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Subaru converts the Impreza into a compact crossover -

Despite its clunky name, the premise for the 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is a fairly simple one: Subaru takes the basic Impreza five-door formula, injects it with a bit more go-anywhere ability, juices up its appearance with some kicky colors, cool wheels and rugged body cladding, and calls the whole thing a compact crossover.

In fact, where the Impreza is classified by the EPA as a car, the Crosstrek—with its three additional inches of ride height—is considered a truck. And as such, its 25/33 mpg city/highway rating (CVT models) gives Subaru a big CAFE boost.

It is rather surprising how much different the Crosstrek looks from an Impreza five-door, at least from the outside, despite sharing an almost identical silhouette. Inside, the Crosstrek is identical to the Impreza but for the seat fabric. The difference extends beyond the vehicle's stance, too, though its 8.7-inch ground clearance is class-leading. The standard roof rails (and optional crossbars) help, as do the black wheel arches, side cladding, privacy glass and rear roof spoiler. And the Crosstrek gets unique front and rear fascias, with integrated fog lamps, a more defined lower front scoop and extra black cladding in back—all bits that echo its bigger sibling, the Outback.

In fact, it's the fun palette of paint colors—including our favorite, Tangerine Orange pearl—and the cool painted wheels that really set the Crosstrek apart and give it a fun, youthful identity.

What is it like to drive?

From our limited on-road experience with the car, if you've driven an Impreza, you've driven a Crosstrek. The taller ride height doesn't alter the car's dynamics very much, at least not when driven at highway speeds or slower on softly meandering paved roads. Over rougher surfaces, the ride does feel a bit harsher than in an Impreza, but only a true back-to-back test would confirm that. The Crosstrek gets standard 17-inch wheels, bigger brakes (11.6-inch versus 10.9-inch front rotors) and a larger, 24-millimeter front antiroll bar (versus 22 millimeters).

The standard 2.0-liter boxer four, the sole engine available in the Crosstrek, is the same as that found in the Impreza, turning out 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque. Transmission offerings also mirror those for the Impreza, with either a five-speed manual or a CVT automatic available. And like every other vehicle in the stable, all Crosstreks come with Subaru's signature symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which splits engine torque to all four wheels at all times.

Venture a bit off road and the Crosstrek does well, clambering over damp, rocky ranch roads without complaint. In the five-speed car, we did get the engine to bog down and almost stall a couple of times if the revs were allowed to fall too low while attacking steeper inclines, with traction control on or off and with the gas pedal subsequently pushed to the floor. But bump up the engine speed, and the Crosstrek managed even the craggiest sections without losing grip or spinning a tire.

Do I want one?

For Subaru die-hards, it's a no-brainer: Pairing the proven Impreza formula with an added dose of off-roadability—and for just $22,790—should steer plenty of the brand's faithful toward the Crosstrek. There's a lot here for Subie newbies, too, with its practical shape, youthful styling and bent toward the active-lifestyle set. And with a target of 12,000 to 15,000 annual sales, Subaru should sell every one it builds.

The Crosstrek is only available in Premium or Limited trim, with a comparably equipped Impreza coming in at about $2,700 less than it and a Forester about $2,000 more.

Subaru calls out the Nissan Juke, the Mini Countryman and the Kia Sportage as the most obvious alternatives, a varied set of choices, to be sure. And while each boasts a unique take on the compact-crossover formula, Subaru points out the Crosstrek's advantage at the pump, with CVT-equipped models returning an EPA combined 28 mpg (manuals get slightly less, at 26 mpg).

Of course, the Subaru buyer also gives up a big chunk of power to those competitors, so the Crosstrek will likely appeal most to those who emphasize fuel efficiency over sheer output.
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