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AWD quick question - auto with CVT, or manual with viscous coupling?

I started searching the archives for an answer, but didn’t find an exact match.

A quick question: Is there an advantage or disadvantage to either of the awd systems used by Subaru in their Outbacks?

The five-speed manual transmission uses a viscous-coupling center differential that sends power where it is best used; the default is 50/50 front/rear but can reach 100 percent to either end.

The four-speed automatic has a continuously variable transfer clutch that splits the power as needed, with a maximum of 50 percent to the rear wheels.


Tricky question. Get the one you want to drive most. A car isn’t just a collection of nuts and bolts that move in close order drill. Sometimes (always) it’s personal.

Thanks, pleasedodgevan2. I don’t know much about awd, and am just wondering if one type of system is better.

I’ve always wondered why Subaru has two different systems. Must just be which is the best match for the tranny type. I’d just get the transmission I wanted and not worry about the awd particulars.

Is the OP considering a new Outback for purchase, or an older one?
The reason that I ask is because of the mention of a “4 speed automatic transmission”, a “5-speed manual trans”, and a CVT.

The powertrain options on new Outbacks are as follows:

2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine coupled with 6-speed manual trans
2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine coupled with a CVT
3.6 liter 6-cylinder engine coupled with a 5-speed automatic trans

So…there is neither a “4-speed automatic trans” nor a “5-speed manual trans” in the mix for new Outbacks, making me wonder if the OP is talking about an older used car, rather than a new one. The CVT was not available prior to 2010 (when the above-noted powertrain combinations became available), so I am really confused regarding the issue of new vs used cars.

All of that being said, the detail differences between the drive systems should not be that much of a concern. All of them will get you through very difficult situations with ease, and the addition of true winter tires on all 4 wheels will enable you to safely get through almost anything that Old Man Winter can toss in front of you.

Thanks, VDCdriver. Yes, two older 2006 Outback Ltd models, one manual, the other ‘mushmatic.’ The info I read about the 2006 models said that the automatic had a continuously variable transfer clutch.

Thank you for the clarification.
As I aluded to, and some others said, you should decide on the basis of which type of transmission you prefer to drive. The specifics of the AWD system are not that important, as either will do very well in conditions that would stop many other vehicles.

And, please don’t confuse a continuously variable transfer clutch with a CVT (continuously variable transmission), as they are two totally different entities.

A google search got me to “” website and a review of the viscous coupler. In this case both systems do pretty much the same thing. For more specifics visit the site, it is worth it.

Most likely engineering, design, and costs issues made for the choice of one system in the manual and the other in the automatic. As auto transmissions are changed and upgraded more frequently a newer design for the coupler was incorporated into the system.


I had this exact question at one time. Having owned a manual transmission Subaru, I can tell you what my cousin co owner of a Subaru dealership told me was the thought behind theses two different awd systems with different transmissions.

With a manual, generally the buyer is more apt to prefer the handling that rear wheel bias provides. Hence, up to 100% to rear wheels. Automatic owners are less inclined to care or even want the rear end kicking out, hense the limit at 50%. This is because automatics are bought by less aggressive drivers…in general, who do not care about this handling preference of rwd bias.

So, it’s an effort to match the transmisionn with the suitable awd torque distribution bias. Car makers do this all the time with packaging options together for example either, luxury or sport or economy lines with different size motors, to transmissions, tire size, final drive ratios etc. It’s with the intention of matching all the diferent drive train components to different perspective buyer preferences. It’s obviously somewhat of a guessing game but with the use of statistics. He who does it best, sells the most cars to the most “different” buyers in the same model line.

Let me say I loved the handling of our manual trans Subaru vs the auto of a friend. My wife liked it so much she ruined a set of tires driving it too agressivly when new.

Thank you all so much for your comments. I prefer driving manual, and have had trouble finding one with the trim I wanted. I drove a few automatics witht he “manual option” … wasn’t thrilled but figured I could deal with it, and probably would be easier to sell when I’m through with the car. Then a manual appeared. I haven’t seen the maintenance records for the manual yet, but will check out that car this week. Then, it’s decision time between the two. Your responses have helped very much. And thanks, Dagosa, for the handling comparison. Sounds like the manual is the best match for me (won’t say too much here about my driving style, except that I wish I didn’t have to go for practicality now - I’d much rather have a sportier vehicle!)