By Sami Haj-Assaad

There’s something to be said about making do with what you’ve got.

Whether it’s turning lemons into lemonade or using a wrench to hammer some nails, getting that end result is the ultimate goal. And when you’re at a disadvantage or have limitations to deal with, you have to be clever to deliver.

And while the new 2018 Subaru Crosstrek isn’t handicapped in any way, it still packs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder boxer engine with 152 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque. It’s a perfectly adequate engine for everyday commuting, but when you’re sitting at the bottom of a 72 percent grade uphill climb, a few doubts will creep into your mind.

Mat the gas pedal, and the small crossover attacks the hill, but somewhere past the halfway point, its momentum is feeling less effective. Doubts are had. Breaths are held. “Will it roll back? Can it finish the climb?” But with the gas pedal still firmly planted on the floor, the car inches forward bit by bit. It’s Bizarro-Gandalf in the Fellowship of the Rings. “You SHALL Pass!” it says as it urges forward and triumphantly reaches the summit. This interesting situation really highlights the plucky strength and charm of the new Subaru Crosstrek.

Of course, a huge part of this particular equation is the X-Mode drive setting that was introduced this year on Crosstreks with automatic transmissions. X-Mode helps the car maintain traction and grip in slippery conditions. It’s just one part of the Crosstrek that has been seriously improved in order to maintain the car’s adventurous personality while also raising its refinement levels and day-to-day livability.

New Architecture, New Look

Now entering its second generation, the big story with the Crosstrek is that it’s built on new architecture. This didn’t lead to massive changes dimensionally, as the car is only slightly longer and wider than before. These slight increases deliver more space in the cabin, specifically the rear seats, which are more livable than before. Behind those seats, there’s enough space to stack three golf bags (for all the golfers out there) or exactly 20.8 cubic feet (for all the non-golfers out there). Slap those rear seats down and the cargo capacity expands to 55.2 cubic feet, which is downright cavernous compared to subcompact crossovers out there.

ALSO SEE: 2017 Subaru Forester Limited Review

Style wise, the car has body cladding that makes it look rugged and adventurous in the same way you’d look at someone with a barbed-wire tattoo and assume, “Yeah he’d be helpful when I need to move my furniture around.”

With its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the Crosstrek will easily tackle muddy, gravelly and snowy roads with ease. Higher trim level models come with flashy 18-inch wheels that look like ninja stars.

Completely New Interior

While the exterior design isn’t anything radical, the interior has been thoroughly redone for this generation. The previous Crosstrek always seemed a bit Spartan and low-rent, but this model comes with a fantastic design and plenty of high-end-feeling materials. Stylish two-tone leather seats are also available.

The dashboard design is all new and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support come standard. The new Subaru StarLink infotainment system is now easier to use and much more responsive. In addition to that, there are other bright and easy-to-read screens that provide more useful information.

Subaru also updated the EyeSight suite of safety equipment that’s offered on the Crosstrek. It has adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, lane-keep assist and reverse automatic braking. There’s also a new high-beam assist function to prevent you from blinding oncoming motorists. The automaker believes that the car will earn the coveted Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS like the new Impreza did earlier this year.

The Track and the Trails

But the big news with this year’s crossover is the new platform. It’s stiffer and the suspension has been completely redone, which really helps the car’s on-road manners, which was a point of criticism with the last-generation model. It’s the second product built on Subaru’s new global, scalable architecture that will expand to the rest of the brand’s lineup.

To prove its point, Subaru brought us to a track just to show how much more responsive and agile the car is. And true to form, the small crossover was surprisingly well behaved. In particular, the steering response was nice and quick, as the car features the same ratio rack as the company’s BRZ sports coupe. Body roll was decently controlled, considering we’re talking about a crossover on the track.

The powertrains have been reworked too, but it might not seem that way based on their power ratings. Now making 152 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, Subaru says it changed 80 percent of the components in the 2.0-liter boxer engine. While it doesn’t feel particularly powerful or fast, the engine is more responsive and those ponies come on about 500 rpm sooner. The Crosstrek can still feel a little sluggish and the engine sounds terrible when taxed. The new manual transmission gets an extra gear, bringing the total to six, but it never feels engaging or fun. The CVT model has been retuned and gets the previously mentioned X-Mode drive setting, which provides hill descent control and optimizes a number of settings for better off-road capability.

In an off-road test that Subaru set up for us, the car didn’t seem at all fazed by rough terrain or intimidating downhill segments. It even handled a see-saw and river crossing obstacle with ease. That’s really the beauty of this car, as it can go from driving on the roads to riding on the trails without a compromised ride quality.

Buyers in this segment are usually looking for good fuel economy and should be happy with the 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway ratings that the CVT model gets.

The Verdict: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek Review

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek arrives as a versatile, do-anything kind of crossover. With its excellent size and capability, it has become a good choice for many buyers. Now more advanced and refined, this car is priced right in that sweet spot of $23,000 in the U.S., meaning this small crossover should be on every buyer’s shortlist.

FAST FACTS

Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder
Output: 152 hp, 145 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed manual; CVT auto
Cargo Space: 20.8/55.2 cubic feet
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 27 city, 33 hwy (CVT)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 8.8 city, 7.2 hwy (CVT)
US Price: Starts at $22,710
CAN Price: Starts at $23,695

LOVE IT
Nice interior
Improved driving dynamics
X-Mode impresses

LEAVE IT
Engine feels underpowered
Manual lacks engaging feel

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