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2 inch lifted subaru crosstrek with RRW wheels

Why The Subaru Crosstrek is the perfect all-around offroad adventure car

Introduced in 2013, the Subaru Crosstrek has quickly gained an almost cult-like following of loyal owners – many of whom are outdoor enthusiasts to the highest degree. The fuel efficiency, modern styling, and formidable ground clearance have earned it a top spot among Subaru’s all-star lineup.

But what about off-road use? Is the Crosstrek any good? We think so. But it’s not for everyone.

The Subaru Crosstrek does really well in most light off-road situations. Models equipped with Subaru’s CVT transmission allow drivers to comfortably navigate challenging terrain at lower speeds. The Symmetrical All Wheel Drive that Subaru is famous for gives the Crosstrek an unmatched capability to pull right through snow, mud, and gravel without issue. Not only that, Subaru’s X-Mode system also helps drivers safely manage even the most technical sections of trails with ease. 

However, this car is not designed to be a rock crawler or even a dedicated “4×4 Trail Rig”. It doesn’t have the same suspension or frame design that vehicles built on a truck platform have and won’t hold up to the same extreme abuse as true wheeling rigs. The Crosstrek is great for those who want to go to places that may involve basic off-road driving. But we don’t suggest it as a substitute for a vehicle with a low-range transfer case and heavy duty axles, such as 4Runners, Wranglers, and Tacomas.

white lifted subaru crosstrek with offroad tires and method mr502 wheels in the snow going through mud back shot

Table of Contents

10 Reasons The Crosstrek Is Good Off-Road:

  • X-Mode gives drivers the ability to navigate technical terrain such as mud and ice
  • Independent suspension is extremely comfortable on rough roads
  • 8.7 inches of ground clearance from the factory with the ability to easily add a lift kit
  • World-famous all wheel drive system provides safety and off-road capability
  • Fantastic turning radius allows drivers to turn around on narrow roads
  • Navigates tight trails more easily than most wide trucks
  • Built in roof rails allow for easy installation of roof racks & accessories
  • Wide availability of suspension upgrades and lift kits for added capability
  • Historically proven reliability
  • Extremely generous MPG’s and fuel range for long back country trips

Who We Recommend The Crosstrek For:

We recommend it for overlanders, camper, hikers, skiers, snowboarders, photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds who still want great MPG’s in the city but may need to drive on rugged terrain occasionally. There is no beating the comfort and versatility that Subaru offers. If you want to be able to easily cruise on paved city roads and then head straight to the trails after work, the Crosstrek is a great option.

As previously mentioned, the Crosstrek is not the best choice for someone who’s looking to replace a 4×4’s heavy duty capability. It will do just fine on most off-road trails, but anyone who wants to consistently abuse it in the same manner as a Jeep will be spending a lot in repair costs.

lifted subaru crosstrek with a lift kit and off road wheels

How X-Mode Helps Off-Road:

Subaru’s X-Mode is an off-road assistance program that comes standard on almost all current model Crosstreks. X-Mode coordinates the throttle, the All Wheel Drive, the CVT, and the traction control systems to deliver maximum control in low-speed, off-road situations. From steep muddy hills, to snow, to sand, the X-Mode system can help drivers safely navigate out of situations that only the most skilled drivers should be able to handle.

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Ground Clearance & Suspension Benefits:

Fun Fact: The Subaru Crosstrek arrives from the factory with 8.7 inches of ground clearance while the Jeep Grand Cherokee has only 8.6 inches…

There are a number of things about the Crosstrek suspension that make it great for off-road use:

  • Ground clearance for traversing rough trails and deep obstacles
  • Independent suspension for more undercarriage space, and a smoother ride on bumpy terrain
  • More responsive steering

Although there are plenty of other trucks and heavy duty SUV’s that have more ground clearance than the Crosstrek, nearly 9 inches on a stock setup is very impressive. This will allow you to avoid becoming high-centered in deep snow and sand. You’ll also have more peace of mind when driving near objects that may damage the undercarriage of vehicles – such as rocks or fallen tree branches.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Subaru platform is MUCH more comfortable on uneven terrain due to the independent axle layout. The independent suspension allows the car to handle more like a passenger vehicle on-road and gives the occupants a much more pleasant experience while off-road when compared to solid axle trucks. Just remember that independent suspension is not nearly as effective for rock-crawling since there’s nothing pushing the wheels onto the ground. This is why you’ll often see Subaru’s “3 wheeling” on uneven terrain.

crosstrek in sandy 4x4 trail with roof rack

Size Benefits Of The Crosstrek:

One of the things that makes Subarus so great when exploring off road is the ability to fit down narrow trails. When 4Runners and Pathfinders have to stop, our Crosstrek is almost always able to keep pushing forward without any damage. It’s not uncommon in many areas to find old abandoned forest roads that are overgrown. Being able to not only drive further up them, but to be able to turn around in a tight spot is extremely helpful.

Crosstrek Turning Radius

The turning radius on Crosstreks is 17.7 feet. Compare that with something like a Toyota Tacoma which has a 20.3 foot radius. That will help get you out of a lot of hairy situations when blindly backing straight out would typically be your only option. Instead, you’ll be able to turn around much more easily.

Approach Angle

Because of its smaller size, the Crosstrek has the ability to manage uneven terrain much better than longer vehicles. This will allow you to avoid damaging your exhaust system, engine components, and bumpers. This is even more true for folks who remove their stock bumpers and install an off-road option with more clearance.

Some Of Our Favorite Off-Road Crosstrek Builds:

Built-in Features That Are Perfect For The Outdoors:

With 21 cubic feet of cargo space and 40 inches of head room, the Crosstrek is one of the best options for outdoor explorers, overlanders, and weekend adventurers. Plenty of room to store hiking equipment and recovery gear for the trails. Some have even put a mattress in the back of their Crosstrek and camped overnight in it. Anyone much taller than 6 feet may want to consider bringing a tent though.

The Crosstrek also has built in roof rails that can be used to mount snowboard racks, bike racks, roof baskets, spare tires, extra fuel, or recovery boards. This super convenient for anyone who wants to brings friends along for trips without sacrificing interior room for gear.

Ability To Upgrade Suspension & Wheel Setup

With the exploding popularity of the Crosstrek, there are now multiple suppliers who offer affordable lift kits and off-road accessories for it. With a basic lift kit for under $350 you can get an added two inches of suspension height and then fit an even bigger tire underneath the car. Most mechanically inclined folks with a DIY spirit can install one of these kits in about a day with basic hand tools. Check out our Crosstrek Tire Guide to see what the best all-terrain sizes are for your offroad adventures.

Once you’ve upgraded the suspension, wheels, and tires, you will likely be somewhere at around 12 full inches of ground clearance at the rear diff. We’ve lifted many Subarus and have really enjoyed using them to see more of the world.

We’re excited that there are so many options out there for the Subaru platform now and know you’ll have no problem finding a great kit for your Crosstrek.

Plan To Lift Your New Crosstrek?

After you purchase a new Crosstrek, you’ll likely want to begin modifying it with off-road parts. We’ve created a collection the best lift kits out there for them. Read this article before you make a decision:

Fuel Economy:

The Subaru Crosstrek has an average fuel tank range of nearly 450 miles in the city and 547 miles on the highway. This means you’ll be able to go further into the backcountry without stressing about having to find fuel. For folks who are extra cautious, a set of Rotopax fuel containers can be easily mounted to the roof just in case.

We’ve had more than one person tell us they enjoy their Crosstrek more than any truck they’ve ever owned because they can afford to make more trips in it. A 4×4 isn’t a lot of fun when it’s sitting in the driveway right?


One of the most important things when in the backcountry is knowing that your car will have no mechanical issues. While you can’t 100% guarantee that a car won’t have a problem, you can minimize it and Subaru has proven themselves as a reliable vehicle manufacturer.

Not only are Subarus fun to drive, they also last a long time. In fact, Experian Automotive has found that 97% of Subarus sold in the last decade are still on the road today. One could argue that Subaru owners are just statistically more meticulous with maintenance. But we think it’s a partial indication of their dependability.

The Bottom Line:

As we mentioned before, the Crosstrek is fantastic car that can handle off-road use. But it is not for those who want a dedicated rock crawler.