I’m feeling a sense of déjà vu here regarding the Subaru Crosstrek, and for good reason, as I reviewed the 2020 Crosstrek Limited last summer.

So, to avoid repeating myself, here I am going to focus primarily on what’s new for 2021. And there’s plenty to discuss.

For context, however, a few basics. The subcompact Crosstrek crossover is based on the same general architecture as the Impreza sedan and hatch and was all-new as a second-gen model in 2018. It’s a big seller, ranking in the top three in Subaru sales in both Canada and the United states.

For 2021, Subaru is throwing a fair bit of change at the Crosstrek, although you’d be hard-pressed to notice them just by looking at this car and the 2020 if they were parked side by side.

I’ll get to the changes shortly, but first an update on the Crosstrek line in Canada. The subject of this review, the Outdoor, is a new trim slotting into the mid-range of the lineup. There are five main grades available, eight if you include those equipped with EyeSight, Subaru’s suite of safety tech. Changes for ’21 that impact the entire line are modest – slightly revised front grille, new wheel designs, deletion of sunshine orange exterior finish – but there’s a lot happening with the Outdoor.

If the Outdoor name being affixed to a Subaru seems familiar that’s because the Outback is offered in Outdoor XT trim and both are governed by a similar philosophy: unique, rugged styling and more power. In the case of the Crosstrek, the base 2.0-litre flat four-cylinder engine (152 hp / 145 lb-ft.) has been swapped out in favour of a 2.5-litre flat four (182 hp / 176 lb-ft.) that serves as the base powerplant in the Legacy and Outback. The Outdoor and range-topping Limited are the only two Crosstreks available with the 2.5.

On the styling front, the Outdoor is separated from its stable mates via unique 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, squareish wheel arch cladding and dynamic yellow and gun-metallic interior accents. It is also the only model available in plsma yellow pearl, a new exterior finish that has featured prominently in Crosstrek marketing.

As for content, the Outdoor offers a healthy list of standard equipment, including dual mode X-MODE with hill descent control and SI Drive, front view and Subaru rear/side vehicle detection system, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay integration, heated front seats, heated steering wheel and EyeSight driver assist technology with lane centring assist.

Review 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

And, of course, Subaru’s Symmetrical Full-Time All-Wheel Drive System is standard issue with the Outdoor, as it is for all Crosstreks. Of note, the only transmission available with the 2.5 is a CVT, but if you want to row your own, a 6-speed manual is available with Convenience, Touring and Sport models.

My tester, finished in dark blue pearl, sports a two-tone grey interior with a synthetic seating material that Subaru calls all-weather soft-touch. Crosstrek is embroidered onto the face of the front seats and I can report that they are indeed soft to the touch and seem well-suited to clean up, although I didn’t perform any testing. The Outdoor is the only Crosstrek model to offer this seating option.

Otherwise, the interior offers a high degree of comfort and convenience with plenty of room and good sightlines thanks to its boxy proportions and big greenhouse design. Some features are notably absent, including embedded navigation and a sunroof, but if they are musts, the Limited offers both. I should note Android Auto worked seamlessly with my phone and the Outdoor’s eight-inch multimedia display.

When I wrote about the 2020 Crosstrek I said I thought it could use more power, and I feel that situation has now been rectified. The extra power from the 2.5 makes a noticeable difference in a car the size of a Crosstrek and I think it will find favour with intenders in the segment. Peak output is located relatively high in the rev range but is still accessible and gives the Outdoor a more sporting character.

Review 2021 Subaru Crosstrek

This Crosstrek is faster, both off the line and at speed, and feels more responsive which should broaden its appeal. It’s still a four-banger, so it gets noisy under load, but most four-cylinder engines are like that. It didn’t bother me much. Same goes for the CVT, which I don’t love given its rubber-band feel but find acceptable given the overall strengths of the package.

Other impressions from the previous Crosstrek test have been reinforced: helpful and unobtrusive tech such as EyeSight, spacious and well-executed interior and a proven AWD system. Improved performance can now be added to the list.

Bottom line, I think the take rate for the Outdoor will be high. It wouldn’t surprise me if it becomes a volume seller. More power, combined with a healthy amount of standard kit for just under $30K? Sign me up.

The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.

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