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The 3 Most Misunderstood Features On New Forester, Outback And Ascent

The Subaru brand is all about all-wheel-drive and safety. There are 3 features on the 2020 Subaru Forester, Outback, and Ascent just as important but are the most misunderstood.


When you think of Subaru most people think of the brand’s excellent all-wheel-drive system and its stellar safety scores. But there are three other important features on every 2020 Subaru Forester, Outback, and Ascent that are the most misunderstood. Every time you get behind the wheel, you’ll feel two, but you can’t see them. They are the Boxer engine, CVT automatic transmission, and paddle shifters you see located behind the steering wheel.

Why does Subaru use the Boxer in every model they make when no other automaker except Porsche uses it? The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is loathed by many, so why does Subaru use it over a more conventional automatic gearbox? Why does Subaru feature steering wheel paddles on all three models?

2020 Subaru ForesterThe Boxer engine is used in every model in the stable

Subaru started using the first Boxer engine on May 14, 1966, in the Subaru 1000 mini car, and now the unique engine powers every model in its entire lineup. Without getting too technical there are good reasons why Subaru uses it exclusively.

The Boxer uses a horizontally-opposed configuration placing the pistons 180 degrees apart. This gives the powerplant a lower, flatter profile over conventional 4-cylinder V-type or transverse engines. This gives the engine and the whole vehicle, a lower center of gravity.

2020 Subaru OutbackSubaru Forester, Outback, Ascent, Crosstrek have extra ground clearance

Even with a higher ride height (8.7-inches), Forester, Outback, and Ascent all have more balanced weight distribution, giving the all-wheel-drive models improved handling and poise over the completions SUVs. The design also produces reduced engine vibration and noise, even under power.

One little known fact about the Boxer is that it improves safety in the SUVs. In the event of a head-on collision, the engine slips under the car stopping the engine from entering the passenger compartment to protect occupants’ legs.

The Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is loathed by many, so why does Subaru use it over a more conventional automatic gearbox? First, Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT reduces fuel consumption over a conventional automatic. The gearbox also produces more responsive acceleration by automatically moving between a span of gear ratios to keep the engine at its optimal rev range for the conditions and the way you drive.

Subaru says they use the Lineartronic because it pairs well with the brand’s Symmetric all-wheel-drive system by preserving the vehicle’s momentum lost in gear changes in other transmissions. Lineartronic helps maintain traction by continuously providing power to the wheels at all times keeping from getting stuck.

2020 Subaru Forester

The most misunderstood and often overlooked feature in the 2020 Subaru Forester, Outback, and Ascent SUVs are the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. They offer the driver greater precision when you are climbing a hill or needing to pass another vehicle quickly. It allows you to make the best use of the CVT’s gears.

You Might Also Like: It’s The New Subaru Forester, Outback and Crosstrek’s Best Feature But You Aren’t Using Them

Denis Flierl has invested over 30 years in the automotive industry in a variety of roles. All of his reports are archived on our Subaru page. Follow Denis on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Subaru Report. Check back tomorrow for more Subaru news and updates at Torque News!

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Photo credit: Subaru USA


HW (not verified)    April 25, 2020 - 11:40PM

Too bad on Forester paddle shifters are only on the higher trims. All cars with CVTs should have paddle shifters for better control when coming down grades.

Lizette De Jesus (not verified)    April 25, 2020 - 11:47PM

We just bought our first Subaru. Among our choices were the BMW X5, the Highlander and a couple of Land Rover models. We had tested the Ascent over a year ago, but decided to wait. This past weekend, we decided to go out and test drive again. We almost bought a 2017 X5, which needed a sensor replaced by the dealership. Took a look at the new Highlander and did not even sit on it: we could tell the interior (“leatherette” and plastics) were subpar to the Ascent, so we didn’t even test drive it. We made sure the Subaru sales person who took care of us last year was at the dealership, and bought the Limited instead of the Premium. We also got 0% financing! We are very happy with our Ascent, and plan on driving it for many years.

Dan Mart (not verified)    April 26, 2020 - 12:20AM

I am driving my second Subaru. It is a 2020 Forester Sport. Fuel mileage is great. 28 town and 34 to 36 highway. This thing us a rocket when it come to hills or passing. Like my 2017 Outback the seats need more cush under my tush. Please change that and you have a all around enjoyable car to drive.

Joshua Jagt (not verified)    April 26, 2020 - 2:15AM

A cvt does not have gears. Boxer engines, not known for being smooth. You should find something else to write about. 30 years in the auto industry? You are either lying, or an idiot

Robert Martin (not verified)    April 26, 2020 - 10:07AM

You need to discuss the paddles in more depth. How do they help in passing more quickly/

Leo Hamulczyk (not verified)    April 26, 2020 - 8:00PM

The first 2 - yes. Paddle shifters - no. They (and manual mode on auto transmissions in general) are essentially useless, other than by going into a low gear on a steep descent.

Denn (not verified)    April 27, 2020 - 12:13AM

I would love to buy a Forester but friends who own them tell me that they are oil eaters using a quart each 1000 miles. I have a CRV now and no oil problems. Oil problems I do not need and it's a deal killer for the Forester.

Susan H (not verified)    April 27, 2020 - 1:56PM

I live in the mountains and loved the manual shift feature in my 05 Outback sedan, it was the the regular gear shift and you could tap it forward or back. Reliably available in the same place at all times. I used it frequently. The paddle shifters move with the steering wheel, when one is constantly navigating curves and hills, they are much more difficult to use. I don't think they are misunderstood, but for my driving conditions they are worthless.

Mutugi (not verified)    April 27, 2020 - 5:48PM

I and my fellow subie enthusiasts are gone for good. Sell your cvts n your go nowhere tings somewhere else. Bye