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It’s The New Subaru Crosstrek's Best Feature But You Aren’t Using Them

The 2019 Subaru Crosstrek has a great feature but most drivers rarely or never use them. See what you are missing.


An article in the New York Times says the steering wheel paddle shifters on most new vehicles are rarely used. They could be the best feature on the new 2019 Subaru Crosstrek, Forester, Outback, and Ascent models for improving drivability but you need to use them. The new second-generation Crosstrek uses a Lineartronic CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) with Adaptive Control, Incline Start Assist and 7-speed manual mode with paddle shifters. Here are the advantages and how you can use them to their full potential.

You get the benefits of a CVT automatic transmission which is fuel economy, but also the advantages of having control of the shift points. Here’s how to get the optimum benefit from the new Crosstrek's useful feature. You can leave the gear shifter in drive and let the transmission shift on its own, or you can shift the gear lever over to the “M” or manual mode.

2019 Subaru Crosstrek paddle shifters are right behind the wheel

While moving or at a stop, you can shift to “M” and see the arrow on the dash telling you which gear you are in. By using the paddle shifter on the right (+plus), you can shift up a gear, and the left shifter (-minus) allows you to shift down.

There are two benefits you can enjoy by using the steering wheel paddle shifters. The first is if you are in deep snow. You can turn off your traction control and put the Crosstrek in first gear. This allows you to drive in a lower gear like you would if you were in 4WD Low.

The second benefit is if you are traveling up a steep hill or mountain pass on the way to the ski slope or to go kayaking. To keep the transmission from constantly shifting, you can keep it in the appropriate gear. It also keeps you from having to keep your foot on the brake pedal.

2019 Subaru Crosstrek

This auto journalist lives in the mountains west of Denver where we get a ton of snow and ice on the roads. It’s useful in winter to keep the Crosstrek at low speeds on hills that are snow-covered so we are not constantly on the brakes. We also use them on steep slick grades to keep the car in control so you don’t slide off the road or into the car in front of you.

You can use the paddle shifters while in Drive and the CVT transmission will let you shift momentarily. But as soon as it senses you need another gear either up or down, it will auto-shift to that gear for you. This can be useful when getting onto the highway or when you need to pass someone quickly. As soon as you are up to speed, the transmission will automatically go back to the appropriate gear.

When you do shift into “M” Manuel mode, you need to shift up or down if you are moving. If you don’t do anything, the transmission will not shift into manual mode for you. If the vehicle is slowing down while in manual mode, it will auto-downshift for you.

You can slide the gear lever back to Drive whenever you need to with a seamless shift and you won’t even know it. The steering wheel paddle shifters give you the extra control when you need it, and also give you the benefits of a fuel-efficient gearbox saving you money at the pump.

Paddle shifters are optional on Premium trims and standard on Limited models. Take your new 2019 Subaru Crosstrek out for a spin and get the most out of a feature that’s very helpful but rarely used to their full potential.

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Photo credit: Subaru Dr, Team MazdaSubaru


Fred Young (not verified)    July 14, 2020 - 1:40AM

In reply to by Denis Flierl

I do use my 2016 Crosstrek's paddle shifters but not to the fullest potential because I was a little apprehensive whether or not it's improper use might damage the CVT transmission and after reading the article on the subject I now will take full advantage of this feature, Thank you.

HW (not verified)    September 30, 2019 - 10:13AM

Paddle shifters should be standard on ALL vehicles with CVTs for better control, especially on downhill grades. The Low setting on vehicles without paddles shifters is only good for low speeds.

Debra S Freeling (not verified)    September 30, 2019 - 3:35PM

In reply to by HW (not verified)

I agree. I've had my Crosstrek for 3 months and I became a fan of the manual/paddle shifters the very first time I used it, on a 6-mile downhill stretch of 6-8% grade. It confirmed my Crosstrek was the best buy ever! It takes me everywhere I want to go on AT tires, too.

ChrisATX (not verified)    September 30, 2019 - 9:08PM

Or...just get a manual transmission Crosstrek and get to choose what gear you are in all the time, be able to adapt your shifting to inclement weather without thinking about it and get better real world gas mileage. (I know the epa mileage favors the cvt, but I routinely better that on long trips.) Also, you can make the most of the Crosstrek’s anemic power and it’s cheaper.

Jaazz (not verified)    October 1, 2019 - 6:16AM

You write: "To keep the transmission from constantly shifting, you can keep it in the appropriate gear." But ... a CVT doesn't shift (gear hunt) going up hill.

Matt (not verified)    October 1, 2019 - 1:03PM

This is patently absurd "advice". The CVT is a 1 speed transmission, or "continuously variable" as the CV indicates. The complete lack of logic and thought invested in this article are astounding.

"The second benefit is if you are traveling up a steep hill or mountain pass on the way to the ski slope or to go kayaking. To keep the transmission from constantly shifting, you can keep it in the appropriate gear."

Mark E Miller (not verified)    October 1, 2019 - 1:31PM

My Crosstrek's solution is a 3rd peddle aka a clutch. This removes the horrendous CVT and laughable paddle shifters from the equation entirely. The drivability of a Subaru in this configuration is the only one that does the car justice. Test drive both. You won't believe its the same vehicle. One you can drive. One you barely can put up with.

Dan (not verified)    October 1, 2019 - 2:59PM

Fixed the title for you: "It’s The New Subaru Crosstrek's Best Feature, But You Aren’t Using It". If you're talking about a "feature", you're implying a singular. To not use "them", the plural needs to be in the subject. Example: "They're the best features on the Subaru Crosstrek, but you aren't using them".

We'll leave the other spelling, grammatical, and automotive knowledge mistakes alone. Proofreading goes a long way :)

Elizabeth (not verified)    November 23, 2019 - 2:47PM

Are you able to shift with out using the paddle shifter? When placed in M can you use the shifter and not paddles ?

Peter Lawton (not verified)    April 13, 2021 - 6:46AM

Paddle shifters - use them routinely for all the situations you note. Another reason I am hanging on to my 2008 Legacy GT wagon. Last year the wagon body was made. 250hp turbo; leather seats, dual climate control, premium sound system, moonroof.jJust coming up to 230K km. Shifters are wicked when used with this turbo engine in sport sharp mode.