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Old 04-16-2013, 12:33 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default How Good is the CVT Transmission??

My first time posting to this forum, but I have a fundamental transmission question for the members. I plan to be a Subaru owner in the very near future, probably an Outback, or possibly a 2014 Forester. For handling mountain grades, with extended downhill sections, can the CVT be shifted down to retard the vehicle so you don't have to ride the brakes so hard? The 2.5 models come with the CVT, whereas the 3.6's come with a conventional 5 speed auto w/ paddle shifters. My concerns are tending me to go for the 3.6 just to get away from the CVT. I see where the mileage seems to be better with the CVT, but I worry about slippage and ineffective downshift control. I plan to do some light trailer hauling (1600 lbs) in addition to general highway and errand running use. Do these CVT's do a decent job? My Ford Superduty has the Tow/Haul mode which really works great, so this is kind of setting my expectation.

Thanks for any info and experience you may offer.

Infidel
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Old 04-16-2013, 12:56 AM   #2 (permalink)
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My first time posting to this forum, but I have a fundamental transmission question for the members. I plan to be a Subaru owner in the very near future, probably an Outback, or possibly a 2014 Forester. For handling mountain grades, with extended downhill sections, can the CVT be shifted down to retard the vehicle so you don't have to ride the brakes so hard? The 2.5 models come with the CVT, whereas the 3.6's come with a conventional 5 speed auto w/ paddle shifters. My concerns are tending me to go for the 3.6 just to get away from the CVT. I see where the mileage seems to be better with the CVT, but I worry about slippage and ineffective downshift control. I plan to do some light trailer hauling (1600 lbs) in addition to general highway and errand running use. Do these CVT's do a decent job? My Ford Superduty has the Tow/Haul mode which really works great, so this is kind of setting my expectation.

Thanks for any info and experience you may offer.

Infidel
Well to start, the CVT is really great at what it does which is deliver power and efficiency. A lot of carmakers are switching to direct injection motors to increase power and mpg but they are using the same transmission. Even with 6 or 8 gears, the conventional automatics aren't as good as a cvt. Granted, a cvt is a different experience as you will not really feel any "jerks" as the car shifts gears, which is commonly why people thing that cvt's are slow. Sure they arent hot rod accessories, nor will they ever be, but the transmission will always be in the location where the most power and efficiency will be for the speed you are going.

On to specifics, the outback has paddle shifters that you can manually row the gears in a simulated 1-6 speeds, or you simply use the paddle to downshift when you need it, and the car will override and return to fully CVT automatic mode once you have reached a consistent speed. The CVT will also increase power if you floor it, but dont expect a downshift feeling. The 5eat is as good as any 5 speed auto, so thats a fine choice also. The new forester does not have paddle shifters in the non-turbo mode, but it does have hill decent control and a "low mode". It also has "x mode" which is pretty creative as it basically holds the CVT in high ratio gears and retards the gas pedal input for very precise control in low traction situations. Think of it as a simulated 4x4 low mode.

For your purposes, the outback will be fine with the CVT. The paddle shifters will do exactly what you need. If you want even more control, the forester turbo has paddleshifters as well with a 6 speed OR 8 speed simulated manual mode which may be even better for towing.
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Old 04-16-2013, 01:02 AM   #3 (permalink)
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I'm a first-time Subaru owner, and very happy with my CVT. After trying out the paddle shifters in various situations, I found that their best use is going downhill. On uphill grades, the CVT keeps your speed without obvious shifting - it just keeps the engine speed at its best point. And downhill it keeps the speed down to wherever you want it. I was on a steep winding road and found I could just downshift to 2nd or maybe 3rd to keep my speed. And the response with the paddle shifters is instantaneous.

I have been very impressed with the OB and CVT after 37K miles, with great gas mileage and absolutely no problems.
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Old 04-16-2013, 01:17 AM   #4 (permalink)
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If you're expecting the Outback to be even remotely similar to your Super Duty when towing, you're just setting yourself up for disaster...
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Old 04-16-2013, 01:43 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Comparing to my Prius, the Subaru CVT behaves and feels more like a regular transmission than a CVT. The amount of torque available at a given engine/electric motor speed and combination may have some effect, but basically on the Prius it's:
1. Electric motor (quiet)
2. Combination electric motor and gas engine (loud)

There doesn't seem to be a middle setting. When I step on the gas a bit, the engine roars and the car pokes along.

The Outback seems to have a different torque distribution, and lightly pressing he gas makes it behave and sound better. It likes to downshift and hold at a "lower gear" unlike the Prius, which really prioritizes fuel economy over everything else.
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Old 04-16-2013, 02:18 AM   #6 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by rktheac View Post
Comparing to my Prius, the Subaru CVT behaves and feels more like a regular transmission than a CVT. The amount of torque available at a given engine/electric motor speed and combination may have some effect, but basically on the Prius it's:
1. Electric motor (quiet)
2. Combination electric motor and gas engine (loud)

There doesn't seem to be a middle setting. When I step on the gas a bit, the engine roars and the car pokes along.

The Outback seems to have a different torque distribution, and lightly pressing he gas makes it behave and sound better. It likes to downshift and hold at a "lower gear" unlike the Prius, which really prioritizes fuel economy over everything else.
Might be worth pointing out that the Prius' transmission isn't really a CVT, because the gear ratio never changes. It can only vary the inputs from the 3 motors (one being the gas engine).
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Old 04-16-2013, 02:51 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I do the Sacramento to Tahoe run quite a bit. 8000+feet elevation and depending on which road pretty good twisties up and down.

The CVT w/paddles works very well with downshifting and engine braking in those conditions. Not worth beans for upshifting IMO. The only problem I've had using them downshifting is the idiots behind me don't realize I've slowed down without a brake light and they've almost rear-ended me several times.
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Old 04-16-2013, 07:34 AM   #8 (permalink)
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I love our Outback gets great gas milage 25 on average up to 34 on flat hwy
I use paddles for down shifting but like someone posted, idiots follow too close and don't see the brake lights so be careful
Unfortunately we began having issues recently with vehicle almost jerking while accelerating and have appointment with dealer
After researching seems like a few have similar issues

I'm hoping its just a flash resetting on computer and not the cvt slipping like I suspect

Heavy acceleration or uphill load seems to bring it out , not a happy feeling

We take good care of the car no 4x4 but hey it's a Subaru and its supposed to be able to take it
Can sometimes track the Hwy like it has its own mind taking a little work to keep it on the straight and narrow, others have posted the same issue

I like the feel of the cvt,s smooth acceleration though its different and takes a little getting used to but I think it's great

I would do more research though before dropping $30k or more and finding out they have issues they can't fix or are not willing to admit there is a problem
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Old 04-16-2013, 09:13 AM   #9 (permalink)
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I've got a 2013... I love the CVT.. I've never owned a traditional automatic, I always bought manual transmission vehicles...

It does great going down the hill.. I'd say the CVT under normal circumstances has slightly less engine braking than a MT because if you take your foot off the throttle it pretty much instantly goes to it's longest gear ratio, but if you tap the downshift paddle a couple of times it acts just like a manual and makes it easy to descend steep grades without using the brakes much.

Can't say anything about towing but the car is great in snow, it takes snowstorms that were stressful and makes them fun driving days.

The smooth feel on acceleration of the CVT is great.. most automatics shift like a drunken teenager, the CVT feels like an expert driver trying to be smooth with a manual transmission. (Though heck it is impossible to accelerate hard with a MT and be as smooth as the CVT) The CVT actually behaves intelligently feeding throttle in on a corner exit too, there is no sudden "bang" and a downshift right at the worst time.
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Old 04-16-2013, 12:06 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Infidel View Post
My first time posting to this forum, but I have a fundamental transmission question for the members. I plan to be a Subaru owner in the very near future, probably an Outback, or possibly a 2014 Forester. For handling mountain grades, with extended downhill sections, can the CVT be shifted down to retard the vehicle so you don't have to ride the brakes so hard? The 2.5 models come with the CVT, whereas the 3.6's come with a conventional 5 speed auto w/ paddle shifters. My concerns are tending me to go for the 3.6 just to get away from the CVT. I see where the mileage seems to be better with the CVT, but I worry about slippage and ineffective downshift control. I plan to do some light trailer hauling (1600 lbs) in addition to general highway and errand running use. Do these CVT's do a decent job? My Ford Superduty has the Tow/Haul mode which really works great, so this is kind of setting my expectation.

Thanks for any info and experience you may offer.

Infidel
I have towed many trailers over the years with various cars including the older Subarus and the new one with the CVT. 1600lbs is within what I like to call the sweet spot but starting to get into the heavy side of that sweet spot for basically all the Subarus given their cooling capacity and running gear etc. Having said that I've towed 1700+lbs many times with the CVT the prior car was the 2.5 Legacy GT non turbo with the 5spd MT which was great but lacked cooling ability for the long climbs in hot temps with anything beyond about 1000lbs.

The new Gen4 cooling system is far far better and the CVT is proving to be pretty dang nice for the tow effort given for the climbs you really don't have any flat spots like you get with the fixed gear autos or even the manual you just pick the speed that works best for the climb and temps etc and just plug along.

The really big deal is the outside temps! I'm in Ca and there are a few places we go in the summer where it is common to see 110 degree temps and very steep climbs. Which case my summer time camping rig set up was 1300lbs or less empty trailer weight which case the trailer I ended up with is 900lbs empty. The CVT hardly notices it. I've hauled the same trailer over the I5 Grapevine with about 700lbs in it +900 and the CVT and 2.5 easily did the run with no issues however it was in the 60's temp wise not a hot trip. Regarding the climb out of LA 3200rpm had us running between 63mph and 50mph the whole crossing which is very respectable given we had plenty of extra juice to pick up the pace when needed.

It's no f250!!! But those of us who have towed with the big pickups are smart enough to know this. My boat runs 1700lbs empty weight with trailer behind the car and we have hauled it packed with camping gear and three adults one child +dog up past Auburn Ca up I80 which has some fair climbs in 80 degree temps and the OB and CVT handled it beautifully we even got a trip average of 23mpg on that trip. My old 5spd 2.5 could only do that trip with me solo and the boat empty cooling was just not there to keep things cool. The 2010 with CVT never showed any sign of getting even warm with a much larger load. The steepest climb is a short one about a 6% up to the lake and the 2.5 with CVT held the 45mph speed limit easily could have gone faster. The old 5spd 2.5 had plenty of power for that climb also but cooling was the limiting factor always was with the old car.


My only caution would be high drag trailers tall box trailers - hot temps and long climbs when your 1500lbs and up.

The owners manual has a cooling system note and limitation listed

CVT is 1350lbs for 104+temps and 5+ mile climbs
The 5spd AT is 1500lbs same conditions
The MT 6spd lists your limit of 2700lbs but I can promise you 2700lbs 104+ temps and 5+mile hard climb you'll run out of cooling capacity before you run out of power.

The longer wheel base on the Legacy and OB make for some really nice towing and handling with the trailer by the way. One of the reasons I almost always haul the trailer with the Subaru over even our Sequoia the subaru just does it well with better mileage and is a nicer drive.

Short hauls 2000lbs is doable in mild temps. I found my 1700lb boat to be about where the limit is for the longer road trips go much heavier than 1700lbs and you do find your self wanting a bigger vehicle for those really windy sections of the trip or when the temps get hot and you have a climb ahead of you etc. But keeping it under 1700lbs seems to really be the ideal towing weight range for any of the subarus.
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