When you’re in the middle of a pandemic and want to get away, it’s good to have two things: a destination that’s far from crowds and a car that can take you there. The Berlin Woods Treehouses in Millersburg, Ohio are definitely off the beaten path and the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport doesn’t mind straying from that path.
Located in the heart of Ohio Amish Country, the Berlin Woods Treehouses aren’t so much “tree houses” as they are luxuriously appointed log cabins on stilts in the trees. The six houses are all of similar design but varying sizes. My unit slept up to six with its open loft layout and had all the modern amenities including a spa tub in the master suite, full kitchen, and satellite television. But the best feature was the wrap-around porch that I used to enjoy a contemplative hour staring into the woods.
In this hilly, rural area of the state, halfway between Cleveland and Columbus, life is a little different from most of America. Nearly 50% of the people who live in Holmes County are Amish. When you’re driving on anywhere in the county, you’re just as likely to encounter a buggy or bicycle on the roads as you are another car. With all the hills and curves that means drivers have to stay alert and be patient.
Needless to say, you don’t come to Amish country for nightlife. Where we were staying, you can’t even get a drink unless you bring it yourself because the township we stayed in was dry. That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do in the area – tourism is the number 1 industry here. It’s just that cultural activities fall more to the historical, outdoor, and religious side of things. Museums, antiques, and trails for hiking and riding are common in the county.
But I wasn’t there for any of that. I came to Ohio to drive the refreshed Subaru Crosstrek, with its new, more powerful, 2.5-liter boxer engine in the just introduced Sport trim.
The Crosstrek is Subaru’s entry level adventure vehicle, a small, all-wheel drive, four-door mix between a wagon and a sport ute. It’s available in four trim levels, Base, Premium, Limited, and Sport and was all new in 2018. The big news for the line up for the 2020 refresh is the 2.5-liter boxer engine in Limited and Sport models, boosting output to 182 horsepower, giving both a lot more capability and making them more fun to drive. With the larger engine, the power gets to the ground through a CVT transmission and all Crosstrek models are equipped with Subaru’s legendary symmetrical all-wheel drive system. A manual is still available in the base and premium models with the 2.0-liter engine.
One of the first companies to offer all-wheel drive on its passenger cars, Subaru’s system offers several advantages. It begins with the boxer-style engine with horizontally opposed cylinders that is longitudinally mounted. This means there’s a straight line from the crankshaft, through the transmission, to the driveshaft and rear differential right down the middle of the car. This engine design also has a lower profile which keeps the center of gravity closer to the ground, improving stability and handling. The standard torque split is 60:40 front to rear, but thanks to an electronically controlled transfer system, power is automatically adjusted front to rear where it can do the most good depending on road conditions and driver inputs.
Subaru’s CVT is better than most. There’s very little of that rubber band feeling you find in versions of this transmission from other manufacturers. I attribute that to the use of a chain instead of a belt connecting the variable diameter pulleys. The result is more natural acceleration from a dead stop. Even better, when you put it in manual mode and toggle between the 8 simulated gears the shifts are so immediate and positive I found it hard to distinguish between it and a traditional automatic as I spent an afternoon driving aggressively around the two-lane, unpaved roads that crisscross the countryside.
The 3,265 pound Crosstrek Sport is svelte and nimble on the pavement and now thanks to the 2.5-liter engine, there’s more than enough power to pass one-horsepower Amish buggies. The base 2.0-liter engine was notoriously sluggish, so this is a welcome upgrade. Especially since the larger engine actually gets better fuel economy on the highway, reaching 34 MPG according to the EPA. Eyesight is updated for 2021 in all CVT equipped models, adding adaptive cruise control and lane centering, taking a little more stress out of highway driving.
Off road, the Sport model is more capable than a garden variety Crosstrek. All Crosstreks have a generous 8.7 inches of ground clearance, and each CVT equipped model has X-Mode, Subaru’s branded terrain management system. But the Sport has “Dual Mode X-Mode” which optimizes the drivetrain for snow/dirt and deep snow/mud. It also has hill-descent control for when the trails get really gnarly. While I didn’t do any off-roading, I did find a few rutted back roads with steep hills and was able to confirm the system works as advertised. Just push the button, set the speed take your foot off the brake and steer. The car’s computer works the accelerator and brake to keep things under control.
Inside, the sport model features the same StarTex water-repellant coverings that are in the Outback XT. Subaru has found, not surprisingly, that many Crosstrek owners like to use their vehicles to get away from it all and partake in all manner of adventure sports that involve mud, dirt, and water. StarTex is a lightweight, urethane fabric that can be wiped clean with a damp cloth or sponge. Dark gray with yellow contrast stitching, the fabric doesn’t look or feel like leather – nor is it intended to. It looks and feels purposeful, which is fitting for the personality of the Crosstrek Sport. A few other nice touches on the interior are the easy to clean floor mats made from recycled material, the bright yellow accents on the steering wheel, and the faux carbon fiber accent panels.
There’s plenty of room for four adults and cargo space is adequate for a weekend’s worth of luggage for a small family. With just two people in the car and the rear seats down, you have all the space you need or camping gear or anything else you might want to take with you. The standard roof rack also means you can accessorize the Crosstrek for bikes, kayaks, or a gear carrier. And since the roof height is just 63.6 inches, you can reach things without the need of a stepladder.
Other features that help make the Crosstrek Sport even trekkier, include dark gray, 17-inch wheels with aggressively treaded all season tires, additional cladding around the wheel wells, and gunmetal finish for the front grille, side mirrors, and badges. There are also two new colors, Plasma Yellow Pearl and Horizon Blue Pearl which fit the personality of the new model well.
With more than 20 options in the small SUV category, Crosstrek used to rely solely on style, personality, and functionality. Now with the bigger, more powerful engine it’s no WRX, but it’s actually fun to drive. Between that and the exceptional resale value Subaru vehicles are known for, this is one of the better CUVs available today.
Subaru Crosstrek Sport
Four-door, five-passenger, all-wheel drive sport utility wagon
Base price: $26,495
Price as tested: $29,145
Options: Power moonroof, Blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert, Starlink 8-inch multi-media system Package ($1,600), Destination ($1,050)
Engine: 2.5-liter, horizontally opposed, dual overhead cam, 4-cylinder engine.
Transmission: CVT with 8 simulated speeds and paddle shifters
Power: 182 horsepower @ 5,800 RPM
Torque: 176 pound-feet @ 4,400 RPM
Curb weight: 3,265 pounds
0-60 MPH: 9.2 seconds
EPA MPG: 27 City/34 Highway/29 Combined