Subaru Crosstrek adds power to fend off new rivals

Subaru of America finds its Crosstrek in a suddenly crowded segment, and it’s adding a little muscle to protect its turf.

Following the 2018 introduction of the largest Subaru, the three-row Ascent, and redesigns of its most critical models, the Outback in 2019 and the Forester in 2018, Subaru’s biggest product update in 2020 is a midcycle freshen of its smallest crossover.

It’s a timely update for the subcompact model that has become a crucial contributor of U.S. sales during the brand’s rapid growth over the last decade.

The Crosstrek, launched in 2012 as the XV Crosstrek, was just one of two models in the new subcompact crossover segment at the time, the other being the Nissan Juke.

Today, there are 19 nameplates, each fighting for sales and, oftentimes, a chance to bring a new customer into the brand.

“For a lot of people, their first or second new car would be in a segment like this,” Jeff Walters, Subaru of America’s senior vice president of sales, said in August. “For a lot of them, whoever is buying in this segment is probably a little bit more likely to be new to that brand. It’s obviously been an important segment that we do well [in].”

In its first full year of sales, 2013, Subaru of the XV crossovers Last year, it sold 131,152 Crosstreks, a decline of 9.2 percent, which Subaru pinned on production capacity constraints in Japan.

Subaru sold 76,924 Crosstreks through September, a decline of 22 percent, and is behind only the Chevrolet Trax in the segment, according to the Automotive News Data Center. It was the bestselling subcompact crossover in the third quarter.

“When Crosstrek first came out, even in 2013, 2014, we were hitting sales numbers that were better than expected,” said Garrick Goh, car line planning manager. “It was filling that niche that really wasn’t there in the market. And now everybody’s trying to scramble to fill that niche. But because we were there early, and because of the power of the Subaru brand, it’s been really good to us.”

For the 2021 Crosstrek, the focus of the freshen is not an updated front bumper or grille, though it does have both — it’s power. There’s finally more available.

By utilizing the same 2.5-liter engine found in the Legacy, Forester and Outback, Subaru has addressed the biggest knock on the Crosstrek: It needed more oomph.

The 2.5-liter engine provides 182 hp and 176 pound-feet of torque, a jump from the 2.0-liter engine’s 152 hp and 145 pound-feet of torque.

Subaru has placed the bigger engines in two trims: Sport, which is new with the freshen, and top-of-the-line Limited.

Base and Premium trims carry on with the 2.0-liter engine.

Subaru anticipates that the 2.5-liter engine will account for 50 percent of Crosstrek sales.

The Crosstrek starts at $23,295 while the Crosstrek Sport trim starts at $27,545. Prices include shipping.

The freshened Crosstrek, on sale now, arrived in what has been a busy period for its segment.

In 2020, the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Buick Encore GX and Kia Seltos launched. Late last year, the Mazda CX-30 and Hyundai Venue went on sale.

“We have done really well in terms of market share, and there’s a lot more competition in it,” Walters said of the segment. “But we’re very confident we can defend our share with this bigger engine and maybe increase it a little bit more.”

Subaru knows that the segment it helped create is only getting bigger, but with the freshen, the brand still has the benefit of being well established in a segment with new competing faces, some of which debuted in other markets first.

“That segment is interesting because a lot of other companies have brought in models from other markets that were not designed with the U.S. specifically in mind,” Goh said.

The U.S. had “cars that are a little bit too small, cars that are too narrow, cars that are too underpowered.

“But with the more recent redesigns of some of the competitors, I think they’ve noticed that Crosstrek is kind of the sweet spot for the segment. Their footprint, power and equipment levels are getting more similar. If you go on some of their websites, you’ll see them calling out Crosstrek. That’s a new thing we’ve noticed in the last year: The competition is intensifying.”