Review by Jacob Black, photos by Jacob Black and courtesy of Subaru

“That is the best idea ever!” said about the eighth bloke that afternoon. “Does that come with the car?”

It does – well, as a dealer-sold accessory. “It” is a Napier Sportz SUV Tent which is compatible with the Subaru Outback, Forester, XV Crosstrek and Tribeca. There’s a smaller edition compatible with the Impreza hatch too. Subaru is not the first to pair their vehicles with a tent. Anyone remember the Pontiac Aztek?

The tent itself is spectacular, it will sleep up to six – with another two in the 1,630 mm–long, flat-folded cargo area of the Crosstrek if you like. The sleeping compartment is 3 x 3 m with a 1.8 x 2 m screen room and a 1.8 x 1.8 m awning. There are two doors, three windows and enough bug and rain protection to keep Robinson Crusoe happy. The vehicle awning can be sealed from the car or left open, and you can open and close the tailgate without removing the awning.

Why would you want to attach your tent to your car though? Well, it means you can leave everything in your car and still access it without having to go in and out of the tent, which makes getting changed easier. It gives you access to power and most of all security, so you can leave all your stuff in the locked-up car when you’re not around. We found it handy for getting our daughter changed into her pajamas! Us not traipsing in and out to get her clothes meant she was less inclined to run out in her slippers/bare feet/pajamas on the wet grass.

So yeah, the tent is a winner. Even if it does take up a quarter of the cargo space.

We should point out that the Sportz SUV tent is adjustable/expandable enough to use with just about any SUV (and is available from places like Bass Pro). But it’s a symbol of Subaru’s keenness for attracting “outdoorsy” people that this has been made available through their dealerships in partnership with Napier.

We’ve seen this before. Solid ground clearance (220 mm) and a 680 kg (1,500 lb) towing-capacity plus standard roof-rack rails are all nods to Subaru’s adventurous intentions. Subaru has a proven demographic of skiers, campers and the like, and this accessory is a good fit for that.

In fact, of the people who came up to ogle our tent that weekend, half of them were already Subaru owners.

So what of the car?

A 148 hp/145 lb-ft 2.0L four-cylinder boxer engine with Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle ratings (PZEV) provides adequate motivation, but this engine is no stoic. Ask it to work hard and the engine will groan loudly at you. I came to enjoy the sound. The CVT is a smooth and relatively quiet unit with a manual mode that mimics a regular automatic – or in other words negates the whole point of a fuel-efficient, always-in-right-spot transmission. I left it alone and found it bothered me only when I was being particularly mean to it – like when I tried to pass a truck going up a hill.

The new five-cycle fuel economy ratings for the XV Crosstrek are 9.1/7.0 L/100 km city/highway, and we saw 8.4 by the end of our week, which included a fair bit of traffic-jam cruising in a fully laden car. On the trip out we saw an average of 6.8 L/100 km in clean air. I’ve noticed that CVT transmissions reward the smooth of foot, while the heavy of foot are punished brutally. Your driving style is accountable for up to 25 percent of your fuel economy results don’t forget.

NVH seems better somehow in this model than the 2014 edition, too, and while it’s still crashy over larger bumps the Crosstrek rides comfortably on regular tarmac. After a long weekend of camping at the racetrack my daughter was asleep within minutes on the way home, and stayed that way for several hours.

The steering is light but direct and highway driving is a relaxed affair even in cross winds, I’ve experienced the XV Crosstrek on snow, gravel and asphalt now and found it balanced, surefooted and even fun on all three.

Also on 2016 Mazda CX-3 and 2016 Honda HR-V

This test saw me loaded with luggage and precious, four-year-old cargo for the majority so we drove calmly and didn’t get to test out the “sporty outdoorsy” handling characteristics offered up by the MacPherson strut plus L arm front and double-wishbone rear suspension. But I can tell you they are there when you go looking for them.

This was a mid-spec Crosstrek fitted with the Sport Package and Technology option – that meant it had the new Starlink infotainment system which is a significant leap forward from the old system but still lags behind leaders a little in terms of speed and responsiveness of the touchscreen. This was the smaller 6.2-inch screen without nav, but I find it just as good as the 7-inch screen.

I found the menu buttons for the mid-dash info screen and the TFT screen in the instrument cluster a little difficult to understand and complicated in their use. It took a while but I got there in the end. Though the amount of things locked out unless you’re in park is infuriating – my wife wasn’t even able to set the clock from the passenger seat unless we were in park. That’s a pathetic nod to the safety-wowsers.

But the 6.2-inch main screen is intuitive and the redundant knobs for tuning and volume are welcome. Most importantly this system functions well with no glitches – unlike the last one.

The Technology option meant we got Eyesight, with the very good stereo camera–based safety system. Its features have been well-covered here and we like its ease of use, clever safety and convenience features (like the warning for when the car ahead of you has moved on and you haven’t) and the adaptive cruise control. It also comes with lane-departure warning, lane-sway warning and pre-collision mitigation.

The cloth seats are simple but effective and legroom for front and rear passengers alike is generous. There’s 632 L of cargo space with all seats up and 1,470 with them down. The 60/40 split fold was handy for our small family of over-packers and meant Maddie could be comfortable without us having to stack things on top of each other. Pro tip: Avoid stacking items that can slide around and clobber you or your kids in the noggin – try to keep everything down low.

The pragmatic joy of the Subaru XV Crosstrek is that it’s versatile, easy to drive, good value and packed with safety features. The deeper, less-tangible, more emotional brilliance of the Subaru XV Crosstrek is that it lives up to the promise of its marketing hype. When Subaru says, “Hey, this is for people who are active and into the outdoors” they don’t mean “people who like to think they are active by stopping for a burger on their way to the cottage.”

3 years/60,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

Honda HR-V
Mazda CX-3
Mitsubishi RVR
Nissan Juke
Pontiac Aztek

They mean actual, outdoor-going, North Face-wearing, bug-spray wielding, hiking-boot shod, bush-walking nutters. So if you’re the sort who likes your marshmallows toasted, mosquitos well-fed and tires muddy, Subaru has you covered – they’ll even hook you up with the tent.

Pricing: 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Sport Package with Technology
Base Price: $29,495
Options: Dealer-installed Napier vehicle tent – $399
A/C Tax: $100
Freight and PDI: $1,650
Price as Tested: $31,849

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