Subaru has always been the quirky and offbeat car manufacturer even among its Japanese compatriots. Remember the ridiculous but utterly desirable Baja pickup?
In recent years, the company has taken a more conventional–some would argue boring–approach towards making cars. Yet Subaru remains the only company many would consider if they were looking for something that sits just outside the box and yet comes with all-wheel drive.
The Crosstrek and the Outback are exactly those cars. The Crosstrek shares its platform with the Impreza. They share a powertrain as well but it is a lot more sedate in the Crosstrek and yet comes with 8.7 inches of ground clearance and AWD.
Then there’s the Outback, which is in a class of exactly one. It’s still a wagon, but with butch crossover looks and a raised ride height that stops it from getting bogged down on a beach.
Despite their oddball nature, or rather because of it, both are pretty popular among car buyers as they stand out in a sea of similar body styles. So which one should you go for? Though it would come down to preferences, but what if you’re on a budget? Subaru Crosstrek versus Outback, between the siblings, which one makes more sense?
Crosstrek: A 2.0-liter four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine powers the lower Crosstrek trims, making a humble 152 hp of max power and 145 lb-ft of peak torque. With prices starting at $23,295, the Crosstrek is one of the most affordable all-wheel drive cars, and it comes as standard. Joining the lineup for 2021 was the larger 2.5-liter engine that serves as the base unit in the Outback. It makes the same 182 hp and 176 lb-ft here.
For a limited time, Subaru is also offering the Crosstrek as a plug-in hybrid. The engine is a similar 2.0-liter unit as the gas-powered Crosstrek, but it pairs with an electric hybrid system that produces a combined output of 148 hp and 149 lb-ft of peak torque.
While the gas-powered trims come with both a six-speed manual (2.0 only) and a CVT, the hybrid is available with the latter only. Apart from AWD, independent raised suspension is also standard on the Crosstrek. X-Mode is optional on the base model and standard on higher trims, along with Hill Descent Control.
Outback: The larger Outback comes with an option of two powertrains, but both of them are gasoline-powered. One powertrain is the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, the same 182-horsepower unit from the Crosstrek, available on the base, Premium, Limited, and Touring trims. The 2.4-liter turbocharged four-pot on the other hand powers the top three XT trims and makes 260 hp and 277 lb-ft of torque. Unlike the Crosstrek however, the Outback is only available with a CVT gearbox.
SEE ALSO: 2020 Subaru Outback Review
Just like the Crosstrek, the Outback gets AWD as standard along with a raised independent suspension. Hill Descent Control and X-Mode are also standard on the Outback.
Bottom Line: In terms of sheer power and grunt, the Outback is the better performer. Not only does it get the bigger powertrains but also gets features like X-Mode and Hill Descent as standard as well. Yes, the Outback is about 500 lb heavier but with the 2.4-liter powertrain also has over 100 hp more than the Crosstrek.
Crosstrek: The FB20 series of engines, though great performers, are not exactly fuel-efficient, especially when paired with a manual transmission. So it should come as no surprise that the manual Crosstrek returns 22 mpg in the city (10.5 L/100 km) and 29 mpg (8.1 L/100 km) on the highway. The CVT powertrain performs significantly better by returning 33 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in the city (8.8 and 7.0 L/100 km, respectively).
Choosing the 2.5-liter offers practically zero penalty: its numbers are 34 and 27 mpg, respectively. (Canadian figures: 8.5/7.0 L/100 km.)
On the frugality front, the hybrid outshines the rest of the lineup by far. The total range of the hybrid is 480 miles (772 km) and it returns 35 mpg (6.7 L/100 km). In addition, the 8.8-kWh battery pack enables the Crosstrek to cover 17 miles (27 km) in pure electric mode and it can be driven on electricity alone for speeds up to 65 mph (105 km/h).
Outback: The 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine returns a rather impressive 33 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in the city. Canadian figures are 7.1 and 9.0 L/100 km, respectively. The 2.4-liter turbo on the other hand returns 30 mpg (7.9 L/100 km) on the highway and 23 mpg (10.1 L/100 km) in the city.
Bottom Line: The 2.0-liter manual Crosstrek scoring worse than the turbocharged Outback is pretty shocking. And yes, at $36,155 the Crosstrek Hybrid costs more than the Outback Onyx XT with the 2.4-liter turbo. But if frugality is your primary concern, then a pure electric range of 17 miles (27 km) and 480 miles (772 km) on a full tank of gas is hard to beat even at a higher price.
Technology and Features
Crosstrek: The base Crosstrek starting at $23,295 offers decent comfort equipment. You get an automatic climate control system as standard along with electrically adjustable and retractable side mirrors and tilt and telescopic adjustable steering. The base trim also gets a 6.5-inch touchscreen Starlink infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple Car Play as standard. The EyeSight driver assistance system which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, departure warning, and pre-collision braking is an optional extra even on the higher Premium trim that starts at $24,345 for the manual version. The CVT adds another $1,350 to the price.
SEE ALSO: 2018 Subaru Crosstrek Review
Though the screen size remains the same, the premium trim gets the Multimedia Plus package. It also adds 4G capability and the Starlink safety and security system to the mix as well. Features like an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, paddle shifters for the CVT gearbox and keyless access with push-button start are all optional extras.
Only if you go for the top Limited trim or the Hybrid, starting at $29,045 and $36,395 respectively, do you get all the bells and whistles. The size of the infotainment screen increases to 8.0 inches. 4G LTE Wi-Fi is also included along with the EyeSight driver assist technology, blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert and high-beam assist. The power moonroof, along with the top-tier Starlink Multimedia Navigation and Harman Kardon audio system, are all only available as part of add-on packages.
Outback: Unlike the Crosstrek, the Outback comes with a plethora of trims; seven to be precise. It also boasts a higher standard spec than its more affordable sibling. The EyeSight safety suite for example is standard and in the Outback, even coming with lane-centering. This is due to the lack of a manual transmission, however. The base Outback, starting at $27,845 comes with the 7.0-inch Starlink infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard along with multi-touch and gesture control.
Moving up to the Premium trim ($30,095) is a significant step up in terms of equipment on offer. The Premium trim gets a massive 11.6-inch Multimedia Plus touchscreen on the center dash along with a dual-zone climate control system. An optional upgrade to the Multimedia Navigation, power moonroof, and blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert also becomes available.
The aforementioned features are also optional extras on the Limited trim ($34,645) but for the $5,000 bump you get leather upholstery, keyless entry and push-button start, Harman Kardon audio system, 18-inch alloy wheels, cornering headlamps, blind-spot detection as standard and reverse automatic braking. the top-shelf Touring trim ($38,545) pulls out all the stops and offers all safety features as standard along with the powered moonroof, 11.6-inch Multimedia Navigation infotainment suite and the premium audio system.
Then there are the three XT trims, Onyx Edition ($36,195), Limited ($39,045) and Touring ($40,995). The critical difference between the XT and the regular trims is the 2.4-liter turbo powertrain, hence the price jump. The difference in equipment levels between the three trims is minimal: though the moonroof, navigation infotainment and reverse auto braking are optional extras on the Onyx edition, they are standard on Limited and Touring XT.
Bottom Line: Yes, the Outback is more expensive than the Crosstrek but it is also much better equipped. The standard safety and convenience features on the Outback offer a higher value for money than the Crosstrek. Plus, you also get a lot more car for your money as well.
Cabin and Cargo Space
Crosstrek: At 175.8 inches (4,465 mm), the Crosstrek is roughly 15 inches (380 mm) shorter in length than the Outback and yet has a wheelbase (104.9 inches / 2,665) that is around 3 inches (75 mm) shorter. This translates into a rather roomy cabin with 43.1 (1,095 mm) inches of legroom in the front, which is slightly higher than the Outback’s. It also offers 39.8 inches (1,010 mm) of headroom in the front and 38.0 inches (966 mm) at the rear. With the moonroof, however, the headroom drops to 37.6 (955 mm) and 37.8 (960 mm) inches. The rear legroom at 36.5 inches (926 mm) is on the lower side, especially for adults.
As for the cargo volume, the trunk can swallow 20.4 cu-ft (588 L) of luggage with ease and with the rear bench folded the capacity increases to 55.3 cu-ft (1,565 L).
Outback: By comparison, the Outback is a significantly larger car with a significantly larger cargo capacity. The front head and legroom of the Outback is almost identical to the Crosstrek but where the Outback shines is the rear space. It offers three inches (39.5 in / 1,004 mm) more legroom and about two inches (39.1 in / 992 mm) of extra headroom compared to the Crosstrek.
Its cargo capacity is even more impressive. Behind the rear bench the Legacy can accommodate 32.5 cu-ft (920 L) of luggage, nearly 12 cu-ft more than the Crosstrek. Legacy drivers can increase that to 75.7 cu-ft (2,144 L) when they fold the rear seats.
Bottom line: For adults, the Outback makes more sense as it offers more head and legroom, especially at the rear. The rear bench of the Crosstrek would be ideal for ferrying kids. Adults can ride in the back but for short distances only.
Crosstrek: Based on the same platform as the Impreza, the Crosstrek does bear a slight resemblance to its sportier sibling. And you can’t mistake the Crosstrek for anything apart from a Subaru. Though on most cars the plastic cladding and roof rails would look gimmicky, the Crosstrek simply makes it work especially if you go for a quirky paint option. Add to that the standard AWD system and a raised stance you get a car that is quirky yet capable.
Outback: As we mentioned earlier in the comparison, the Outback is in a class of one. Its wagon styling paired with a raised stance helps it stand out like nothing else. Thanks to its sheer length it looks sleeker than the Crosstrek and thanks to its raised nose and a strong shoulder line, it almost looks an arrow on wheels. It is one of the few conventional cars that looks in motion even whilst standing still.
Bottom Line: Styling is subjective.
Crosstrek: Crosstrek starts at $23,295 and for that money, you do get a strong engine, permanent AWD and a manual gearbox. But you don’t get much in terms of equipment. It’s not until you go for the Limited trim which starts at $29,045 that you get features like adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance and electrically adjustable driver’s seat. Even then things like the moonroof and the top notch infotainment system are part of optional packages. Plus, adding the CVT gearbox to the base and Premium trims adds $1,350 to the price.
Outback: The Outback is one of Subaru’s top-selling models and maybe that is why Subaru offers it in seven different trims. You can easily find one that suits your needs in the Outback lineup. Plus, all trims, including the base, are well-equipped. The base Outback is priced from $27,945 while the top Touring trim with the 2.5-liter engine starts from $38,545. Beyond that lies the new 2.4 turbo-powered XT trims which start at $36,195 and goes up to $40,995. The target customer for the XT trims is one who wants more performance out of their cross-wagons.
Verdict: Subaru Crosstrek vs Subaru Outback
If you’re considering the Crosstrek, we would suggest go for it only if you really want a hybrid or a basic runabout vehicle. If you are looking for a crossover that is well equipped, spacious and comfortable and are willing to part with $30,000 our pick would be the Outback. Specifically, the Premium trim. Yes, it skips out on the moonroof, but you get the bigger infotainment screen, the EyeSight safety suite along with a cavernous cabin and enough cargo capacity for a long road trip. If you want a moonroof that badly, it’s there on the options list.
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