Subaru Crosstrek vs Subaru Outback: Which One Suits Your Lifestyle?

Subaru Crosstrek vs Outback

In many ways, the Subaru Crosstrek is like a younger, less sophisticated sibling to the Subaru Outback. Where the subcompact Crosstrek crossover was born just 11 years ago, the mid-size Outback sport utility wagon has been a mainstay in the Subaru lineup for nearly thirty years.

I tested both the Subaru Crosstrek and Subaru Outback to see how they compare. There are good reasons to turn your attention from one to the other, having more to do with lifestyle choices than with quality or reliability. A closer look at their similarities and differences will help determine which one earns a place in your driveway.

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Subaru Crosstrek vs. Subaru Outback Comparison

SpecificationsSubaru CrosstrekSubaru Outback
Length / Width / Height
176.5 / 71.0 / 63.6 in.
191.9 / 74.2 / 66.1 in.
191.3 / 74.6 / 66.9 in. (Wilderness)
Curb Weight
3,117 - 3,717 lbs
3,641 - 3,946 lbs
Ground Clearance
8.7 in.
9.5 in. (Wilderness)
Cargo Volume
20.8 cu.ft.
15.9 cu.ft. (Hybrid)
32.6 cu.ft.
Max Towing
1500 lbs.
1000 lbs. (PHEV)
3500 lbs.
Net Horsepower
182 HP - 2.5L
152 HP - 2.0L
148 HP Net - 2.0L PHEV
182 HP - 2.5L
260 HP - 2.4L Turbo
Fuel Economy City / Hwy.
27 / 34 MPG - 2.5L; CVT
22 / 29 MPG - 2.0L; 6-MAN
90 MPGe - 2.0L PHEV; CVT
26 / 32 MPG - 2.5L; CVT
29 / 22 MPG - 2.4L T; CVT
21 / 26 MPG - 2.4L T; CVT (Wilderness)
$23,645 - $36,845
$28,395 - $42,295

Tale of the Tape

Subaru-Crosstrek-Tale-of-the-TapeIt didn't take me long to see that the Subaru Outback is the larger and heavier of these two vehicles. In fact, the only reason a Crosstrek even comes close to the weight of any Outback is that the Hybrid trim (a PHEV) puts on a hefty number of pounds – over 400 more than the Limited, which is the heaviest of the gasoline-powered Crosstreks at 3,298 lbs.

Interestingly, the Hybrid, even with all that added weight, is still more efficient than the gasoline models. At this time, there is no Outback hybrid, although the Subaru Global Platform on which the current generation is built was designed to accommodate alternative powertrains.

One might surmise that the Outback’s significantly larger exterior dimensions would consequently give it the edge on the inside. For the most part, that’s true. To its credit though, the Crosstrek, with 43.1 inches of front legroom, nudges out its sibling’s 42.8 inches. Otherwise, the Outback simply is roomier – more passenger volume (109.0 cu.ft. vs. 100.9 cu.ft.) and more cargo space (75.6 cu.ft. vs. 55.3 cu.ft. with rear seats lowered). Variants of either model that are equipped with a moonroof lose some interior volume.

Overall stability and handling, as well as ride comfort, in the Outback benefits from its longer wheelbase. It’s only about three inches (108.1 vs.104.9), but that changes the geometry of the platform enough that roadway irregularities aren’t as evident.

The Takeaway: The Outback dominates if one goes strictly by dimensions. Fortunately, the Crosstrek brings a hefty dose of personality to this matchup with its bigger brother. The Outback’s popularity may not be withered by the perky Crosstrek, but Subaru still stands to gain by offering a smaller, economical utility vehicle that appeals to a different audience.

Cabin Quality and Design

Subaru-Outback-Cabin-Quality-and-DesignBoth vehicles comfortably accommodate five passengers and provide plenty of amenities, but the $5800 price difference between the models’ Limited trims is indicative of the pricier Outback having a bit more of a premium look and feel inside. A prime example is how the Outback Limited’s standard heated front seats get 12-way power driver-side and 8-way power passenger-side adjustments, whereas the Crosstrek Limited outfits them with 6-way power and 4-way manual adjustments, respectively. Plus, the Outback Limited and higher trims get heated rear outboard seating.

Similarly, a heated steering wheel (which anyone driving where winter temperatures regularly drop below freezing will totally appreciate) is optional on the Outback Limited and standard on its Touring and XT trims, but in the Crosstrek, it’s only offered as an option on the Hybrid.

The Crosstrek’s standard 6.5-inch STARLINK Multimedia display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto featured in the lower trims is replaced by an 8-inch display at the Limited level. For the Outback, all except the Base trim get an 11.6-inch multimedia touch-gesture display with wireless CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Interestingly, a CD player is featured on the Crosstrek in all but the base trim. For some nostalgic car buyers, that alone could make the deal.

The Takeaway: These two Subarus are not so much competitive with each other as they are alternatives for different lifestyles and budgets. Although the Outback generally offers a more premium experience for occupants, the Crosstrek is no laggard when it comes to available features, it’s just constrained by its price point.

Performance & Powertrains

Subaru-Outback-Performance-&-PowertrainsFour-cylinder Subaru Boxer engines are ubiquitous in the lineups of the Crosstrek and Outback models. These powerplants are noteworthy in that their horizontally opposed cylinders position the mass of the engine lower, bringing the vehicle’s center of gravity down and consequently improving vehicle stability.

At the Base end of the lineup, the Crosstrek employs a 152-horsepower 2-liter engine, then moves up to a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter engine in the upper trims. At the top of the roster, the Hybrid trims couples a 2-liter engine with an electric motor to produce a total system net of 148 horsepower.

The 2.5-liter engine also motivates five of the Outback trims, from Base to Touring. Then, from the Onyx Edition XT on up to the range-topping Touring XT, a 260-horsepower turbocharged 2.4-liter engine does the work for the Outback. For those planning to tow anything substantial, such as a sailboat, maximum towing capability tops out at 3500 pounds in any turbocharged Outback. The Crosstrek doesn’t come close, offering 1500 pounds at its best.

For drivers who like the hands-on experience of rowing through gears and finessing a clutch pedal, I found that the Crosstrek’s entry-level Base and Premium trims come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission. Otherwise, a CVT (continuously variable transmission) rules for both Subarus. Importantly though, the CVT features an 8-speed manual mode in all cases except the Base Crosstrek with the CVT option.

Despite the differences in performance among these engines, the range of efficiency ratings between the two models is similar (not counting the Hybrid). The best rating in a gasoline-only Crosstrek comes from a 2-liter model equipped with a CVT, which garners a 30-mpg combined city/highway rating. The manual transmission models drop down to 25 mpg. The Hybrid trim has a 17-mile all-electric range with a 90 mpge rating. Its gas/electric fuel economy is rated at 35 mpg in combined city/highway driving.

Meanwhile, a 2.5-liter equipped Outback earns 28 mpg in combined city/highway driving, while the turbos get 25mpg. The Wilderness trim is an exception tallying just 23 mpg due to its wider track, higher ground clearance, and all-terrain tires.

The Takeaway: One would be wise to consider performance a key characteristic in differentiating the Crosstrek and Outback even though they both utilize 4-cylinder engines. The Outback clearly leads in doing grunt work, while the Crosstrek gets the nod for efficiency with its PHEV model.

Safety Equipment and Scores

Subaru-Crosstrek-Safety-Equipment-and-ScoresSubaru’s much-applauded EyeSight Driver Assist Technology can be found on both the Crosstrek and the Outback. Features include a pre-collision braking system, advanced adaptive cruise control with lane centering, and lane departure and sway warning. However, in the Crosstrek, this safety technology is optional in the lowest two trims and standard in the Sport and higher trims. With the Outback, it’s standard across the lineup.

For Crosstreks equipped with EyeSight, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has bestowed its Top Safety Pick recognition. However, in updated testing, the model did not fare very well in side crash testing. Also, the headlight systems in the Base, Premium, and Sport were considered inadequate. Even so, Limited and Hybrid steps ups to LED steering responsive headlights with high beam assist contributed to the IIHS' favorable evaluation.

The Outback measured up better with the IIHS, earning their Top Safety Pick Plus designation. The model’s crashworthiness and crash avoidance systems garnered unconditional top ratings. Feature for feature, the Outback offers more standard advanced safety technologies than the Crosstrek. In addition to standard EyeSight, the model comes with the responsive headlight system that the IIHS favors.

Depending on trim, blind spot detection, and rear cross-traffic alert are offered as standard or optional on all except the Base in both the Crosstrek and Outback.

The Takeaway: Overall safety in the Outback outdoes the Crosstrek. This is the fate of many economical models. The question buyers must ask themselves is: “How much am I willing to pay for a safer vehicle?” The Crosstrek is not unsafe, it measures up quite well, but the Outback is safer – and more expensive.

Current Subaru Crosstrek Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2024SubaruCrosstrek3.90%$299/month for 36 months, $2,549 due at signing7/31/24

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Subaru deals and average prices paid.

Current Subaru Outback Deals & Incentives

YearMakeModelCash Incentives (up to)Best Avail. APRLease OffersExpiration
2024SubaruOutback2.90%$305/month for 36 months, $3,055 due at signing7/31/24

You may qualify for additional deals and incentives, check out this month's Subaru deals and average prices paid.

So, Which Is Better, the Crosstrek or the Outback?

After testing both vehicles, it was clear to me that Subaru builds these two vehicles for buyers with very different needs. The Crosstrek is a smaller, more economical utility vehicle that offers light offroad capability, easier maneuverability in urban environments, and hybrid efficiency if desired.

The Outback is more capable and refined. Plus, it can provide the adventurous with a vehicle that’s ready for a rugged all-terrain experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which has more features, the Crosstrek or the Outback?

Although these vehicles are priced very differently, they both come well equipped. The Outback, however, comes with more premium level features. It also has more trim offerings – nine versus five in the Crosstrek. Nevertheless, the Crosstrek offers a PHEV model, which the Outback currently does not.

Are PHEVs worth the extra money one pays over their traditionally powered counterparts?

Generally, yes. Over its lifetime, a PHEV can save enough in fuel costs to cover the difference in initial pricing. Plus, there may be tax incentives to offset the cost. Consider, too, that reducing carbon emissions has a value on which you may not be able to put a price.