Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

Subaru XV Crosstrek: Three Months In

Subaru XV Crosstrek

In early May we took possession of our new car, a 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek. Touring trim, manual transmission. In tangerine orange. (Yes, the colour is Jennifer’s fault.)

We’ve had the new car for three months now, and have put 7,000 km on it. What’s it been like so far? And how does it compare to our previous car (a 2004 Subaru Forester)?

But before I get into that, let me explain what exactly it is that we have. First released for the 2013 model year, the XV Crosstrek is a compact crossover based on the Subaru Impreza hatchback. In most respects it is an Impreza: it shares the same powertrain, interior and general shape. It has 75 mm more ground clearance (220 mm vs. 145 mm), has some mechanical changes that among other things allows it to tow 680 kg (Imprezas can’t tow), and some distinguishing fancy alloy wheels, roof rails and body cladding. The trims and colours are different, too.

Anyway, it’s much more like a car than the Forester, which is built on the same platform; it is to the Impreza hatchback what the Outback is to the Legacy wagon (which isn’t sold in North America any more). It’s proved quite popular, and is now Subaru’s third-best-selling vehicle in North America. We see more and more of them on the roads all the time.

New car The XV Crosstrek is smaller than the current Forester, but, the Forester having grown over the years, it’s close in size to the 2004 Forester that it replaces. (They’re almost exactly the same weight.) But they don’t have the same interior space. On the one hand, the cabin is less cramped, and there’s considerably more rear-seat legroom. But on the other hand, there’s less headroom. There’s not enough headroom for me in trims that come with a sunroof, so the base Touring trim is the only one we could get.

There’s less cargo space too, but most of the time we don’t need it: in the nearly six years we had the Forester, I can think of maybe three occasions where an XV Crosstrek’s cargo space would have been insufficient. In such cases a roof-top carrier, or paying to get something shipped, would be cheaper than paying more for more vehicle.

In the meantime we get a more efficient, more car-like vehicle. The XV Crosstrek is much more fuel-efficient than the 2004 Forester, but that’s not saying much: the Forester’s 2.5-litre boxer four was about as efficient as a V6. While it made that Forester rather fun to drive (though first gear was a little wild), we didn’t get a lot of range. On our drives this summer we have been regularly surprised at just how far we can go on a tank of gas. On hilly highways where the speed limit is 80 to 90 km/h we can get 6.4 litres per 100 km (36 mpg). (It’s fun having a trip computer.) On freeways like the 401 it’s more like 7.2 litres per 100 km (33 mpg) — the lack of a sixth gear makes freeway driving, where the engine is running above 3,000 rpm, less efficient. For an all-wheel-drive crossover with a manual gearbox, this is surprisingly good.

(Note: we don’t do much city driving, so I can’t give you numbers on that.)

The tradeoff to get that fuel economy is less power (148 hp vs. 165, 145 lb/ft vs. 166); the XV Crosstrek’s 2.0-litre boxer four doesn’t have a lot of power below 2,500 rpm. Those of us who drive manual must make sure we don’t shift out of the engine’s relatively narrow power band. You need to downshift on hills, and rev the engine higher when accelerating. Opting for the continuously variable transmission would no doubt help ameliorate this: they’re supposedly good at getting power out of small engines by keeping them in the power band.

It was feeling down a couple of pints. Oil consumption might be an issue. On our way home from Detroit last month, at just past 6,000 km on the odometer, a warning light came on and we had to add another quart of oil. This is simultaneously normal (as per the owner’s manual, which considers one litre per 2,000 km excessive) and a known issue: a class action lawsuit was launched last month against Subaru in the U.S. as a result of excessive oil consumption in the newer FA- and FB-class engines. I hope it’s not a regular occurrence: 0W-20 synthetic oil is not particularly cheap.

Subarus are not known for having lavish interiors, but then we were going from a 10-year-old Subaru to a new one, so even if Subarus lag behind other car makes, they’ve still gotten better in the meantime. The seats feel a bit more comfortable, and the controls seem well organized (getting the base model means avoiding some of the complexity of higher-end models, with dual-zone climate control or touchscreen infotainment systems). My elbows do hurt during long drives, after resting for hours on rather hard plastic surfaces. It’s a functional cabin, not a luxurious one.

At the outset my muscle memory was messing with me: the mist and wash controls on the wiper stalk were flipped relative to the previous car, and the electric power steering was weighted a little differently. Definitely lighter. For a while I had a hell of a time hitting the centre of parking spaces.

In general, though, we’re very happy with it. It’s our first new car, and a car 10 years newer should be measurably better on several fronts. Which this is. The outrageous orange colour doesn’t hurt, and looks even better when the car is washed — which encourages us to keep it immaculate.

(For another take on XV Crosstrek ownership, see this owner’s perspective, which echoes a lot of what we’ve observed.)

More Adventures in Snakekeeping

  1. No worries about her feeding response now.After refusing to eat for two and a half months, Extrovert the wandering garter snake is eating again. With her usual ferocity — viz., a mouse dropped into her cage might hit the cage floor before she strikes. Might. I am happy to see that my worries were unfounded (snakes do go off their feed from time to time, after all: Nic the Everglades rat snake is doing so right now), and that this wizened old garter snake continues to carry on.
  2. Infertile bullsnake eggs, second clutchLucy the bullsnake laid another clutch of infertile eggs — a full dozen of them. In her water dish, so if they were fertile before, they certainly aren’t now. (And they almost certainly weren’t: misshapen and miscoloured right out of the vent.) While this isn’t the first time one of our snakes has double-clutched (Pretzel did it all the time), it’s the first time we’ve seen double-clutching when we’re pretty sure mating hasn’t occurred. (Her cagemate, as I have said on many occasions, is useless in that department.) Chalk this up to a good diet: since Nic has been off his feed himself, Lucy has been getting some of the leftovers. A well-fed female snake will often put the extra into egg production.
  3. ... and here's the other one.Because we have no willpower ...Baby garter snakes are our kryptonite, and also the cutest things in the universe, so when a friend said they had more red-sided garter snakes than they knew what to do with, well, we were weak, and picked up a couple. These were born last year — and you’ll be interested to know, the grandchildren of our original breeding pair, being the offspring of a male from the famous litter of 42. It’s good to have young garter snakes again — our youngest prior to this is nine years old.

Adventures in Snake Missexing

Rat snake eggs (infertile, dried out)

At one point, when both snakes were starting to outgrow their cages, we were considering putting Spencer, our Baird’s rat snake, and Snowflake, our leucistic Texas rat snake, into one large cage, on the principle that two snakes of the same sex and two relatively closely related species would do reasonably well together. (We have three other rat and corn snake cages set up like this, two with two males and one with two females.)

Well it’s a good thing we didn’t, because when we did the big cage cleaning this week we found five dried-out, infertile eggs in the Texas rat snake’s cage. So much for Snowflake being male. Had Spencer been sharing a cage with her, he would almost certainly have tried to mate with her, and the two species are close enough that the eggs might well have been fertile.

We got Spencer’s sex wrong initially as well. When he was much smaller he briefly shared a cage with Snowflake’s mother, thinking they were both female; I separated them as soon as I saw him begin courtship behaviour.

And when I think about it, we — and the people who sexed snakes for us — have gotten the sex of our snakes wrong a hilarious number of times. The anerythristic motley corn snake we named “Little Guy” who grew up to be neither. The pair of speckled kingsnakes who tried to eat one another when put together for breeding; the “male” later coming down with egg binding. The red milk snakes, sold as a pair, who turned out to be two females. The checkered garter snakes, sold as two females, who turned out to be a male and a female.

Really, we suck at this. It’s a good thing we’re not trying to breed any more: it would all end in tears.

Snake vs. Snake: Copperheads in Atlanta


I have already written about the inadvisability of releasing snakes as rodent control, but releasing snakes as snake control is a new one even to me. In Slate, Holly Allen writes about her Atlanta neighbours releasing black rat snakes and kingsnakes to deal with an apparent outbreak of copperheads — the rat snakes to crowd the copperheads out, the kingsnakes to, well, eat them. As Allen (correctly) points out, releasing snakes is a super bad idea, for the usual reasons: translocated snakes have a poor survival rate and have a negative impact on local snake populations (and not just the copperheads). Leaving the copperheads alone is, as usual, the best thing you can do. Via

Readercon Video: Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled

Sunday morning at Readercon I participated in a panel called “Books That Deserve to Remain Unspoiled.” Scott Edelman recorded it; his video is now up on YouTube. If you weren’t at Readercon, or you were but (a) scheduled elsewhere or (b) 10 a.m. on a Sunday was just too early for personal sentience, well, now you can see me in all my incoherent glory, along with minds sharper than mine. (I can’t bear to watch it myself: too self-conscious.)

Previously: Readercon 25; My Readercon 25 Schedule.

Geologic Map of Mars

Geologic Map of Mars

As I said during the Q&A part of my fantasy maps presentation at Readercon (see previous entry), maps of other worlds in the solar system are usually images from space probes that have been set to a map projection. The key word is usually. On Monday the U.S. Geological Survey released a geologic map of Mars that “brings together observations and scientific findings from four orbiting spacecraft that have been acquiring data for more than 16 years.” Via io9 and Wired.

Readercon 25

Jonathan Crowe on the Readercon panel I had a very good Readercon. I was a nervous wreck leading up to it, because I had to rewrite the fantasy maps presentation from the ground up. (The first draft was too long and too unfocused. Thanks ever so much to my beta testers who pointed out its flaws the Sunday before the convention.)

Fortunately the presentation on Friday night went off without a hitch — the computer connected properly to the projector, I forgot to stammer — and was very well received: one person called it “probably my favorite event of the con,” which is astonishing when you consider that the con in question is freaking Readercon.

(My presentation also seems to have resulted in Wesleyan University Press selling out its on-hand copies of Stefan Ekman’s Here Be Dragons, which was referenced heavily.)

The Thursday night panel on maps in fiction also seems to have gone over well, based on what I’ve been hearing. It’s not always easy to tell if a panel goes well when you’re leading it: even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to, as was the case here, it may still be a success if the audience enjoys it. Which appears to have been the case. If nothing else, I managed to emit something quotable:

As for the context of that remark, if you weren’t there, I’ll leave that for you to figure out. (I’m working on something along those lines, let me just say.)

For my final panel on Sunday morning, I joined my fellow panellists in a discussion of spoilers. I found myself jumping in and throwing little idea bombs into the discussion, hopefully not too annoyingly or in too derailing a fashion. I saw Scott Edelman recording it on video (the photo above is his) so you may well see the whole thing online at some point.

Meanwhile, I took photos sporadically: here’s the photo album. (Goes without saying that I didn’t bring a camera to my own panels.)

I’d say more, and in more fulsome detail, but I’m off to Detcon 1 in the morning, so this is all you get for now. (This is entirely too little time between conventions.)

Previously: My Readercon 25 Schedule.

Astronomy in the Pontiac

Whatever the quality of the Pontiac’s roads, its skies are very good for astronomical observing — especially when you consider how close we are to Ottawa. From my backyard, which is not well shielded from porch and street lighting, I’ve gotten magnitude-five views with the naked eye — suffice to say, the Milky Way is in fine form during the summer. (Clouds are a wrinkle, though: they never fail to turn up during neato ephemeral events.)

In that vein I note with interest a group called AstroPontiac, and its Indiegogo campaign to raise funds to buy a roll-off roof observatory and a couple of telescopes. They’re trying to raise $12,500, which seems modest, but their goal of providing a site for amateur observing is fairly low-cost, considering. Ottawa Citizen coverage.

Mapping It Out

Book cover: Mapping It Out In Mapping It Out: An Alternative Atlas of Contemporary Cartographies, out now from Thames & Hudson, editor Hans Ulrich Obrist invited contributors “to create a personal map of their own, in whatever form and showing whatever terrain they choose, whether real-world or imaginary.” Examples of the results can be found on the websites of Design Week, FT Magazine and the Guardian; the New Yorker has posted an excerpt from Tom McCarthy’s introduction.

Again with a Sinkhole on the 148

Route 148 sign In June 2011, heavy rains washed out a portion of Route 148 between Luskville and Quyon, forcing traffic to detour along narrow gravel roads for more than two months. At the time I noted that had the washout occured east of Parker Road rather than west of it, no detour would have been possible: westbound traffic would have had to double back to Gatineau, and eastbound traffic would have had to take the Eardley-Masham Road or the Quyon Ferry.

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My Readercon 25 Schedule
Are Water Snakes Invading California?
It’s a Very Nice Ferry
Long Hidden
Finding Longitude
Heinlein and His Biographer
Montreal Reptile Expo
Western Canada Aviation Museum
Bullsnake Eggs and Other News
Mapping Gotham
Testing the King Hypothesis
Review: The Map Thief
Growing Kitten Is Growing
Four More Map Stories
Narcisse Snake Dens
Game of Thrones Map Marker Set
Questionable Practices
The Chimney Swifts Return
2013 Nebula Awards