So I've just rambled down a gravel road, kicking up some dust and getting some grins. I step out and look around the exterior to make sure I didn't do anything to the all-new XV Crosstrek that the folks at Subaru might frown upon.
I take in the front end with its aggressive, sweep-around headlights and a grille that seems to be sneering at me. That's when it hits me: This car's got some attitude.
That's what Subaru engineers had in mind with the Crosstrek's 8.7 inches of ground clearance and standard all-wheel-drive. It's a go-anywhere, anytime attitude, and while it's not ready for roughhousing with the serious off-roaders, it is ready to take the adventuresome types where they want to bike, kayak, surf or ski.
Subaru took its Impreza Sport hatchback, raised it some, jazzed it up with fender cladding, lowered the front scoop, and added some neat wheels and cool colors like Tangerine Orange Pearl.
The result is a compact crossover that's eager to please and fun to drive. Propelling you on your excursion is the one and only engine available: a 2.0- liter boxer four, which -- no surprise here -- is the same one found in the Impreza. It puts out 148 horsepower and 145 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to get it done but not enough for real road thrills.
Tackling the rougher surfaces is managed nicely with Subaru's symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, which divvies up engine torque to all four wheels at all times. On-road performance is enhanced by MacPherson struts up front and rear double-wishbones and coils at every corner.
Inside there is decent room for everything from your backpack and pals and dog. There are bottle holders in every door so the pals aren't griping, and the various cabin-storage areas can handle 38 CDs, Subaru says.
The cargo area gets a removable liner so it's ready for rough treatment followed by easy cleaning. As in the Impreza, the 23 cubic feet of space can handle a decent amount of stuff. Fold the rear seats and it expands to 52 cubic feet.
Crosstrek is also ready for all your electronic needs. Hands-free phone connectivity is standard in the Premium model, as are iPod and USB ports. So is a stereo with six speakers and single-disc CD player.
This is a vehicle like no other. It has virtually no direct competitor. The Suzuki SX4 also has the 4-wheel-drive and is a few grand less on the sticker. But I think Crosstrek will carve out a little niche for itself, especially for the young and active who go for the rugged.
2013 SUBARU XV CROSSTREK
Base price: $21,995
Price as tested: $27,290
EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 33 highway
Engine: 2.0 liter, four cylinder
Power: 148 horsepower at 6,200 rpm
Maximum cargo capacity: 51.9 cubic feet
Height: 63.6 inches
Length: 175.2 inches
Width: 70.1 inches
Bottom line: Unique compact crossover with attitude