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The 10 Least Reliable Cars - One New Model Hits Subaru Hard With Transmission Problems

Are the 2021 Subaru Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek reliable cars? Yes, according to a new study from Consumer Reports. But its latest SUV, the Subaru Ascent 3-Row family hauler, scores very low. Should SUV shoppers stay away from the 2021 Subaru Ascent?

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The Subaru brand makes reliable cars, according to a new study from Consumer Reports. Out of twenty-six automakers in the U.S. market, Subaru scores number eight overall, dropping from number seven previously. The new Subaru Ascent 3-Row family hauler is dragging the automaker's score down.

The newest SUV makes the Consumer Reports 10 Least Reliable Cars list and lost their recommendation due to reliability issues. CR says the Ascent 3-Row SUV initially had average reliability, but recent transmission problems, sometimes requiring a replacement, have lowered its reliability score.

2021 Subaru Forester, 2021 Subaru Crosstrek, 2021 Subaru Ascent

The new reports from CR also say, "the suspension (shocks/struts and steering linkage), the in-car electronics, including phone pairing and the radio not working, and the climate system, including the AC compressor and system leaks, also lowered its reliability score."

A Subaru spokesman told CR, "We are aware of these issues through consumer feedback and internal monitoring. We believe all issues mentioned have been addressed either through technical campaigns or, in one instance, a recall."

2021 Subaru Forester, 2021 Subaru Crosstrek, 2021 Subaru Ascent

Torque News reported Subaru issued a recall in December 2019 to address the Ascent's transmission problems. The recall affected 76,842 Ascent family haulers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Subaru of America said the hydraulic transmission sensor could inaccurately measure the hydraulic fluid pressure, and the Continually Variable Transmission (CVT) chain may slip in Ascent 3-Row vehicles. If the chain slips, there could be irregular noise, vibration, hesitation while driving, and a malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) illumination.

The week before the transmission recall, Subaru recalled the Ascent for a defective PCV valve that could cause engine failure. CR says the 3-Row SUV also had two separate service campaigns for the suspension and climate system issues.

How do other Subaru models score in reliability?

The good news is, the Subaru Crosstrek subcompact SUV and Forester compact SUV scored high in reliability, with the Outback wagon, Legacy sedan, and Impreza compact scoring in the acceptable range. CR did not have scores for the WRX, WRX STI, and BRZ sports cars.

Should SUV shoppers stay away from the 2021 Subaru Ascent? The Subaru Ascent was all-new for the 2019 model year, and these models are the only year with transmission and some engine problems. There have been no issues with the 2020 Subaru Ascent models reported, and it looks like the automaker has corrected the transmission issues.

Torque News will keep you informed on any new recalls and liability issues with the 2021 Subaru Forester, Crosstrek, Outback, and Ascent SUVs.

You Might Also Like: Subaru Is Back on Top of ALG’s Top Brand List of Cars Retaining Their Value Best

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a consulting role working with every major car brand. He is an accredited member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press. Check out Subaru Report where he covers all of the Japanese automaker's models. More stories can be found on the Torque News Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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SubDriver (not verified)    November 20, 2020 - 8:08PM

I've taken an Ascent on as a longer 3x in the past 12 months. And, I follow a forum digest on the car, and read about its electrical issues. I may be willing to take the plunge thanks to extended warranty and

I'd like to own a 3-row Subaru, and I like the size of the seating accommodations in this one. Comfortable car, for the most part. But, one thing I've noticed about both my '15 Forester and the Ascents is that the combination of a large Sunroof and vinyl seating makes for a more wobbly ride quality than I'd like. Best ride was had in a Premium model with the smaller wheels and no Sunroof. But, it wasn't sublime.

Can anyone recommend a 3 row vehicle with a long wheelbase (minivans are fine) than has a smooth ride, without the wobble?

No comments needed about wheel size or air pressure or tires. I've tried multiple tires and they provide some relief, at a tradeoff of sound and mileage. I'm to the point where I can live with the Forester. But, my next car will be a tall-rider (SUV or Minivan) that soaks up road imperfections around town and on the faster roads.

SubDriver (not verified)    November 22, 2020 - 1:22PM

In reply to by J king (not verified)

Thanks! I saw the last refreshed model (not current one) of the Highlander and thought that the 3rd row was too small. I'm not tall, and I couldn't adjust anyway to not have my head touching the rear window, where the Subaru has more room. Also, the visibility was poor, especially out the front windshield. But, I'd like to try a drive and a newer model.

I'm also considering that a minivan might be better due to the sliding doors. I liked the Ascent, but the rear doors were often hard to open in a parking lot. I'd like to try an AWD Sienna, since it seems perfect (on paper).

What did you compare the Highlander to that it was better, and does yours have a large sunroof?

The best riding SUV that I drove was a Mazda CX9. I didn't like the headrests or the comparatively small interior for the large exterior size.

STANLEY J POVILAITIS (not verified)    December 2, 2020 - 12:33PM

In reply to by SubDriver (not verified)

Four years ago I tried new Subaru Forrester 2016 and it was to wobbly, thus I decided to wait for 2017 and I guess struts were improved and it is not to wobbly. So far no problems with Subaru Forrester ,except condenser needed to be replaced.

DDay (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 12:20AM

Subaru has a gas mileage problem when temperature falls below 36. I have 2015 Legace and 2017 outback that has this problem. You can only see this when you are on long drives on freeways. When the temp drops around 36 and below the mileage drops 3 to 4 miles. When the temp goes back up so does the mileage. So far Subaru has no fix. I suspect not many people have not caught this. So Subaru does not see this as a problem.

Heather46074 (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 12:37PM

In reply to by DDay (not verified)

I had the very same gas mileage problem with my 2017 Outback. My husband said it was only due to the formula change for "winter" gasoline.
I'm glad to know I wasn't wrong.

jg (not verified)    November 22, 2020 - 1:03AM

In reply to by Heather46074 (not verified)

In addition to what the others said about the gas mixture, the AC compressor running when the defroster is on and/or when in the Auto mode to keep the interior humidity down is also what drags the mileage down. In addition to the engine needing to heat up, the transmission will stay in lower “gear” ratios until it heats up as well. So all that time with cold and higher viscosity oil/fluids eats away at the gas mileage, and if you’re not doing some highway traveling to offset the warmup time then the mileage really goes down.

John (not verified)    November 22, 2020 - 8:35AM

In reply to by Heather46074 (not verified)

The winter fuel blend gives less mileage and this is true for every car. I verified this in my Whatapp group. Also try different gas brand because they all have different winter blend formula. Shelll or BP might give more mileage.

hw (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 12:48PM

Drop in mpg is normal for any vehicle, due to winter gas and as air temp drops, the density or thickness of the air increases, creating more drag. Also, the CVT will hold higher rpms until engine reaches temperature. Regular automatic won't shift into highest gear till engine is warm. Tire pressure drops about 1psi for every 10 deg F drop in temp, so need to readjust tire pressure for sustained periods of lower temps. The lower psi is not enough to set off tire pressure warning unless it is higher drop in psi.

Robb L Clemons (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 5:56PM

Legacy burns oil.should have been a recall on motor.. after two years of fighting...the put in a new motor.... piece of crap..never buy one again.

Actual Subaru Owner (not verified)    November 21, 2020 - 7:04PM

I haven't had a single problem with my '19 Imp Hatchback. Occasionally, the head unit will not connect with my phone, and it does have irregular delays when going into reverse. Which can be fixed with a hard reset or buying a new (better aftermarket) unit.

The ascent is too new for transmission issues and owners should still be within warranty. The TR690 has been updated to withstand the 277lb-ft, 260HP must be driver error.

My company has a 3.6R Outback with 170k miles. And it's still all original powertrain... We don't skip out on maintenance.

DNA (not verified)    November 22, 2020 - 12:50AM

I've owned multiple toyotas and I've read quite a bit in comparison to subaru. I've got to say toyotas are overpriced and cheap. If you want something incredibly smooth go with Lexus or Acura. Not sure if they have the SUV style you are wanting

Kyle (not verified)    November 22, 2020 - 11:08AM

I have a Subaru Ascent, Touring edition. Aside from the recall, which was a 30 minute fix at the dealer, mine has been a dream. The transmission issue was fixed via a patch to the coding that controls the CVT. I'm at about 17500 miles. Multiple road trips and I also tow a 2 ton travel trailer, no problems there, either. I fully intend on my next vehicle being a Subaru, too.

Wayne (not verified)    December 13, 2020 - 3:39PM

In reply to by Kyle (not verified)

Hi Kyle. Seriously considering purchasing a 2020 Subaru Ascent but concerned with litany of articles suggesting systemic issues with CVT transmission. Which year is yours?