By on July 19, 2007

wrxsti.jpgWinding Road reports that Subaru will begin fitting the Legacy with a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) in 2009, and all other models shortly thereafter. Given the poor reviews and slow sales of these "stepless" transmissions, the news is something of a shock. Ford recently abandoned the CVT in its quest to turn the Five Hundred into the Taurus. The Blue Oval Boyz and other mass market manufacturers are also busy gearing-up to install DSG (double sequential gearbox) or similar into their future products. Given the unlimited fun of a paddle-shift DSG gearbox vs. the whiny sloth of a CVT, it's hard to imagine many existing or potential Subaru drivers would trade spirited performance for an extra mile per gallon. [Note to Subaru: no one drives a Subaru for the gas mileage; they drive them in SPITE of the gas mileage.]

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35 Comments on “Subarus to get CVT Transmissions...”


  • avatar
    Jim H

    ..bah..double post…

  • avatar
    Jim H

    Note to Megan: I bought a Subaru for the gas mileage AND option to have zip if I needed/wanted it AND the safety feature of all-wheel drive (even though it’s only need 2 months a year total a second vehicle or time off without pay isn’t financially advisable for me). If I hadn’t cared about gas mileage, I’d of bought a Toyota Forerunner, Audi A6, or the mazda CR-V (which I wouldn’t even consider now after driving the legacy).

  • avatar

    Can it be worse than the 4-speed autos they package?

  • avatar
    carguy

    The decision making of process at Subaru has always been a mystery to me. Instead of proliferating the 3.6 to the Legacy and Outback they persist with the torque challenged, unrefined premium gas slurping 3.0. When everyone in their price bracket has moved to 5+ gear automatics and DSGs they release a new WRX with a 4-speed slushbox. Then there is the styling which alternates between plain (which I have no problem with) and so ugly that it warps the space-time continuum.

    Subaru makes some nice products and has the potential to be a great car maker if it weren’t for these seemingly random decisions that seem to damage their products.

    How about investing in a good 6 speed auto, decent gear shifts and making their best engines available in as many products as possible? As far as styling goes, there is no need to be too original – Asian car makers have thrived on derivative styling – just try to copy something more attractive next time.

  • avatar
    whitenose

    Jim H: I think Megan is correct about mileage. I bought a Subaru several years ago in spite of the poor mileage. I just recently failed to buy another Subaru in part because the mileage was poor relative to competing, better driving wagons.

    I also don’t think anyone should look to Mazda CX-7/9 for improved mileage (are you thinking of the Honda CR-V, which is woefully underpowered?).

    As for poor CVT sales, Nissan seems to be doing quite well with it. I posted a few days ago that the Tribeca should be more like the Murano, which has a CVT and is a hot seller. Maybe it depends on the quality of the CVT and the quality of the total package. Or maybe CVTs work better in larger vehicles?

  • avatar
    whitenose

    carguy: Sing it, bro. You’ve nailed Subaru’s problems. A CVT isn’t going to fix them, whether or not it actually works well.

  • avatar

    carguy – good post, and you must be a thoughtful, erudite individual since your point of view agrees with mine. Right?

    No, all joking aside, I am of the same opinion about Subaru’s decision-making process – it is perplexing to me how they keep getting the obvious stuff so wrong when they have pretty good product to choose from. And regarding their styling, it’s not like they’re some tiny auto manufacturer; they have the means to farm out their design work to the Italian design houses, or at a minimum, hire someone to copy the Germans, like the other Asian makes. Why do we keep getting these vehicles that look so badly thrown together? It is difficult to understand how Subaru just keeps getting it so wrong.

    B Moore – Autosavant.net

  • avatar
    Jonathon

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a positive review of a CVT. It seems like a lot of auto makers have made them and then dropped them a few years later.

  • avatar
    mrdweeb

    Saturn (GM) never could get the damn thing to work right, despite numerous redesigns and recalls. They offered it in the Vue with the 4-cylinder engine. Imagine, if you will, an overweight cute ute, a gutless 4-banger, and a crappy, unreliable CVT.

  • avatar
    Luther

    CVT is for mini-bikes. DSG is it. Even Chrysler is going DSG.

  • avatar
    brownie

    They used to have a CVT in the famous 3-cyl Justy. That was one of the family cars I was lucky enough to drive while I was in high school. It was loads of fun – for the people making fun of it. But it did get crazy gas mileage. And, um, it was easy to park. Oh, and it made it impossible for me to drive at dangerous speeds.

    Let’s hope this is the first step towards bringing it back from the dead!

  • avatar
    lzaffuto

    A CVT may actually work better than a real auto in this application. Traditional automatics paired with a turbo are usually dogs because turbos need higher revs to make power and all a traditional auto wants to do is shift as early as possible into as high of a gear as possible… resulting in the fact that unless you floor your accelerator everywhere you go you might as well have saved the money and bought the NA engine. With a CVT, you can keep the revs up enough to keep the turbo spooled at even part throttle until you are finished accelerating, resulting in better performance. Possibly better than the manual… yes, I went there. :p

  • avatar
    Martin Albright

    Megan: the gas mileage question depends on where the buyer is coming from. From a compact car to a Subaru, yes there’s a MPG drop. But from a truck or SUV (which market Subaru has targeted with their advertising) they do offer an improvement, and a pretty significant one. I went from a 2wd Ford Ranger to an Outback Wagon because I wanted AWD, the ability to transport more than 1 other person and better MPG and I got all 3: My Ranger would typically get 19 in the city and 23-24 on the highway. The Subaru was good for 22-23 in the city and 28-30 on the highway, so that was definitely an improvement.

    The problem with Subaru MPG is that people buy them and then drive them like rally racers (which is hard to avoid sometimes, especially on a well graded and curvy dirt road) and then they wonder why they get crappy mileage.

    However I do agree on the CVT. Is there anybody – anywhere – who has ever said that the CVT in the real world is better than a real auto tranny? Anyone? Anyone?

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Samir, you’re absolutely right. Nothing is worse than their current 5EAT. Nothing.

    The turbo Subarus tend to get very acceptable gas mileage for the amount of power they’re pulling. But there’s a huge drop b/t manual and automatic, and the non-turbo versions get only marginally better gas mileage than the turbo versions. To the point where hardly anyone considers buying a base model anything, unless they really want the AWD. My point, however, was that no one gets an STI, LGT, or Forester XT looking to get good gas mileage. It’s usually pretty far down their list, right behind performance, price, and performance.

  • avatar

    Audi has quietly put a CVT into their front wheel drive A4s and A6s for years (AWD models get a 6-speed automatic due to packaging constraints). I’ve heard of no problems with them, and they seem to be pretty bullet proof. I doubt they would have kept it up if they were poor engineering or gave substandard performance.

  • avatar
    Jim H

    I think you have a different definition of good. :) My definition of good for 250ish horse power (the legacy GT Spec-b) is 28 mpg. Sure, I could get the same or similar in an Acura TSX or TL, but I really wanted AWD for the winters out here in Colorado (I’m out in Black Forest…overcast = snow even though it’s sunny and 60 in town :) ). Had the Subaru been, in my opinion, NOT good in gas mileage (anything below 25 mpg), then it wouldn’t have been an option for me. My last two tanks of gas have been over 30mpg…and I still get to use the turbo from time to time.

    Perhaps I overlooked an AWD with 250 horse power that gets better. Just let me know and I’ll keep it on the list next time.

  • avatar
    Megan Benoit

    Jim H

    You’re in the mountains. We noticed our LGT gets sick mileage up there… significantly better than what we got in flatlander Nebraska or even in Atlanta or the Smokies (though it is better through there). Like I said, the turbo engines are good, if you get a manual… Subaru is concerned about everything else, which gets pretty bad gas mileage.

  • avatar
    shaker

    As was mentioned before, Nissan’s CVT is quite successful; many drivers of Altimas (with either the 175HP I4 or the 270HP V6) list the CVT as one of their favorite features. That said, there’s little data on their longevity, but I’ve read of no problems from any owners in the year or so that they’ve been offered. (Unlike a lady that works in our cafetria — she bought a brand-new Equinox; the auto tranny failed the first week!)

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Dammit Subaru, I’m trying to convince my wife to buy one of your great rides, but she quips the styling is U-G-L-Y. While I wouldn’t go that far, why in the Haiti can’t you build a sweet looking mobile? I’m glaring at you, Tribeca. C’mon fellas! Throw me a bone!!

  • avatar
    cgraham

    Jim H
    A Mazdaspeed6 gets equal mileage at 270 horse with AWD.

    As for the CVT I too am let down by this news. They worked great in the snowmobiles that I had but I don’t know how well they will work in a WRX. I can’t speak from experience though, maybe the CVT is the shiznet. My girlfriends parents (read mom) were deadset on buying an Altima because they looked so good on TV and in parking lots. They loved them right up until the time that they drove it and just couldn’t get over the amount of noise from the transmission.
    I do wonder what KIND of CVT they are planning on putting in the new WRX? The ruber band pully type a la snowmobile or the way more complicated Hydrostatic or, IMHO a clear winner, the Toroidal?

  • avatar
    kazoomaloo

    If Subaru really wants to up their mileage, I expect the diesel they’re reportedly working on will take care of it. Just using the simple 30% efficiency gain, that puts a 25 mpg avg. to 32.5, not marvelous by any means but highway would probably be in the upper 30′s. This CVT business just seems strange, but my faith in Subaru is such that even if other CVTs experience reliability issues I trust Subaru to engineer a better one.

  • avatar
    forraymond

    I have an ’04 Saturn Vue with a 4cly and CVT and it has work without flaw for almost 60K miles. I have been very pleased with the transmission (that will tow up to 1500 lbs). It is not a pleasure towing a small travel trailer, but it gets the job done. Also, it gets 23 mpg around town. I like to CVT.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    are you thinking of the Honda CR-V, which is woefully underpowered?

    Woefully? Exactly what are you going to be doing in it?

    DSG sadly knocked a few choices off my play car list. Sorry, but it just doesn’t fo it for me.

  • avatar
    miked

    The problem with Subaru MPG is that people buy them and then drive them like rally racers (which is hard to avoid sometimes, especially on a well graded and curvy dirt road) and then they wonder why they get crappy mileage.

    Yeah, I just bought a house in the Colorado mountains. Today, I was heading up to meet the inspector and boy did I have fun with my LGT on the 5 miles of dirt road. It’s going to be a fun drive to work everyday. Don’t know if the wife will approve of the power slides around the hairpin turns, but it sure is fun (which is why the my mileage sucks).

    Back on topic: There are two types of Subaru buyers. 1) People who like relatively cheap performance cars and drive them like rally cars. They buy the car for fun 2) People who want a car instead of a truck for the winter. They buy the car for practicality.

    The people who will like the CVT are the group 2 people. They don’t care much for the fun factor, and I think a CVT will be great for winter driving as you never have to worry about it making harsh gear changes. If I were a more practical person, I’d consider a CVT subie. But when my LGT needs replaced, hopefully they’ll have a DSG version, as I’m too irresponsible to settle for a CVT.

  • avatar
    LastResort

    I’m quite surprised at the numbers people are getting for MPG in their Turbo Subaru’s. My wife’s driving mix is probably 15% city/85% highway, and regularly touches 30mpg in our 05WRX. I would think a CVT in the rather laggy turbo arrangement Subaru’s sport would be a huge benefit over the sad 4EAT.

  • avatar
    Jim H

    Thanks cggrahmn for the MazdaSpeed6. It actually made my list, but I never felt compelled to test drive it for some reason. I did see a guy at the gas station filling up with one, it looked pretty nice. We complimented each other on our cars, but he declined to cruise next to me on the road. I think he was intimidated. :)

  • avatar
    Jim H

    Oh…I assume they’ll still make manuals, correct? They aren’t phasing out manuals, just their regular automatics which aren’t good anyhow? :)

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Sounds like a chicken commin’ back home to roost. If I am not mistaken, the original Subaru Justy was one of the first (if not the first) non-DAF/Volvo CVTs.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    You would’ve thought that Subaru learned their lesson from those CVT Justy’s. I guess not.

  • avatar
    phil

    lzaffuto:

    “A CVT may actually work better than a real auto in this application. Traditional automatics paired with a turbo are usually dogs because turbos need higher revs to make power..”

    i wouldn’t call the 335i automatic a dog; it goes like hell from any rev to any rev, at least until the oil gets too hot.

    i had a 2000 outback wagon 4 cylinder auto. i liked the car, put 100k on it in 3 years, driving 90% freeway (75 mph) in the flat central valley of california, overall mileage 19 and change. the engine is bulletproof but sounds agricultural, power is barely adequate, and the automatic clung to 4th gear with a death grip. i don’t see any justifaction for a car like this unless you deal with snowy winters.

  • avatar

    Not to mention a print car-magazine threw down the gauntlet to Carlos Ghosn about his determination to use CVTs and claims that they got superior mileage.

    They tested a few of the Nissans in both auto and CVT, and the autos all had better gas mileage AND better acceleration

  • avatar

    of course nothing beats a traditional manual

  • avatar
    Acd

    A CVT disqualifies any car from my shopping list regardless of its other attributes.

  • avatar
    benders

    The 335i has twin turbos which means smaller turbos. It also only runs about 8.5 lbs of boost, about half of what a WRX runs. Smaller turbos plus less boost means less lag and better performance at low RPM.

    And the Mazdaspeed6 is a FWD car that only goes to AWD when a front wheel spins. Max torque split is something like 90-10 front to rear.

    carguy, there are no mechanical changes to the WRX this year; expect a new transmission in 2 years. And who buys a WRX with an auto anyway?

  • avatar
    Redbarchetta

    Subaru’s current auto’s are power sucking leaches as long as the CVT isn’t the same it is garanteed to be a success.
    Doesn’t matter a Subaru and auto trannies are an oxymoron to me much like a Porsche or Ferrari with an auto would be. I prefer to row myself through the gears.


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