It’s hard to recommend a better economy car for Outside readers than the Subaru Crosstrek. It’s practical, it’s safe, and the all-wheel-drive system combines with good ground clearance to add just enough capability for life in the mountains. But there’s always been one problem: it’s slow. For 2021, Subaru is fixing that with the addition of a 2.5-liter engine that has more torque.
That four-cylinder engine comes from the 2019 Subaru Forester, offering 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. It’ll be available on the Sport and Limited trim levels of the 2021 Crosstrek. The cheaper Base and Premium trims will continue to use the old 152-horsepower, 145-pound-foot, two-liter motor.
A manual transmission will remain available on models equipped with the smaller engine. All 2.5-liter Crosstreks will come with the company’s continuously variable transmission (CVT)—a fuel-efficient twist on the automatic.
The 2.5-liter Crosstrek will return 27 miles per gallon in the city, 34 on the highway, and 29 combined. While those figures may seem somewhat inefficient to drivers more familiar with two-wheel-drive economy cars, they represent the compromise necessary to gain the slippery-conditions safety offered by Subaru’s standard all-wheel-drive system, which necessarily adds weight and friction to the drivetrain. Notably, the new, more powerful motor only gives up one mpg to the old two-liter motor.
Subaru has not released pricing for the 2021 model, but the current Crosstrek Limited costs $27,395. I expect models equipped with the 2.5-liter engine to start in that ballpark. Performance figures also remain unreleased, but the two-liter engine is capable of accelerating from zero to 60 mph in nine seconds. I’d expect the larger engine to knock about half a second off that time.
Drivers of the current model often complain about lethargic performance at highway speeds, something that’s particularly evident on long climbs at high elevation. Such challenges define driving in and around mountain towns, landscapes that the Crosstrek is otherwise ideally suited for. The larger engine, with its increased torque, should solve that issue.
Other changes include styling tweaks to the front bumper and grill, the addition of adaptive cruise control, and lane-centering driver-assistance features. The top-tier Limited trim also brings safety tech from more expensive Subaru models to the Crosstrek for the first time, including automated emergency braking while the car is reversing, blind-spot detection, and automated high beams.
Subaru is also adapting some all-wheel-drive technology from more expensive models to the 2021 Crosstrek. All models with the CVT will now be equipped with the brand’s X-Mode software, which uses the antilock brake system to match wheel speeds front to rear and side to side in an electronic imitation of four-wheel drive. New for 2021 is a hill-descent control function that helps limit the vehicle’s speed on steep descents. The Sport trim level will also add two more modes: snow and dirt, and deep snow and mud.
I’ve explained the different ways in which various drive systems and electronic traction aids prove useful in slippery conditions like snow or off-road. To briefly recap, all-wheel drive adds safety, but it cannot provide the capability of four-wheel drive. The Crosstrek remains a good option for drivers who deal with snow and dirt roads, because it’s less prone to spinning its wheels than two-wheel-drive rivals and because it remains the safest vehicle in its class.
That safety is why I recommend readers lease a Crosstrek rather than buy a larger or fancier used car. Now with a little more performance, this argument is a little more compelling.