What I Absolutely Hate About the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek

Hate is still a strong word, even in 2018 when the whole world seems upside down, but is it robust enough to adequately describe my feelings about the Subaru Crosstrek? You won’t believe what happens next! But if you’ve let this clickbaiterrific intro reel you in…

First off, let me apologize. I’m sorry! That introduction was more unendurable than those “You May Like” ads found at the bottom of many webpages these days, but we need you to click stories so we can continue to write them. I’m sorry.

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a compact utility vehicle with plenty of space, functionality, and, of course, traction thanks to its standard all-wheel-drive system. But what’s really wrong with it?

Well, the gorilla in the room, the 800-pound elephant (or however that idiom goes), is the one aspect of this vehicle that makes me angrier than a Bernese traffic cop in a lot full of double-parked cars. What, pray tell, got me so riled up? Well, would you be surprised if I told you it was the manual transmission?

Shifty Business

Normally, I’m a crazed partisan when it comes to three-pedal motoring, tirelessly advocating for this endangered drivetrain arrangement at every opportunity. But the Crosstrek shook my core beliefs right to their very foundation.

Simply put, it’s cursed with the most poorly integrated manual transmission I’ve ever experienced, and that is, unfortunately, no hyperbole.

From the first furlong driven I had issues with the way this vehicle behaved. On paper at least, its six-speed manual should be perfect, but alas, the clutch is too light, with an engagement point that’s sworn to secrecy like an NSA agent. Then there’s the shifter, with throws that rival a Texas cattle drive for length. Toss in an engine that refuses to relinquish revs when the accelerator pedal is released, and you’ve got an ideal recipe for frustration, the epicenter of a Venn diagram of awful.

For me at least, the Crosstrek was nearly impossible to drive smoothly. Despite my damnedest efforts, I never quite figured out how to change gears without sending intolerable judders reverberating throughout the structure. Exacerbating this issue, the vehicle’s entire drivetrain felt like it was unrestrained, free to move several feet in any direction, suspended upon what I imagined to be mounts filled with marshmallow fluff.

SEE ALSO: 2018 Subaru Legacy Review

And all this wasn’t for lack of trying. I shifted quickly. No dice. I slowed things down, like, way down, counting three seconds or more before engine revs started to drop before lifting my left foot, but this didn’t help. I slipped the clutch, stabbed it quickly, feathered it as best I could but basically, nothing helped.

The only way I was able to smooth things out a token amount was, counterintuitively, by keeping my foot on the accelerator way longer than usual, which for some unfathomable reason helped.

Never have I had such issues shifting before. In my 82-year-old Ford, I can change gears imperceptibly, even with its apathetic synchronizer and Depression-era engineering, so it’s not like I’m a total rube, despite what you may think. This might be the only case where I’d prefer the CVT.

Saving Graces

But that’s enough grousing because in spite of my harsh assessment of the Crosstrek’s drivetrain, there is actually a ton to like about this versatile and family-friendly Subaru.

As practical transportation goes, it checks all the necessary boxes, offering a spacious and comfortable interior, no-nonsense controls along with attractive pricing and fuel-economy scores.

Outward visibility from the captain’s chair is largely unobstructed, aided by trim A-pillars. Vision at oblique angles to the rear is mostly free as well.

As for capaciousness, the Crosstrek has more than 55 cubic feet (1,557 litres) of cargo space with the back seats folded flat, or nearly 21 (595 litres) with them in their upright position.

When it comes to hauling people, the back seat is generously sized, offering plenty of space for lanky passengers, even those eclipsing the six-foot mark.

Closely appraising the rest of this vehicle’s cabin, you’ll find generally upscale materials, excellent assembly quality, durable cloth-covered seats embellished with orange stitching and no shortage of common sense. From HVAC controls to the array of buttons on the steering wheel, everything is straightforward and easy to figure out.

Even though it’s colorful and features a 6.5-inch screen (16.5 cm), the company’s Starlink infotainment system could be improved. It’s far from the fastest offering on the market today and it’s somewhat difficult to navigate. At least modern smartphone integration is supported via both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

I’m also no fan of the supplemental displays in this vehicle; one’s perched atop the dashboard, sharing details on exterior temperature, time and efficiency, while a similarly low-resolution example is nestled within the instrument cluster. It handles fuel level and odometer functions. Both look out of place in an otherwise handsome cabin.

Likewise, out of place in a 21st-century vehicle is the traditional ignition switch. Eschewing push-button-start, my test model required that I stick a piece of metal into a small slot on the steering column and then twist it with my wrist in order to initiate internal combustion. How quaint!

The Drive (Excluding that Transmission…)

Sitting low in the Crosstrek’s forwardmost compartment, turning gasoline and air into torque and ultimately forward movement is a direct-injected, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine of the boxer configuration. Unlike Subaru powerplants of the past, which have sounded decidedly agrarian, this one is both smooth and muted, entirely pleasant, even at redline.

Working au-natural, sans any form of forced induction, this engine is good for a rather unremarkable 152 horses and 145 foot-pounds of torque, the latter of which peaks at a reasonably low 4,000 rpm.

When matched to a six-speed manual gearbox, and, of course, standard all-wheel drive, this powertrain combination yields 23 miles per gallon in city driving (10.3 L/100 km) and 29 on highway trips (7.8 L/100 km). Combined, it should average 25 mpg (9.2 L/100 km). Models equipped with the available continuously variable automatic transmission gain a whopping 4 mpg in each category.

SEE ALSO: 2018 Subaru Forester XT Review

Bust out the riding crop and acceleration is adequate, but don’t ever expect the Crosstrek to outrun the Mustang one lane over. It moves at a steady, measured pace.

Surprisingly, given its roomy cabin and 3,100-plus-pound curb weight (1,412 kilograms), this vehicle’s steering is unexpectedly sharp on center; there’s a crispness to the tiller that belies its affordable price. This utility vehicle changes direction with verve and minimal body roll.

Built on the new Subaru Global Platform, the Crosstrek is incredibly rigid – and safer than a bunker during a bombing raid (it’s a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). Ensuring it can handle more off-roading than you might expect, ground clearance measures 8.7 inches (22 cm). Standard hill-descent control further burnishes its down-and-dirty prowess.

My OVERALL Take

Aside from its appalling manual transmission, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is a versatile and spacious compact utility vehicle that benefits from decades of corporate all-wheel-drive expertise.

Despite my harsh initial words, I still give Subaru major points for offering a manual transmission in this class of vehicle, especially at a time when every other manufacturer is retreating from three pedals. It’s just a shame this one is so challenging to live with.

The new Crosstrek is a strong contender in its segment, a solid all-‘rounder that’s made all the more impressive thanks to its affordable price. Out the door, the test model I evaluated cost an incredibly reasonable $23,510, including $915, which means efficient and practical transportation is within easy reach of nearly any new-car shopper, just make sure to opt for the available Lineartronic CVT, which the overwhelming number of you are going to do anyway. In one fell swoop, it eliminates this vehicle’s single biggest flaw, all while offering paddle shifters and seven simulated gears to play with.

It’s true; I may hate this Subaru’s manual gearbox, the rest of the package is pretty easy to enjoy.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

Discuss this story on our Subaru Forum