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By AARON COLE
For Utah Rides

The 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek is the kind of car you buy when you’re a 25-year-old who carries more mountain bikes than responsibility, and your idea of a vacation is turning on the air conditioning in your apartment in July. “Adventure” might not be its middle name — it’s “XV,” the letters, not 15 — but the Crosstrek certainly sounds like an running shoe and requires just as much agility to pronounce it.

From here on out, we’ll just call it the Crosstrek and make it easy on ourselves.

Yes, I know it looks like a taller Impreza, and according to its skeleton, it mostly is. The Crosstrek, however, is two inches wider (track), three inches higher, four inches taller and seats five adults. The idea for the Crosstrek is similar to the idea for the Outback Sport that was discontinued in 2011. According to Subaru spokespeople, the nameplate wasn’t discontinued due to flagging sales, rather it was changed to avoid any confusion with the bigger Legacy-based Outback.

And it shows. Considering that the Outback is getting bigger and more expensive, a natural niche for a less expensive, outdoorsy-type vehicle came along in Subaru’s lineup.

Consider this: The Crosstrek’s ground clearance is 8.7 inches, higher than a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Land Rover LR2 and the distance I can jump.

Along with having a prodigious stance, the Crosstrek also features a higher spring rate, increased damping, strengthened steel, bigger brakes and bigger cooling hosiery to cope with the inevitable trail you will climb in the taller Impreza. Missing from that roster, though, is a beefier engine to help you climb those trails. The Crosstrek features the same 2.0-liter, horizontal four-cylinder engine found in the Impreza.

Subaru made waves when it announced 18 months ago that its newer edition of the Impreza wouldn’t emulate the current trend toward increasing horsepower in the rest of the automotive industry. Instead, they’d retreat from the gaudy horsepower figures that the rest of the sedan market seems to be so infatuated with.

Here are the Crosstrek’s figures: 148 horsepower, 145 ft.-lbs. of torque and 3,150 lbs. of curb weight. Subaru gleefully announced that the new Impreza shed 150 lbs. over the last generation, but the Crosstrek found it. Acceleration happened at a leisurely pace at sea level and, considering that the engine doesn’t benefit from forced induction, some of that horsepower will likely be sapped in mountain states like ours.

That’s not to say that the Crosstrek suffers from “the itis” in everyday driving. Rather, the Crosstrek’s impressive fuel economy figures may be put to the test when it comes to driving in and around foothills.

And speaking of those horsepower figures, the 25 mpg city and 33 mpg highway come into play quite quickly. That’s because among the Crosstrek bests all of its chief competition (the Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman and Hyundai Tuscon) by at least 3 mpg. Two of those three are turbocharged, and the last, the Hyundai, sells out faster than Justin Beiber concerts.

Therefore, the Crosstrek is built to occupy a sweet spot for Subaru: not too big, not too fast and not too expensive. Starting in at a five-spot under $22,000, the Crosstrek is probably the most affordable all-wheel drive compact ‘ute on the market.

Since the Crosstrek starts at the “premium” trim level, it’s tough to talk about standard equipment. Still, the car comes equipped with a standard 6-speaker stereo system, all-wheel drive, roof rails that can carry up to 150 lbs., 5-speed manual transmission and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Oh, and about those wheels, they’re real and they’re fantastic.

Also, I can’t imagine they’ll stick around long because they make the Crosstrek look like a cross-trainer. So if you’re into the whole urban assault look, better get a Crosstrek soon. The effect of the alloys is magnified 10-fold when paired with what I like to call “Road Cone Orange,” or in Subaru parlance “Tangerine Orange Pearl.”

(Quickly: Both models of the Crosstrek I drove were orange, and that’s actually a color I could live with every day, unlike a lot of other special edition colors).

Along the lines of the cross-trainer, let’s talk a little bit about the interior of the Crosstrek. To put it diplomatically, Subaru has been accused of making cars that are a little too much like a cross-training shoe. That’s to say that you don’t mind being in the car, but you don’t spend a whole lot of time admiring its stunning interior either.

The Crosstrek is a perfectly comfortable place to be, but you won’t be confusing the cloth-equipped premium model with the lobby of the Bellagio any time soon. In fact, my only real gripe with the Crosstrek is that it feels perfectly exactly like an Impreza.

There’s no special plastic to let you know that you’ve paid $1,000 more for the taller, more rugged model. I’m not asking for fatigue-clad seats or a pistol-gripped shifter, folks, but molded plastic in the dash wouldn’t kill anyone, would it?

Despite the fact that the same engine as the Impreza powers the Crosstrek, it’s also geared relatively the same (the CVT is actually manageable, and the first and last gears of the manual have been lengthened a little). That makes the Subaru soft roader very pleasant to drive, especially considering the newer Impreza chassis might be one of the best small car chassis on the market today.

My guess is that the fuel economy and capability will win over the younger set looking to get up a mountain without worrying about how quickly it happens. It doesn’t hurt that the entry price is appealing to 20-somethings who can’t afford to even pay attention.

When will they learn?

Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist. He knows he’s wrong, he just wants to hear it from you. Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com.

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