The 2020 Subaru Forester and other Subaru models come standard with steering wheel paddle shifters, but they are rarely used to their fullest. Steering wheel paddles are usually found on sports cars to take advantage of the car’s performance so the driver can shift the automatic transmission like a manual. You can do the same thing with the Forester, Crosstrek, Outback, and Ascent paddles.
Subaru SUVs aren’t sports cars but the steering wheel paddles serve a specific purpose beyond getting the car to go fast. Subaru uses a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) automatic in all its SUVs and the paddles enhance the transmission’s performance. Here are five ways to use them and also have fun at the same time.
If you don’t ever use the paddles located behind either side of the steering wheel you will be fine, but you can improve performance and save wear on your car if they are used properly. Without getting too technical, the Subaru CVT simulates a manual with 8 programmed speeds that holds the CVT pulleys in a fixed position. The paddles will get the most of the “simulated” gears.
You can use the steering wheel paddles in Drive and Manual modes
1. You can use the manual mode by moving the gear shift from “D” (Drive) lever to “M" (Manual) and use the paddle shifters. You will see what gear you are in by the indicator on the dash.
This allows you to shift the transmission manually by downshifting, using the left paddle (-minus), or upshift by using the right paddle (+plus). When in “M” mode the transmission will stay in the gear you choose longer until you hit the paddle up or down.
2. The best time to use the paddles in “M” mode is when descending a steep road or trail. You can keep the car in the gear you want and it will slow the vehicle without riding the brakes.
3. If you are off-pavement you can shift to Manual mode and hold the car in first or second gear for better control.
4. It’s also useful to use the paddles in “M” when you are in snow or icy conditions. Downshift the same way you do on a hill descent and it will keep the vehicle at a safe speed allowing better control of the car.
5. If you leave the gear shifter in “D” (automatic), you can also use the paddles and shift up or down, but the transmission will automatically go back to Drive if you don’t touch the paddles or when you step on the brake.
If you are driving the vehicle in the city, you can leave the transmission in Drive and you don’t need the paddle shifters unless you are passing a slower vehicle on the highway, or joining traffic on a short ramp.
In Drive mode, downshift with the left paddle right before passing someone to give you the extra power to get by them, or anytime you need to get up to speed quickly.
What to avoid with the paddles
Avoid downshifting in place of braking when approaching a traffic light, stop sign or other frequent stops. Subaru says downshifting "is only recommended in situations where the engine braking would be needed, such as when descending a grade. Normally, a driver would have no need to engine brake when just coming to a stop at a light or stop sign. Since the transmission is not designed to handle this, it would accelerate wear on the CVT."
The 2020 Subaru Forester, Crosstrek, Outback, and Ascent SUVs all have steering wheel paddles and they can enhance the performance of the vehicle’s CVT automatic transmission. You can make use of the SUVs capabilities and have more fun as you drive.
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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, Competition Subaru