more family-oriented audience, it’ll be usefully larger than the youthful Crosstrek.

When will it come out?

Look for a release date for the 2019 Crosstrek 2.0i line during summer 2018, with the ’19 Crosstrek plug-in hybrid following in the fall 2018.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to 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, 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]