2021 Subaru Crosstrek Review

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Feb 24, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Subaru deals!

Subaru’s smallest crossover SUV, the Crosstrek, is the brand’s third best-selling model after the midsize Outback and compact Forester. As with all Subaru SUVs, the 5-passenger Crosstrek comes standard with all-wheel drive

Now in its fourth model year since a major redesign in 2018, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek gets some minor appearance updates, including a new grille, front bumper, and wheel designs. There’s also a new Sport trim, positioned between Premium and Limited, which brings unique gunmetal exterior trim, sporty wheel-arch moldings, synthetic seat coverings with yellow accent stitching, added EyeSight safety features, and a dual-function X-Mode traction system. 

Most importantly, a larger and more powerful 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine is now standard with Sport and Limited trim. The new engine gives the Crosstrek a much needed boost in horsepower and torque, but is not available with the base or Premium trims, both of which continue with the same 2.0-liter 4-cylinder used in previous years. The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek also is available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Prices for the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek range from $23,295 to $31,440, including the $1,050 destination charge. The plug-in Crosstrek Hybrid tallies up to $36,395 with destination included.

This review focuses on the specifics of the new Sport trim and its more powerful 2.5-liter engine. Previously, J.D. Power published expert reviews of the 2018 Crosstrek and 2019 Crosstrek Hybrid

What Owners Say About the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek - Find the best Subaru deals!

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Front Quarter View

Photo: Ron Sessions

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 59% of Subaru Crosstrek owners are female (vs. 58% for the segment), and the median age of a Crosstrek owner is 55 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about the Subaru Crosstrek are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Feeling of safety
  • Driving feel
  • Getting in and out
  • Setting up and starting

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Subaru Crosstrek are (in descending order) the: 

  • Interior design
  • Driving comfort
  • Fuel economy
  • Infotainment system
  • Powertrain

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the Crosstrek ranked number nine out of 16 small SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Subaru Crosstrek - Find the best Subaru deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a 2021 Crosstrek Sport equipped with the following options:

  • Power moonroof
  • Blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic warning
  • Starlink 8-inch Multimedia Plus infotainment system 

The price of the test vehicle came to $29,145, including the $1,050 destination charge.

Crosstrek Sport Trim Brings Visual Appeal

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Interior Dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

Viewed from the winged and turbocharged WRX sedan and drift-king BRZ side of Subaru, the brand’s SUVs look pretty tame. But everything’s relative and the new 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport raises the volume with some colorful elements, especially if you like yellow.

Low-key at a glance, our Horizon Blue Pearl Crosstrek Sport test vehicle wore dark gray 17-inch alloys; low-gloss gray wheel arch moldings, front and rear fascias, and rocker extensions; and a black-out grille, side mirrors, window surround, and roof rack.

But open a Crosstrek Sport’s door and there’s a natty two-tone gray interior with some nicely bolstered front bucket seats. The gray is set off against yellow stitching and other accents on the seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter boot, door panels, armrests, and more. There’s some simulated carbon-fiber trim as well.

About those seats. With Sport trim, the front buckets and 60/40-split rear bench seat are covered in water-repellant StarTex material. This isn’t just another simulated leather seat covering, so it may feel untraditional at first. It’s a synthetic that Subaru says is more durable than some conventional materials.

Slightly Larger Engine Makes a Big Difference

Unlike the sport compact car wing of Subaru with its performance-oriented WRX and BRZ offerings, the brand’s crossover SUVs are renowned for their sober ability to press on regardless and reach intended destinations at a more measured pace. 

That said, most SUV owners value a responsive engine that can get up to speed to merge onto freeways and interstates without drama and overtake slower vehicles on two-lane highways safely and without too much left-lane exposure. According to J.D. Power data, Crosstrek owners say the standard engine is their least favorite thing about the SUV. 

For 2021, Subaru solves for that with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. It’s standard and exclusive to the Sport and Limited trim levels, supplying 182 horsepower and 176 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s an increase of 30 hp and 31 lb.-ft. over the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that’s standard in lower Crosstrek trims this year.

While the 2.0-liter Crosstrek’s 152 hp and 145 lb.-ft. is comparable to standard powerplants in small crossover SUVs such as the Honda HR-V and Hyundai Kona, the new 2.5-liter gives the Crosstrek Sport and Limited the chutzpah to run with competitors with larger standard engines such as the Kia Sportage and Jeep Compass. The new 2.5-liter Crosstrek can now accelerate from zero to 60 mph in around eight seconds, making it at least a second quicker than the 2.0-liter Crosstrek.

You might think that a 20% boost in power and commensurate uptick in torque would exact a fuel economy penalty. Here’s the payoff. The 2.5-liter engine is EPA-rated at 29 mpg combined, just shy of the 2.0-liter with the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which gets 30 mpg.

During a 140-mile drive that was 20% local roads and 80% freeways with speeds varying between 55 and 75 mph, the 2021 Crosstrek Sport with the 2.5-liter engine achieved an observed average fuel economy of 37 mpg. That’s an impressive number, and when combined with the Crosstrek’s generous 16.6-gallon fuel tank, gives the SUV an almost-diesel-worthy, hypothetical 614-mile cruising range.

From the driver’s seat, the new 2.5-liter doesn’t make the Crosstrek feel much different than the 2.0-liter. Mainly, the difference is that with the normal ebb and flow of traffic, the 2.5-liter barely works up a sweat while the 2.0-liter sometimes has to hustle to keep pace. The result is a sense of ease and effortlessness, making the 2.5-liter the right engine choice for most Crosstrek buyers. Those who prefer a manual transmission will still need to stick with the smaller 2.0-liter.

Dual-Function X-Mode Adds Flexibility

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Rear Quarter

Photo: Ron Sessions

When equipped with the CVT, all Subaru SUVs, from the Crosstrek and Forester to the Outback and Ascent, come standard with a driver-activated X-Mode off-road traction control system. Pushing the X-Mode button on the center console activates an array of sensors monitoring wheel slippage, vehicle speed, and engine speed with the goal of making the most of available traction by tweaking engine output, transmission ratio, the AWD system’s front/rear power split, and controlling tire slippage by braking the wheels individually using the Crosstrek’s anti-lock brake system.

It is combined with a hill descent control system that allows the Crosstrek to travel down steep terrain at low speeds without using the brakes. With hill descent control engaged, the driver can focus on steering the Crosstrek safely over, around, or through obstacles without worrying about skidding and sliding, or descending at too high a rate of speed.

Sport trim adds a pair of X-Mode settings for dealing with specific traction challenges: Snow/Dirt and Deep Snow/Mud. These settings are not available with other Crosstrek trims.

Enhanced EyeSight Adds Lane-centering Assistance

At the core of Subaru’s EyeSight advanced driving assistance system (ADAS) are a pair of cameras flanking the rearview mirror that keep an extra set of “eyes” on the road ahead. The cameras work with EyeSight’s forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control systems. It’s now standard on all Subaru Crosstrek models with a CVT.

For 2021, Eyesight adds advanced adaptive cruise control with lane-centering assistance to its roster of features. Push the lane-centering button on the steering wheel, and the system uses its cameras to identify highway lane markings and steer the Crosstrek down the middle of the lane. This is a Level 2 ADAS, but it requires the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

Even though it’s a hands-on system, you can feel the steering wheel tugging this way and that as it (mostly) succeeds at its mission. It’s not completely free of bugs as the steering wheel will sometimes tug to the right at exit ramps even though you have not signaled your intention to exit. Let go of the steering wheel and you’ll get warning beeps and messages before too many seconds pass. 

The good news is you can set the following distance to the vehicle ahead and use the advanced cruise control without the steering assistance if it bothers you. Turning the lane-centering technology off allows the driver some leeway to move around in the lane to avoid things like truck tire treads, dead possums, and nasty potholes, or to give more space to a semi-truck crowding you or a pedestrian or stopped vehicle on the road shoulder – all without fighting the steering wheel.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Subaru deals!

2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport Front Quarter 2

Photo: Ron Sessions

Subaru’s smallest crossover SUV continues to get a little better with each passing year. By any account, the most significant improvement to the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek is the new 182-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder in the Limited and new Sport trims. Offering more than a 20% increase in power and torque with only a small (1-mpg) drop in EPA-estimated fuel economy is a win-win.

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive and consumer web sites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2023 J.D. Power

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