Station wagons and hatchbacks are practical choices, but most buyers prefer crossovers. To sell its wagons and hatches, Subaru has internalized the mantra “if you can’t beat them, join them.”
In 1995, Subaru launched the Outback, an all-wheel-drive station wagon with rugged, truck-like styling. Even as overall wagon sales declined, the Outback proved popular, helping establish Subaru as a major automotive player.
The formula worked so well that Subaru decided to try it with another model. In 2012, The Crosstrek was unveiled as a smaller sibling to the Outback. Like the Outback, the Crosstrek is a more rugged-looking version of an existing car meant to lure buyers away from crossovers.
That doesn’t mean the Crosstrek and Outback are exactly the same, though. Here’s a deep dive into the similarities and differences between the two Subaru models.
With the Crosstrek and Outback, Subaru applied the same idea to two different-size vehicles. The Crosstrek is a compact hatchback, while the Outback is a midsize wagon. Both models are derivatives of other Subaru cars. The Crosstrek is really an Impreza hatchback, while the Outback is a Legacy wagon in hiking boots (Subaru no longer sells the Legacy wagon in the United States, however).
What sets the Crosstrek and Outback apart from their Impreza and Legacy counterparts are plastic body cladding and jacked-up ride heights, affording an SUV-like 8.7 inches of ground clearance.
The Crosstrek and Outback are both based on the Subaru Global Platform, like most of the automaker’s other current models. However, the Outback is substantially larger than the Crosstrek. It’s 191.3 inches long with a 108.1-inch wheelbase, while the Crosstrek is 175.8 inches long, with a 104.9-inch wheelbase.
That translates into greater interior space. Subaru quotes maximum passenger volume of 109 cubic feet for the Outback and 100.9 for the Crosstrek. Maximum cargo space for the Outback is 32.5 cubic feet with the rear seats in place, and 75.7 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The Crosstrek has 20.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in place, and 55.8 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
Both models get versions of Subaru’s Starlink infotainment system. The Outback comes standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, but all trim levels except the base model get an 11.6-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen. A Wi-Fi hotspot and head-up display are also available at extra cost. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models.
The Crosstrek is a step below the Outback in Subaru’s lineup, and a slightly older design, so it doesn’t get the big screen. It does get standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, however, with a standard 6.5-inch touchscreen or optional 8.0-inch touchscreen, depending on the trim level.
Both models also get Subaru’s EyeSight driver-assist tech, which uses cameras mounted near the rearview mirror instead of the more expensive (and easier to damage) radar setups used by most other manufacturers. For the 2021 model year, all Crosstrek models equipped with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) get standard adaptive cruise control with lane centering, autonomous emergency braking, pre-collision throttle management, lane departure prevention, and lead-vehicle start alert.
Optional driver-assist features on the Crosstrek include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-change assist, automatic high beams, and reverse autonomous emergency braking.
The Outback gets the same standard EyeSight features as the Crosstrek, as well as DriverFocus, which uses a driver-facing camera to detect signs of distraction. The Outback is also available with Front View Monitor, which displays a 180-degree camera view on the 11.6-inch touchscreen to mitigate blind spots.
Typical of Subaru, the Crosstrek and Outback both get standard all-wheel drive. The base engine for the Outback is a 2.5-liter boxer-four, with 182 horsepower and 176 pound-feet of torque. Outback XT models get a turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer-four from the Ascent crossover, making 260hp and 277 lb.-ft. A CVT is the sole available transmission on the Outback.
Base Crosstrek models get a 2.0-liter boxer-four engine, with 152hp and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. This engine is available with a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT. For the 2021 model year, buyers can upgrade to the 2.5-liter engine from the Outback, with the same 182hp and 176 lb.-ft. As in the Outback, the 2.5-liter engine is CVT only.
Equipped with the same engine and CVT, the Crosstrek and Outback are fairly close in fuel economy. The Crosstrek is rated at 29 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 34 mpg highway) with the 2.5-liter engine. The Outback has the same combined mpg rating, but loses 1 mpg in the city and highway categories.
The base 2.0-liter Crosstrek is rated at 30 mpg combined (28 mpg city, 33 mpg highway) with the CVT, and 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway) with the manual transmission. The turbocharged Outback XT is rated at 26 mpg combined (23 mpg city, 30 mpg highway).
Subaru also sells the Crosstrek Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid version of the Crosstrek, with a powertrain that combines the 2.0-liter boxer-four engine and a Toyota-sourced hybrid system. Total system output is 148 horsepower, but Subaru claims the plug-in hybrid will do zero to 60mph 1.0 second quicker than the base Crosstrek. The plug-in hybrid can drive up to 17 miles on electric power, at speeds of up to 65mph, with an efficiency rating of 90 mpge combined.
If you plan on towing, you’d better go with the Outback. Subaru doesn’t publish tow ratings for the Crosstrek, but the Outback is rated to tow up to 2,700 pounds with the base engine, and 3,500 pounds with the optional turbocharged engine.
The gasoline Crosstrek received a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), missing out on the highest Top Safety Pick+ due to poorly rated headlights on lower trim levels. The Crosstrek Hybrid received the Top Safety Pick+ rating because it gets the better-rated headlights as standard equipment. The Outback received a Top Safety Pick+ rating as well.
Both cars received a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with five-star side crash and four-star rollover ratings. However, the Outback also got a five-star frontal crash rating, while the Crosstrek was rated four stars.
The Crosstrek is positioned below the Outback in Subaru’s lineup. The 2021 model has a base price of $ 23,295, while a fully loaded Limited model starts at $ 31,440. Subaru hasn’t released pricing information for the 2021 Crosstrek Hybrid, but the 2020 model started at $ 36,155.
Subaru also hasn’t released pricing for the 2021 Outback. The 2020 model starts at $ 27,655, but the price climbs to $ 40,705 for a range-topping Touring XT model.