Subaru has a long history with the CVT transmission, and it hasn’t always been clear sailing. The first Subaru to feature this transmission was the Justy in the late 1980s and while we saw the similar Sherpa model, Australia never got the CVT transmission. In fact, the Justy had so many transmission problems that it was dumped from world price-lists in about 1995.
Our first taste of the Subaru CVT was in 2009 with the launch of the fifth-generation Liberty and Outback models which featured a CVT on four-cylinder petrol versions of the car.
The CVT has since been extended to the brand’s Impreza, Forester, XV and even the sporty WRX line-up.
And, yes, there have been issues reported by owners. While catastrophic failures have not been widely documented, the Subaru CVT’s overall behaviour has been criticised on a number of levels. Those include a jerkiness to forward progress (particularly in low speed and light throttle conditions) harsh shifting, shuddering under acceleration and a delay when selecting gears from Park. In some instances, a reflash of the electronic control module has improved things, for other cases, Subaru has introduced a completely new, improved software package.
Part of the reason Subaru has copped so much flak over the CVT is that the symptoms it displays are often the death-knell for other types of transmissions and consumers- rightly – have been worried. To counter this in the USA, Subaru extended the drivetrain warranty of 1.5 million cars with CVTs from five years and 100,000km to 10 years and 160,000km.
But even if total transmission replacements don’t seem common, do you want to live with this gearbox? For many people the answer is no. But to be fair, most of the problems seem to have occurred on pre-2018 models and later CVTs appear to be better units.
In the case of the Outback you’re interested in, with the update of that model in 2018, the CVT was revised with a revised torque-reduction control to improve upshift clarity, a short-pitch chain was used for lower noise and a revision to the shifter was made to improve shift feel (although we suspect that’s feel through the shifter itself, not the way the transmission feels when it selects a gear).