2019 Subaru Forester, new Subaru Outback, Crosstrek, Ascent, best SUV, CVT automatic
Denis Flierl's picture

Don’t Look For Subaru To Drop The CVT Automatic Transmission Even If You Despise It

Why is Subaru in love the CVT automatic transmission? They won’t move away from it even if you dislike them with a passion.

Subaru is a brand that has seen impressive growth in the past 10 years, and the Japanese automaker is doing one thing that customers love and another that they dislike with a passion. Subaru’s EyeSight is popular and is getting the brand top safety scores and customers want it. The CVT automatic is a staple in the Subaru stables and some customers loathe it. Why doesn’t Subaru move away from the CVT in the new 2019 Forester, Outback, Crosstrek, and Ascent if customers dislike it?

Subaru uses the Continuously Variable Automatic (CVT) transmission exclusively in their entire lineup of all-wheel-drive vehicles and won’t be dropping it because you have issues with it. They use the 6-speed standard gearbox in their sports cars for driving enthusiasts, but Subaru is committed to the CVT automatic in all their other vehicles and even use it in the sport-tuned WRX and BRZ sport coupe.

Subaru falls in love

Subaru was one of the first automakers to use the CVT. Do you remember the Subaru Justy? In 1989 the Justy became the first production car in the U.S. to offer CVT technology. The Justy was the first car in the world to come equipped with 4WD and ECVT. It was a big thing for Subaru and Justy was the car to introduce the world to the new transmission. Justy with 4WD offered all-weather capability and the new CVT offered fuel efficiency. The two were mated, worked well together and Subaru fell in love with the CVT. 30 years later, they still use a variation of the variable-speed gearbox now called Lineartronic.

2019 Subaru Forester Sport

Why CVT?

Subaru can get maximum power out of their small four-cylinder Boxer engines allowing for quicker and more responsive acceleration. The CVT is best suited for fuel-efficient city driving and a moderate load which works well in the small all-wheel-drive Forester, Outback, and Crosstrek vehicles. And maybe the biggest reason Subaru is love with the CVT, is because the gearbox is lighter in weight, delivers better power efficiency, and it helps improve a vehicle’s fuel economy over a conventional 6-or-8-speed automatic.

The CVT is ideally-suited for Subaru in their small and medium all-wheel-drive lineup of cars and compact SUVs. Subaru has also made it work well with their 2.0-liter WRX turbo Boxer engine and now coupled with the new 2.4-liter turbocharged Boxer in the larger 2019 Ascent family hauler.

Because there are no gears in a CVT, it allows for manual “shifting.” The belt-and-pulley system moves to preset points that simulate changing gears. This is accomplished by manually clicking the steering-wheel-mounted paddles. The CVT in the new Subaru Ascent SUV comes with paddle shifters and eight of these shift points.

2019 Subaru Ascent

Many customers find the sensation of continuous acceleration without shift points to be unnerving. Another common complaint is that a CVT gearbox tends to make the small SUVs seem excessively loud or harsh. That’s because it forces the engine to run at higher revs as the vehicle gets up to speed. Even if you hate the CVT in the new 2019 Subaru Forester, Outback, Crosstrek and Ascent all-wheel-drive vehicles, Subaru will never leave it.

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You Might Also Like: Very Few Buy Subaru WRX With EyeSight, Could It Be The Boring CVT Automatic?

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Photo credit: Timmons Subaru, Subaru USA

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Will the CVT automatic keep you from buying a Subaru SUV?
I have an overwhelming hated for CVTs, so a CVT would keep me from buying any vehicle. I prefer a manual transmission, anyway, and Subaru is about the only manufacturer to offer that along with AWD. As long as that is still an option, I'll keep considering Subaru for new vehicle purchases.
I can deal with additional noise (is that the main complaint?), but reports of early failure are a significant concern.
It really shouldn't prevent you from buying a Subaru! I have a 2015 Forester 2.5i Premium. It does just fine, even in the mountains of Colorado. If I had wanted a sports car, I would have bought a sports car! Love my Suby!
Yes the bearings are junk I'm a transmission shop manager. They start making noise around 80k lots of disappointed people when they find out the dealer wants 5 grand to repair.
If I don't get at least 175,000 out of the CVT I'll be upset... In this day and age, I expect to get 300,000-400,000 miles out of my car... I also don't like how the transmission turns off under very steep, off road situations. . Most CVTs are barely making 110,000, most under...90,000 miles...
Just the opposite. I purchased 3 Subarus with manual transmissions, but hen purchased two with the 4 EAT automatic transmission. That conventional automatic was reliable, but the shifting disturbed me, so in 2007 I pleaded with Subaru to bring back the CVT. The response was the 2010 Legacy Outback that featured the CVT in all those models except for the ones with the H6 engine and the units witgh a manual transmission. . I purchased the 2011 Outback with the CVT and was very pleased with it. When the next generation (2015) Outback appeared, ALL US spec Outbacks came with CVT transmissions. -ven the H6 engines were mated to a CVT. The latest generation Forester followed the same rule. ALL 2019 Forester come with CVT transmissions. No US spec Subaru can be purchased with a conventional automatic transmission. And guess what? Subaru is selling more vehicles in the US than ever before. What does that tell you?
I had to pay extra for my 2018 Forester with manual transmission I will not buy another because cvt is one of the worst automatics I have ever driven. Mabe it was the demonstrators I drove, but it felt like the cars were struggling. Mabe those transmissions will last in the long haul Mabe not. I keep cars forever so I’m not chancing it My 1995 Legacy wagon is still going strong
“Mabe” is actually spelled with a “y” “ Maybe” is the correct spelling.
Recently bought a Forester and even before on the test drive before didn't get what all the fuss was about the CVT. I actually prefer its smoothness.
CVT is great for that - it drops itself after a while.
CVTs all eventually drop themselves, so no worries for Subaru.
Driving 6 Subaru vehicles since the CVT arrived on the Outback in 2010. NEVER a single hiccup or problem with them in 6 vehicles over 9 years in our family of 4.
I'm a new 2019 forester owner. Love the CVT transmission. I can get down hill braking instantly, without worry about transmission damage.
The BRZ does not use a CVT for the automatic models. It is actually a Toyota automatic 6 speed named A960E. Hope that helps!
CVT is fine, but darn it.. gimme a manual tranny option. Will you? How difficult is that to understand?
I love a manual transmission, but I actually don't hate the CVT in my wife's 2015 Legacy. Unlike the crazy rev happy Nissans that drone along at 4000 rpm plus (whatever the max power or torque band) and stay there (feels like a constant slipping clutch with no feeling of linear acceleration), the Subaru accelerates smoothly, yet with slightly surging "shifts." I would much prefer a 6M, but this CVT is much smoother acceleration less jolting than the last two 6A we had in our 2010 Escape and 2013 Edge. Honestly, the only issues with any of these three are slight lurching slowing to a stop.
I don't understand why the media keeps insisting that users prefer regular auto transmissions over CVTs. A good CVT makes the vehicle peppier, more fuel efficient and silent (due to lower RPMs). And last but not least, minimizes the annoying choke when you step on the gas and the transmission decides what to do. Again, a few years ago it might have been correct, especially after Nissan's and VW's sloppy CVTs (which persist as of today). Today, Toyota's CVT drivetrains still have room for improvement comparing to Honda and Subaru, but it's gotten to a level that that they 've made automatics obsolete. Once you drive a great CVT, like the Ascent, Forester, Fit, HRV, Accord, CRV, you're hooked.
AMEN! CVT transmissions are the best!
VW has a CVT? I didn’t think they did I’ll have to recheck on that.
The CVT will absolutely keep me from buying another Subaru. I've owned Subarus since 1995, including my current 2012 Impreza with CVT. I said soon after purchase that I'd never own another CVT if I have a choice. I'm in the minority since Subaru is selling cars faster than they can make them. Most people, including my wife, obviously don't mind driving a sewing machine. I particularly hate the hesitation when in a situation where you need immediate power. That delay while the belt moves to a lower"gear" can be dangerous as far as I'm concerned. Thankfully, Mazda is still using "real" transmissions and will likely be my next car.
Subaru is a brand built on durability and a rough tough image. After one year I just traded in my crosstrek because that transmission was a nightmare in the mountains where I live . My old Forrester used to make short work of the hills and shitty roads up here. Another company going for mainstream appeal, and are forgetting where they came from.
I will not buy any vehicle with the CVT transmission. I have three Subarus and deal with their head gasket and ghost walking issues. I do not need another problem added to the headaches. One way I look at it is the automatic transmission has been around long enough to be pretty fool proof. Not so the CVT.
Just ordered a 2019 Crosstrek with a manual, because local dealer didn't have any on the lot. I drive my vehicles until the wheels fall off, so I needed something that would get me to that point. The CVT is highly unreliable and prone to premature failure. We're talking about ~100k mi or less people. Most will not take the steps to perform this research, and find this out for themselves before making a purchase. Of course most also do not keep a vehicle for anymore than just a few years and are stuck in an infinite payment loop, but that's not me. No need or want for eyesight either, trying driving one in the upper midwest in the middle of winter! Constantly disabling itself due to dirty windshield, one would burn through hundreds of gallons of washer fluid just to keep the system happy. No thanks... I'll just keep my eyes and mind on the road as was intended from the get go.
My 2011 Outback was my first experience with a CVT. That year the pulley ratio changed continuously with no shift points, unless it was put in "manual" mode and you used the paddle shifters. Despite having driven manual transmissions for years this CVT didn't bother me. My 2017 Outback, however, is programmed to simulate shift points while accelerating even without using the paddles, so I don't understand why anyone would not like the "feeling" since from the driver's perspective it acts like a multi-gear automatic. Have these pre-programmed shift points been eliminated in more recent models?
My 2018 Crosstrek CVT has fixed shift points. I think this is the new trend... not going away
As someone who keeps their cars for a LONG time (17 years for one of our Foresters), I just don't trust that CVT's will be trouble free that long. I just upgraded one vehicle to a 2018 Forester because it was the last year to get a manual transmission. Subaru used to be about solid, safe, low complexity vehicles that were simple and safe to drive and that seems to be gone... so yes, probably my last Subaru.
I don't like the CVT in the mountains, and in high speed but high traffic freeway driving. Yes, it is reason I have not bought a new Subaru to replace an old Forester. Could use more power too.
the brz doesn’t use a cvt. It has a 6 speed automatic.
I've had a new 2019 Ascent for about 5000 miles and a few months across a wide variety of driving including pulling a boat on a trailer. I love this vehicle! I see no reason to hate the cvt. It works well. Acceleration is impressive for such a large vehicle. I have not found any reason to use the paddle shifters. Over the last 1000 miles my Ascent registered 26 mpg. The rear braking system has already saved a collision. The CVT has not ever come to mind. I don't care what trans they use as long as it works. And it does.