We’ve taken the Subaru Crosstrek to the track, driven it around the L.A. metropolitan area, and taken it to the mountains. Now it’s time to test the Subaru’s touted off-road aptitude. Numerous off-road trails of varying difficulty crisscross the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area, and the 4×4 practice area features several maintained obstacle courses.
Joined by features editor Christian Seabaugh and his enormous Ram Power Wagon long-term tester, we traversed some easier trails to gauge the Crosstrek’s performance before trekking the hairier ones. The crossover barely noticed the dirt, rocks, and sand beneath its tires. It didn’t matter if it was a bumpy uphill or downhill, the Subaru handled the trails with relative ease.
On steep descents, I was able to modulate braking to control my speed but turned on X-Mode to try out the feature’s hill-descent control. When activated, the vehicle does the braking so the driver can focus on steering. The system induced some eager braking, keeping the speed slower than I did with my foot, but it was safe and controlled.
Once we had our fill on trails, we headed to the 4×4 practice area, where we pushed the Subaru to its limits. Once again, the dirt trail up and down the hill course was easy as long as I didn’t hit the big ruts made for more capable vehicles. The sand pit and water crossing were also a breeze, so much so that I drove them several times to make sure—and for fun, though, we avoided certain obstacles fearing we would damage the nose. The Crosstrek has 8.7 inches of ground clearance, a notable number, but it also has plenty of front overhang that creates a decent 18-degree approach angle. However, its 29-degree departure angle is better than any Jeep Cherokee except the Trailhawk model.
In the frame twister course, the Crosstrek finally got stuck before I used X-Mode, which makes the traction control system more aggressive, reducing the time needed for a tire to regain grip. In very slippery situations (like mud or snow), more power is diverted away from the tires that are slipping to the ones with traction.
In this case, I was stuck because only two of my wheels had grip as I was trying to traverse a large bump. After I hit X-Mode, the Crosstrek transferred additional power to the two wheels not slipping, and the vehicle surged forward.
The highlight of the day was the mud pit. We didn’t know how well the Crosstrek would handle mud, so we started by backing it into the soggy pit until the mud got about half ways up the rear wheels. While in X-Mode, I applied about quarter throttle and the Subaru crawled out as if it was dry dirt. So we decided to plow through it.
I entered the pit with the plan to have my right wheels in shallow mud and the left ones near the deep track made by previous vehicles. As soon as I hit the mud, I slid into one of the deep tracks thinking I would get stuck, but I didn’t. I even made the mistake of completely stopping in the pit after hitting a big rock, but the Subaru still had enough traction to continue forward.
Not wanting to get stuck in the part of the pit that requires larger all-terrain tires (factory tires were used), I exited the pit over the steep bank. Again, I thought the Power Wagon would have to rescue me as I climbed up the bank, but the Subie prevailed. X-Mode saved me again. On inclines, the system will use lower gear ratios for increased traction and applies more clutch pressure to better control front and rear power distribution.
Knowing the Subaru can do more, I decided to try the pit again but entered from the bank I exited earlier. On the descent, I dunked the nose into the mud (up to the level of the foglights) and slid into the deep tracks. After a little power distribution, the Crosstrek regained traction and negotiated the rest of the pit like a pro. It’s neat hearing and feeling the system cutting and redistributing power.
Over the course of the adventure, Seabaugh and I remained impressed with the little Subaru—especially considering its factory all-season tires. With an aftermarket lift kit and all-terrain tires, not much would stop this thing. But in its factory form, the Crosstrek offers more capability than your average owner will need.
Read more about our 2018 Subaru Crosstrek:
- Update 1: The Subaru Comfortable
- Update 2: Crosstrek Track Day
- Update 3: It’s Time to Grumble
- Update 4: Hitting the Mountain
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