DRIVEN: Treacherous Trek


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Come to think of it, exactly how does a rescue helicopter fly in 50 mph wind? Oh, I know: It doesn’t.

This is the thought that came and went through my mind, almost as briskly, as I was relieving myself next to a barren, frozen Icelandic lake in the middle of our guide’s fist: the visual representation for the boundaries of this frozen island. This cold is just as brutal too.

14Subaru_XVCrosstrekHybrid_expedition_228To Subaru’s credit, they offered to drop me in the middle of the island, gave me a car and told me to get ready for cold. They gave me a coat to keep warm, too, but no knife to cut open my driving partner should the situation get any more dire. The team in the car up ahead is wondering to each other which one of us has the survival skills necessary if we get stranded. I don’t. I ate the gummies they packed in the car and swilled water like there were public bathrooms dotting the Icelandic wasteland like Downtown Denver.

“No way I’m eating someone on this trip,” I told my driving partner. I’d put this nice Zebra pen in someone’s neck, but it’d be awfully hard given the size of the jackets Subaru gave us. I’d go down pretty quick.

“Keep momentum,” the guides told us as we plowed through drifts in a car that’ll likely only plow through parking lots and the occasional ski mountain parking lot.

There was the occasional high-centering, or stuck in something off road that looked like a road but in reality was a 7-inch depression on volcanic soil that swallowed cars like “Truck-a-saurus.”

But given the 2014 Subaru XV Hybrid is in reality an alternative for a Toyota Prius, which carries all the off-road cred as a Barbie Jeep, the Subie can hold its own.

“We didn’t really plan for this, guys,” says one Subaru official, who seemed so pleased that bumpers were being shed, suspensions were getting knocked and tires were getting blown so fast that it’s worth wondering if the Icelandic outback makes people crazy that fast.

Or maybe that was the whale and horse they ate for dinner last night.

14Subaru_XVCrosstrekHybrid_expedition_361Of course, there’s no reasonable person alive who would venture to take a Subaru Hybrid into one of the most unforgiving terrains imaginable. But this trip, admittedly an opulent junket, wasn’t about “should,” it was all about “could.” Yes, you can take Iceland2013 73a brand new, lime green Subaru XV Hybrid into the middle of nowhere and survive. So long as you’re flanked by mega SUVs (not one you could buy in the U.S., by the way) with balloon tires and hipster high-and-tight hair cuts driving them, you can do anything. Their trucks are the automotive middle between a pontoon boat and zombie runner. I’m glad they have bungee cords.

For this car, it’s extreme. But the XV Crosstrek is a surprise already. To date, the smaller sedan has sold more than I ever imagined—about 50,000 so far—and not all of them in Boulder. The Crosstrek had crossover appeal, like the Outback Sport before it, even if that car had a name that was easier to pronounce. The biggest knock on that car was the underwhelming power—especially at 5,280 feet—and noisy cabin, which I think were greatly exaggerated and could be mitigated by embracing a manual transmission. But what do I know anyway? I signed up to be nearly stranded in the middle of nowhere.

This time around for the hybrid model, Subaru added more horses (12 from the 0.6 kWh motor fueled by electrons) and some 60 lbs. of sound-deadening material. (Ever lifted a UHaul blanket? They’re incredibly light but effective baffling. Almost 60 lbs. of those things would muffle cannon fire.)

Of course, those creature comforts make little difference when the car you’re in may become your lifeboat for surviving Icelandic winter for two days. Sound deadening doesn’t mean dirt when you’re blasting through volcanic rocks and ice at 40 mph. You could make a car out of R4,000 insulation and it’d still sound like gunfire coming through the wheel wells. I don’t mind. Thankfully our Subaru-badged Tauntaun has heated seats.

14Subaru_XVCrosstrekHybrid_expedition_282The battery draining hills and long stretches of open throttle running means we won’t approach the more than 30 mpg Subaru purports the XV Hybrid can achieve in combined driving, but I have little doubt it’ll get there. I just need it to get where we’re apparently going, which, right now, looks to be a volcano.

Out here, I have time to ponder things like: Is this what it would be like to drive on the moon if Rush Limbaugh’s moon colony was a thing? Can you eat a bald eagle in Iceland if you can eat whale? And why is the Crosstrek the first Subaru to get a hybrid system. To wit, my answers were, “Probably. No. And because anything else would have been unleashed in a sea of also-ran hybrids that don’t offer much beyond a few more mpg.” By selling a small crossover hybrid, Subaru can rightly claim that for under $30,000 buyers are given a capable automobile unlike any other.

To substantiate that claim they sent us to Iceland to see how unlike any other the car really is. The answer, in case you were asking, is pretty different. Not dramatically, but enough that it just feels like a Subaru with all its quirks and colors.

Oh, and since you didn’t ask: Peeing into the wind is actually productive if you’re facing the right direction.

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