In 1990, two years after Subaru converted all its vehicles to symmetrical all-wheel drive, sales had cratered to only 108,500 units.

Five years later however, the first Outback wagon debuted (remember spokesman Paul Hogan of “Crocodile Dundee”?) and Subaru hasn’t looked back since.

Today, Subaru is America’s No. 7- selling automotive brand with this market representing 65 percent of the brand’s total worldwide sales. In New England, Subaru is the No. 3-best-selling brand. That’s a Lot of Love.

Driving this success have been three key products: the Outback, the Forester, and our Crosstrek sample. A fourth crossover, the new three-row Ascent, is also rolling up the sales charts.

Subaru is on a 10-year path of continuous expansion here, growth that is applying untold pressure on assembly plants here and in Japan.

This week’s Crosstrek is the brand’s first hybrid offering. Borrowing Toyota’s hybrid technology (they share a stake in an Illinois assembly plant) the Crosstrek Plug-in Hybrid beats several other rivals to market.

The second-generation Crosstrek is more fuel-efficient, quieter, and more refined in every dynamic.

An agile, fun-to-drive compact five-door, the Crosstrek is still available as a budget crossover, ($21,995 to start with the six-speed manual gearbox); while our fully equipped Crosstrek Hybrid ($34,995 base, $38,470 as shown) illustrates how far this model – and this brand – have come.

Standard fare includes all the features of Limited trim: keyless access and ignition, auto climate, heated leather seating (with blue accent striping), Apple & Android compatibility, and all the Eye-Sight electronic driving aids, plus components like Starlink entertainment with Pandora, Yelp, Sirius, and voice-activated Tom-Tom navigation.

There is one option in the Hybrid: a $2,500 package that brings power sunroof, heated steering wheel (which is excellent, by the way) and a Harman Kardon audio system. The Subbie’s upgraded eight-inch info/entertainment screen also reflects improvements that buyers demanded.

Crosstrek Hybrid also gets you a rear spoiler, which lends a nice flair to the car’s rear flanks; LED headlamps that corner with your steering direction, and larger 18-inch wheels.

Riding atop the brand’s new Subaru Global Platform, this Impreza-based hatchback comes with 8.7 inches of ground clearance. This makes foul-weather motoring easier (with the standard AWD) and it affords owners more convenient access as well as greater visibility.

The Crosstrek also feels roomier inside than the Impreza, a plus that is to some degree compromised by the hybrid powertrain.

Whirring, buzzing, and droning under acceleration pretty much all the time, yet quite quiet at road speeds, the Crosstrek hybrid uses the 2.0-liter Boxer-four engine, plus two electric motors and an 8.8 kWh-battery pack to produce 148-combined horsepower. Strangely, that is actually four horsepower less than the conventionally powered Crosstrek.

Subaru says the hybrid is one second quicker from 0-60 mph than the regular Crosstrek. We could not substantiate that claim.

We did validate the fuel economy. A regular Crosstrek with the CVT transmission is EPA estimated for 27/33 mpg – very respectable for an AWD crossover. The Hybrid edition carries EPA estimates of 90 MPGe, with 17 miles of electric power operation possible before automatically switching to the gas engine.

Seamlessly transitioning from electric to hybrid-drive and the gas motor, drivers will only experience only the audible operation of these components. Nothing else intrudes on your driving.

In 500 miles of wintry operation, our actual fuel economy was 36.2 mpg, including plugging in each night at home. That is 1 mpg better than the EPA combined rating for the Crosstrek Hybrid.

Subaru states that the Crosstrek’s battery recharges in five hours on household 110 current, or two hours with a Level II 240-volt fast charger like that you might find on the road.

Caveats: The battery pack robs about 24 percent of the Crosstrek’s rearmost cargo capacity; the raised floor eliminates any spare tire, too. The hybrid model is 400 pounds heavier, but handling, ride, and overall driving does not seem impacted.

And, buyers will need to adjust to the different noises emanating from the electric motors and regenerative brakes, which, combined with the CVT transmission, create more whirring and buzzing than one might suspect when driving.

Pluses: composed chassis, comfortable cabin, added driving aids, and the general solidity of the Crosstrek. Low-speed turning radius is commendably small; the X-mode button offers more grip off-roading or in low traction situations, and the rear seat affords good adult-sized space.

Plus, the hybrid comes in four special colors, including the Lagoon Blue Pearl shown.

Competitors size-wise include Nissan’s Rogue Sport, Honda’s HR-V, Mazda CX-3, even Hyundai’s Tucson. None, however, offer a plug-in hybrid trim like the Crosstrek.

With a $4,500 tax credit available, the Crosstrek Hybrid is ahead of Honda and Toyota with a credible AWD crossover that sips gas and glides on electricity.

Seems like another Subaru hit from here.


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