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2024 Subaru Crosstrek Review: The Precarious Process of Not Screwing It Up

subaru crosstrek premium 2024 13 exterior group front angle scaled jpg 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Premium | Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman
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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

The verdict: Subaru simply needed to not screw up a good thing with the redesigned 2024 Crosstrek. Mission accomplished.

Versus the competition: Other subcompact SUVs may be quicker, some may have better tech, but few can match the Crosstrek’s combination of genuine go-anywhere energy, excellent comfort and stellar space efficiency at this level of screaming value.

Here’s a fun fact: Last year, Subaru sold more Crosstreks than any year in the model’s nearly 12-year history. Despite it being an older design in its last months before the redesign you see here, and with minimal incentives (especially compared with its competitors), people still snapped up the compact quasi-SUV in ever larger numbers. So when it came time for Subaru to redesign the global platform that underpins its Impreza, WRX, and yes, its Crosstrek, the only thing the automaker really had to do was not screw it up.

Related: 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Loads Up on Tech and Safety, Keeps $26,000 Price Tag

But that’s easier said than done, given the number of things that were set to change for the 2024 Crosstrek — it has a heavily revised and reinforced chassis, a new suspension tune, a significantly updated powertrain, aerodynamic changes, a new interior, and refinements to its all-wheel-drive system and EyeSight driver-assist suite.

That’s a lot to change, and a lot of opportunity to change things for change’s sake, something increasing numbers of Crosstrek buyers simply do not seem to want. So how did Subie do with the new ‘24 Crosstrek? At Subaru’s invitation, I spent a couple of days in Palm Springs, Calif., to drive the new model to find out (Cars.com pays for its own airfare and lodging when attending manufacturer-sponsored events), and I can confidently say that despite all the work that went into redoing the Crosstrek for 2024, the old model’s familiar attributes still shine brightly.

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Can You Spot the Changes?

Looking at the all-new Crosstrek, you’d be forgiven for not being able to see what’s changed. The new model is marginally larger than the outgoing one, but the overall shape and sheet metal still looks largely the same. There are new headlights (LEDs on all four trim levels), a new grille, new taillights, new wheel openings and some neat styling flourishes (check out the louvered outlets on the front wheel arches that channel air out of the wheel well for improved handling stability) that are actually functional. The Crosstrek still features a standard, robust roof rack that can support 700 static pounds (say, a big tent and two sleeping campers while the car is parked) or 175 dynamic pounds (that tent, folded and stored, while the car is in motion). It still features a tall ride height for decent ground clearance and now has a few more underbody covers for better aerodynamics.

Does it still look quirky and weird, like a hiking-boot roller skate? Yes it does, and that is exactly the kind of aesthetic and image that Subaru is looking to convey — because that is exactly what Crosstrek customers are looking to buy, according to Subaru’s research. Crosstrek buyers don’t want a simple commuter car, according to the company’s numbers, they want an adventure vehicle that can take them camping, hiking and into the woods, but one that will also serve during the week as their commuter, grocery getter or family hauler. That’s what Subaru has been delivering with the prior Crosstrek, and that’s what it’s successfully cooked up for the new 2024 version, as well.

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Refinements Aplenty

So if it doesn’t honestly look all that different, what exactly did Subaru do to the thing with this redesign? The name of the game is refinement, starting with the engine. The standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer that sadly only pumps out 152 horsepower and 145 pounds-feet of torque, shunting it through a continuously variable automatic transmission to all four wheels. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for speed, well, it’s not. Acceleration is best described as barely adequate, and that’s with only two people and no gear in the car — I can’t imagine how genuinely slow to accelerate the Crosstrek must be when you load it with four people and a few hundred pounds of camping gear then attempt to ascend into the Rocky Mountains for an adventure. A larger 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making a still-unimpressive 182 hp is also available, but only in the up-level Sport and Limited trims; the Base and Premium trims are stuck with the 2.0-liter. It’s not new to call the Crosstrek underpowered, but Subaru insists a bigger engine is not what its customers are clamoring for. Given that Crosstreks are selling in record numbers, the sales data most assuredly backs up Subaru’s claim. More power is not what shoppers want in a Crosstrek, evidently, so more power is not what you’re getting for 2024.

What you are getting is more refinement. The engine and the rest of the drivetrain has been thoroughly reworked to eliminate vibration and noise, with Subaru claiming a 20% drop in vibration. This is evident in the far greater smoothness of the engine during normal operation and under full throttle; it doesn’t feel at all like the cringe-worthy, agricultural-quality tractor motor that it used to resemble. Noise reaching the cabin has been cut way back, and it makes for a far more refined experience when you inevitably plant your foot to the floor on a highway on-ramp. At idle and around town, the powertrain exhibits Toyota-levels of smoothness and calm. It really is an impressive rework of a familiar engine. If only y’all wanted a turbo …

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New Levels of Cushy

If the acceleration isn’t anything impressive, this is more than made up for with spectacular ride quality. The Premium trim I drove (the only one available, the higher-spec Sport and Limited arrive this summer) comes equipped with 17-inch wheels and all-season tires, but the suspension is clearly tuned toward comfort over sharp handling. This might be one of the most softly sprung vehicles I’ve driven in a long time, confirmed by the vehicle’s chief engineer, who stated that the big suspension change from last year’s model is that spring rates have been softened up. The Crosstrek positively glides over smooth pavement with no road noise or vibration, and surface imperfections are swallowed up with thumps and brief bumps.

The trade-off for this are handling characteristics that are also softened up, but not in a bad way. Refined is again the operative word — body control is just fine, with the Crosstrek able to hustle through sweeping, twisty roads at high speeds without upsetting the composure of the car or its occupants. The brakes are firm, progressive and strong, and they provide excellent feedback. The newly upgraded steering that Subaru has taken from the sporty WRX sedan provides adequate accuracy, but loses the WRX’s sharpness and feedback due to the Crosstrek’s less aggressive tires.

Where the softness of the Crosstrek comes in handy is in the dirt. I piloted the Crosstrek down some California desert Jeep trails and up various steep, slippery, loose rock piles near Joshua Tree National Park, and aside from occasionally rubbing its front end on approach, the Crosstrek rolled up, over and down anything I pointed it at. The X-Mode system helps to manage traction in situations where all four wheels need it and also activates hill descent control functions. You won’t, however, be taking a Crosstrek too far into the wilderness — it has no selectable locking differential, no serious underbody protection, no true all-terrain tires and no true four-wheel drive with low-range — and while ground clearance is good for logging roads, it’s not enough for bouldering. But it can still easily take you to a rural campsite, let you launch a kayak by a muddy river or get you to a hiking trailhead, exactly the things over a third of Crosstrek owners like to do.

One nice update has been to the EyeSight driver-assist safety system, a suite of electronic sensors and cameras that combines all sorts of functions like forward collision alert, lane departure warning and other systems to help keep you safe from yourself and others on the road. The Crosstrek even has a new available emergency steering feature that will automatically steer around an obstacle that’s slightly in your path, like a car pulling out from a curb that you don’t notice.

EyeSight has been the benefit of some serious refinement, and this marks the first time in many years that I didn’t find myself turning off the system shortly after beginning to drive, as I didn’t find it nearly as intrusive, nannying or annoying as it has been in nearly every other Subaru I’ve tried. It’s no longer constantly bleeping and blurping at you; it seems to have calmed down a bit, and that’s a good thing — a safety minder that annoys the driver so much that they turn it off when they get in the car is a useless feature. The refinements to the newest version mean it’s far more likely to be useful and effective.

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Comfort Over Craziness

Slip inside the new Crosstrek and everything will look familiar to a Subaru owner. Maybe too familiar — it doesn’t seem all that different from the last Crosstrek, with perhaps the exception of the newly optional 11.6-inch vertically oriented multimedia screen that combines a lot of functions into one big touch panel. Multimedia is up top, and climate control is down below, but unlike many competitors, Subaru hasn’t put all of the controls into the touchscreen. Simple things like a volume knob, temperature-adjustment buttons and seat-heater switches are all still physical controls, which we applaud. Just about everything else goes in the touchscreen, however, but it’s a big, clear, easy-to-use system, so despite having too many icons on the screen and feeling like you’re using an iPad while driving, it remains a mostly positive experience. The only bug in the system is a tricky process for pairing a phone to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which now work wirelessly.

Comfort is king in the new Crosstrek; the Premium trim (which is the one most customers buy, followed closely by the top-spec Limited, according to Subaru’s product planners) features high-quality cloth wrapping truly squishy, comfortable thrones. Front-seat comfort is excellent, and even backseat comfort does well, providing a lot more legroom and headroom than many competitors in this class, even with the optional power moonroof. One nit to pick: There’s no height adjustability for the front passenger seat at this trim level, and taller passengers may find their head up against the moonroof or the overhead grab handle. The easy way to avoid that is to forgo the power moonroof option, and save a little coin, too.

The cargo area is useful and easy to expand, with seatbacks that drop easily from the rear of the vehicle to form a flat load floor. This makes stowing larger, bulkier objects a breeze, not to mention things like bikes or camping gear that you don’t want to tie to the roof. Optional rubber mats for the cargo floor and even the rear seatbacks make putting dirty gear in the Crosstrek a no-brainer, as they’re all easily removable and washable. Putting things into the cargo area can be a bit of a lift with the higher ride height and tall bumper lip of the SUV.

Materials, workmanship and build quality are excellent, even in this lower-spec trim. Nothing feels cheap, but if you desire more visual zoot, the higher-spec Sport and Limited trims bring more colorful options to the interior, as well as different upholstery. The Premium trim is aimed at being a good balance between features and cost, and it succeeds quite well in that mission.

The Rarest Trait of All: It’s a Bargain

One of the biggest reasons Crosstrek owners buy the thing, according to Subaru, is the value equation — you can get a lot of car for your money when you factor in all the standard features, safety systems, all-weather and all-terrain capability, and surprising comfort. The starting price for a ‘24 Crosstrek is nearly the same as the automatic-transmission-equipped ‘23 model — $26,290 (all prices include destination) — and the cheaper six-speed manual Crosstrek is no more. The Premium trim I tested rang in at $29,685, including $2,245 for the All-Weather Package, blind spot detection with lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, and a power moonroof.

To come in under thirty grand for a car equipped with this much kit and that provides comfort, safety, go-anywhere potential and standard AWD is extraordinary these days. Who cares that it’s underpowered? Crosstrek buyers certainly don’t, and I can see why — the Crosstrek makes up for it with a totally pleasant, comfortable driving experience for a shockingly wide variety of uses and conditions. The old one did that, and the new one does it, too. Subaru succeeded in not screwing up the formula, and customers will be thrilled with the result.

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