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​​Cross-Country Crosstrek Build: Minimal Mods for Big Adventure

The Crosstrek is already a capable cross-country tourer, but with some basic bolt-on mods it can better handle rough terrain and inclement weather. The key is to keep the Subaru Crosstrek mods focused on function and keep the added weight down, which helps retain fuel economy and factory reliability.

Subaru Crosstrek mods(Photo/Andy Lilienthal)
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The Subaru Crosstrek is a veritable Swiss Army knife of a car (or compact SUV or crossover, etc.). It’s got hatchback practicality, an ample 8.7 inches of ground clearance from the factory, and even some rally car DNA.

Whether used as a daily driver, a weekend shuttle bus to the mountains, or a soft-roader for exploring the backcountry, the Crosstrek has a lot to offer those who want all-wheel-drive proficiency in a maneuverable size.

Luckily, there are some basic bolt-ons that can increase the Crosstrek’s go-anywhere capability without going crazy with modifications or adding huge amounts of weight.

For this Crosstrek build, I skipped adding a lift, larger-diameter tires, metal bumpers, and a roof rack. After all, I’m not trying to make the most capable Crosstrek. Instead, I aimed to create a Crosstrek with a level or two more than the factory prowess. Something that’ll aid in inclement cross-country jaunts, dirt road excursions, and snowy back-40 travels.

The addition of better tires, added armor, auxiliary lights, and maybe even a nice exhaust system can transform this smallest of Subarus into something part rally car, part all-weather wonder. It’s basically a cross-country Crosstrek.

Capable Cross-Country Crosstrek: Build Plan

Cross-country Subaru Crosstrek build
We didn’t set out to build the most capable Crosstrek. Instead, we increased its go-anywhere nature and did so without adding a lot of extra weight; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

My wife and I bought a 2022 Subaru Crosstrek Premium (with a six-speed manual transmission) a few months ago. We wanted a reliable, comfortable vehicle we could take on long trips in any weather, as well as haul our gear and get decent mpg doing so.

With aging family members back in the Midwest, we wanted the ability to hop in a vehicle and go whenever we’d need.

While the Crosstrek is a great platform out of the box, I aimed to make this Subaru more competent when roads get rough — without sacrificing the reliability woes that can come with a heavily modified vehicle.

When planning which Crosstrek modifications to make, I took capability, durability, and added weight into consideration.

Subaru Crosstrek Mods

All-Terrain, All the Time

Crosstrek wheels
While the BFGoodrich KO2 tires are heavier than the factory tires, the REIKA Seeker wheels are lightweight and help keep weight close to stock; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

Upgrading the tires and wheels on any vehicle can instantly change its performance and style. The Crosstrek came with Yokohama Geolandar G91 tires, which are primarily a highway tire. While offering a smooth, quiet ride, if dirt and snow traction are your goal, there are better options.

From a practical standpoint, I wanted to add tires that provided better traction on bad roads, dirt tracks, and snow-covered streets. Stylistically, I wanted a rugged look.

The BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2 tire is durable, offers great dirt traction, and is 3PMS (three-peak mountain snowflake) rated for severe snow service. The original Yokohama Geolandar G91Fs only carry an M+S rating. The KO2s also have a great aggressive style.

The Crosstrek’s factory tire size is 225/60R17, and the KO2s aren’t available in that size. They are, however, available in a 215/75R15 — nearly the same diameter as what came with the car (a scant 0.4% larger). But the wheel diameter shrinks from 17 inches to 15 inches, while the sidewall profile goes from a 60 series to a taller 75 series.

The footprint is also 10 mm narrower than stock (215 mm versus 225 mm). Going to the 215/75R15 size means the narrower footprint will perform better in snow. The taller sidewall would protect the wheel more when on bad roads or light trail use.

And the smaller diameter wheel may allow for reduced weight. However, it also means we’d need new 15-inch wheels.

Aggressive, Lightweight Wheels

cross-country crosstrek build
While the all-terrain tires are noisier than stock, they’re considerably better on bad, snowy, and dirt roads; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

It should be noted the KO2 isn’t a lightweight tire. In fact, each 215/75R15 KO2 weighs 9 pounds more than the 225/60R17 factory Yokohama G91. To offset this heft, I looked for a lightweight 15-inch wheel.

I discovered REIKA Vehicle Solutions at Overland Expo West in 2022, as well as their 15×7 REIKA Seeker R15 wheels. At just a touch over 15 pounds each, these cleanly designed five-spoke rollers help balance out the KO2’s heft.

When all is mounted and balanced, the BFG/REIKA Seeker wheel combo is 3 pounds more per corner than the factory 17-inch wheel and tire pair. Overall total added wheel and tire weight is just 12 pounds.

Plus, the five-spoke design looks classic, has an aggressive concave design, durable flow-form casting, and is easy to clean.

These wheels poke out from the fenders more than the factory 17×7 wheel. They have a +15 offset versus the factory +55, pushing them 1.37 inches farther out from the body. But this also yields a meaner-looking stance and doesn’t rub at all. While not noticeable, the wider stance can only help in vehicle stability.

The end result offers improved dirt and snow traction and a rugged style. Yes, the KO2s are louder than the factory rubber, but the combination of off-road/bad-weather performance and good looks is a win for me.

I also tacked on a set of aftermarket rally-style mudflaps to help keep dirt/gravel rash to a minimum and protect the pearl-white paint. The mudflap weighs 3.9 pounds.

Crosstrek Skid Plate Protection

Cross-country crosstrek build
Primitive Racing’s front and transmission skid plates add extra protection to the Crosstrek’s undercarriage; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

The Crosstrek has impressive ground clearance right out of the box. But with better all-terrain tires comes the ability to go further down bad roads and trails. And more capability, which I plan to utilize, means more potential hits to the undercarriage.

To protect parts like the oil pan, transmission, and rear differential, I installed a set of Primitive Racing’s skid plates.

Tigard, Ore.-based Primitive Racing is a household name among rally car owners and Subaru adventurers alike. I installed its thick, American-made front, mid, and rear aluminum skid plates. All are made from 3/16-inch 5052 polished aluminum.

The front skid plate replaces the original flimsy plastic splash shield with a sturdy bash plate. This plate includes hardware and helps protect the oil pan and other front-end components from hazards. It’s available with or without holes to access the oil pan’s drain plug.

While ours does not have the service hole, it does offer maximum protection. Primitive also claims it aids in aerodynamics and doesn’t affect cooling performance.

Helping to protect the areas behind the oil pain is the transmission skid plate. Easy to install, it helps protect the gearbox from impacts. It bolts on in a matter of minutes and offers invaluable protection.

Cross-country crosstrek build
The Primitive Racing rear skid plate added armor to the rear differential and makes for a great jack point; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

Finally, for this cross-country Crosstrek build, I bolted on the small rear skid plate, which protects the rear differential. With recessed hardware and a well-engineered mounting bracket, this plate is small but offers big protection. Plus, you can use it as a rear jack point.

In total, these skid plates weigh 30 pounds. Keep in mind I removed the factory splash shield (approximately 4 pounds), as well as two metal plates in the midsection to install the Primitive transmission skid plate (5 pounds total). So the net weight added is 21 pounds, but the peace of mind of knowing we’ve got added protection is worth every ounce.

Let There Be Light (Bar)

cross-country crosstrek build
The Rally Light Bar from Rally Innovations is a sturdy place to mount auxiliary lights and utilizes existing holes for a secure fit; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

Aftermarket auxiliary lighting is a fantastic addition to any adventure vehicle. Having run multiple long-distance rally events in the middle of nowhere, the ability to light up the night and illuminate the way is crucial to me. So, where would we mount lights on this Crosstrek build?

Rally Innovations makes a host of light bars creating the perfect perch for auxiliary lights. The company’s U.S.-made Rally Light Bar attaches to the Crosstrek’s radiator supports and then to the license plate holes in the front bumper to create a remarkably sturdy structure.

Powder-coated for durability and with predrilled holes, the Rally Innovations bar is handmade from 1.25 x 0.06-inch steel tubing and accommodates up to four auxiliary lights — as long as they’re slim.

This bar weighs just under 7 pounds.

Pro tip: If you’re going to use this bar with the above-mentioned Primitive front skid plate, let Primitive know. They can modify the plate to be compatible with this part.

A Lightforce to Be Reckoned With

cross-country crosstrek build
Auxiliary lights, such as these from Lightforce, add extra lumens when out in the back 40; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

I installed two Lightforce Venom Professional Edition LED driving lights to the light bar. I also installed the company’s compatible wiring harness.

I’ve run Lightforce on several vehicles, including two Alcan 5000 entries, and know they make great stuff. These 6-inch lights offer 5,764 lumens and can throw light a distance of 1,027 yards at 1 lux. They include clear lenses, but you can also equip them with amber or blue lenses, depending on what best suits the conditions.

With IP69K waterproofing, corrosion-resistant stainless steel fasteners, and a durable design, these lights will undoubtedly stand up to whatever conditions we subject them to.

The total weight of both lights is 5.2 pounds. The wiring harness adds about a pound or so. So the lights, all in, add just over 6 pounds.

Fully Licensed

cross-country crosstrek build
The CravenSpeed Platypus uses the factory tow point to relocate the front license plate. The stout hex stud securely threads into this; (photo/Mercedes Lilienthal)

The Rally Innovations bar makes it difficult to use a front license plate in the factory location. Since Oregon requires a front plate, we needed to find a relocation solution. Thankfully, another Oregon-based company, CravenSpeed, had that solution.

cross-country crosstrek build
The Platypus has an adjustable frame and included stainless hardware to mount a front plate; (photo/ Mercedes Lilienthal)

The CravenSpeed Platypus license plate bracket utilizes the Crosstrek’s threaded front tow-point location on the bumper’s right side. The stout hex stud screws into the car’s tow-point location. CravenSpeed even includes a tool to get it tight.

The plate frame bolts to the stud with a single 15mm bolt. The frame is adjustable to the bumper’s contour and includes stainless steel hardware to mount the plate. The whole thing is also easily removable should you need that tow point.

The total weight is 1.9 pounds.

A Sound Decision

Nameless Performance Executive Axleback
While the Nameless Performance Executive Axleback doesn’t add capability, it does provide a wicked sound and a slight weight reduction; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

No, I’m not talking about a stereo upgrade. I’m talking about a premium aftermarket muffler setup. This doesn’t add proficiency, but it sure sounds awesome. Washington state’s Nameless Performance is one of the top manufacturers of Subaru exhaust systems. They have a host of options for adding a great tone to the Crosstrek.

I installed the company’s Executive Axleback. The stainless system installs in minutes and fits perfectly thanks to great TIG welding, laser-cut flanges, and precise construction with a 2.25-inch pipe diameter for improved flow.

Ours has the tip on the end, but it can be had without one for a stealth look. Additionally, the compact unit is compatible with most trailer hitches.

This system isn’t too loud, but the company offers a variety of noise levels from ultra-hushed dual-muffler setups, to a muffler delete that’ll likely wake up the neighbors. Ours is smack-dab in the middle and sounds great.

The exhaust kit includes hardware, a new hanger, and a gasket.

The entire exhaust kit weighs 14 pounds. A Subaru parts site lists the factory muffler at 27 pounds. This means a weight savings of 13 pounds by swapping out the exhaust.

Brace Yourself

Nameless crossbar
A strut tower brace aids in cornering and structural rigidity; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

Nameless also offers a strut tower brace for the Crosstrek. This part is installed between the strut towers in the engine bay. It decreases chassis flex, thus aiding in better handling. The red powder-coated finish looks great in the bay too.

The bar is made using a twin-tube design and CNC-machined conical ups utilizing what are essentially lug nuts that attach to the strut’s top bolts. Installation is a cinch, taking about 15 minutes.

crosstrek engine
The Nameless strut tower brace installs easily, is effective, and looks great with its red powder-coated finish; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

The total weight of the strut tower brace is just 4.5 pounds.

Where’s the Roof Rack?

cross-country crosstrek build
No roof rack means no loss in fuel economy. We keep ours off the car unless we need to carry more gear, then we’ll install one; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

I can hear it now … “Where’s the roof rack?”

While Subarus and roof racks go together like organic peanut butter and vegan jelly. I opted not to run a roof rack all the time. With factory roof rails, users can install a wide array of crossbars and racks from scads of manufacturers when they want to haul bikes, kayaks, skis, or cargo.

All racks will suck down a bit of fuel economy, and frankly, I don’t need that. When I want a rack, I’ll take my Packasport Day Tripper and throw it on the roof. Until then, we’ll keep the fuel economy up and the wind resistance down.

Plus, there’s no added weight. Keeping your Subaru Crosstrek accessories to a minimum will help you keep the weight down.

Modified Crosstrek

Cross-country Subaru Crosstrek build
Whether on gravel, snow, or even pavement, we’ve upped our Crosstrek’s capability without adding a ton of weight; (photo/Andy Lilienthal)

Architect Mies van der Rohe coined the phrase, “less is more.” I kept that ethos in mind during our cross-country Crosstrek build. You can do as you please, but you might find adding just what you need helps keep spending down, fuel economy up, and reliability predictable.

The total extra weight added to our Crosstrek with these modifications is approximately 42.5 pounds.

In total, all these Subaru Crosstrek mods totaled $4,438.70 — not including the cost of mounting and balancing the wheels and tires. Note: The wheels, tires, and lug nuts account for over a third of that total price.

All of these parts are pretty easy to install with basic hand tools. There was no cutting, drilling, or welding needed. I installed all the parts myself, which saved considerable cash — versus paying a mechanic to do the work.

The sum of these parts helps make our Crosstrek more of a go-anywhere vehicle, and that’s worth the price of admission. Time and money well spent. The simple yet functional — and mostly lightweight — bits I’ve added will help us get wherever we want to go with more ease, confidence, and style.

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