Gas mileage, 4W drive, and CVT

subaru
outback

#1

MY 99 Outback is dying, and I need a new car. I live off road, so need clearance, and I coach a highschool XC ski racing team, so I need the all wheel drive and antilock brakes for the snow and ice. I would like better mileage. Is there any other car with the good clearance and great snow and ice handling that gets better mileage? And if I am stuck with Subaru, do I want the CVT? Is is really as good as manual when I go up and down steep switchbacks every time I leave home? Help! Any day now I will be stuck miles from anywhere waiting for a tow truck and Tom and Ray don’t care!


#2

Depending on what engine/transmission options you’re looking at, some of the mini-SUV’s like the Rav4 or the CRv get marginally better mileage. You could also look at a crossover like a Toyota Matrix or a Suzuki SX4, which have AWD available and slightly better clearance than a regular car, but still not a lot. However, there is nothing in the price or fuel economy range that even approaches a Subaru in terms of snow performance. There’s a reason why they’re so popular in snow country! It’s not like other cars won’t get around in the snow, especially with a good set of winter tires, but I have a feeling you’ll be disappointed with anything else compared to your old Subie. If you feel bad about being stuck with Subaru, just look at an AMC Eagle (combined MPG=16) and count your blessings.

As for the CVT, firstly you should definitely take one on a long test drive before you buy one. Some people just really don’t like how they drive. As for snow handling, the CVT has a “manumatic” mode that basically emulates gears by letting you lock in certain gear ratios. This lets you pretend you’re driving a manual, but also lets you start in a higher gear, which is the only real advantage of a manual in the snow. So, yes, the CVT should be as good if not better than a manual transmission in the snow.


#3

I’m amazed at the reluctance to accept the CVT idea, used for years in other vehicles, as an expensive alternative to the present day automatic. It’s simpler with fewer moving parts and only the belt issue has yet to be resolved for HD use in trucks and heavy equipment. Go for it, but only in a Subaru or Nissan at this point.


#4

I don’t know about Nissan, but Subaru’s CVT utilizes a very stout roller chain, about 3 inches wide, rather than a belt.


#5

Aren’t some of the owners reporting BETTER mileage than Subaru is claiming?


#6

“Aren’t some of the owners reporting BETTER mileage than Subaru is claiming?”

Does Subaru make mileage claims other than restating the EPA test results? If not, then I’m not surprised that some folks get better mileage. The EPA highway mileage test isn’t all highway; there is some around town stuff, too. I get about 10% better highway mileage on a long trip that the EPA rating.


#7

After you have test-drove a CVT, you should ask how long that part is warrantied…Then you should ask how much it costs to replace it after the warranty has expired…

With Subaru’s, the engine usually blows long before the transmission…But with this new CVT, that might no longer be true…I guess the memories of the Justy are fading fast…


#8

I don’t know about Nissan, but Subaru’s CVT utilizes a very stout roller chain, about 3 inches wide, rather than a belt.

CVT belts are generally harden steel belt, not a scooter’s rubber belt. Chains are not turn by sprockets. They are both gripped by drive pulleys and they are the weak links IMO. As the chain link or belt engages and disengages the pulleys, they alternately grip and slip. Sure a conventional clutch slips and wears out over the course of its duty. But the belt or chain resides deep inside the transmission.

I rented a Honda Civic Hybrid, drove about 200 miles thru LA commute and enjoyed it. If you typically drive an automatic and do not finesse the go pedal, you would notice that rubber band effect in which the engine spools up without making the car go. I think that’s because the engine is ordered to go to its power band in a hurry at all cost and the car is left behind for a while. If you ease into it just like you would driving a manual, this effect is minimal.

Since CVT are generally locked in gear most of the time without torque converter slip, it was easy to control the power. Releasing the go pedal also comes with a familiar engine braking effect that slows the car down just like it would in a manual car. It was a whole lot less aggravating than a typical automatic that does not slow down, prompting heavy brake use.

However, until a positive drive, as oppose to a friction drive, CVT hits the market, it remains a curiosity for me.

Ok, back to the cars. Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman also come with AWD and get better mileage than the Subaru and Suzuki SX4.


#9

Not that this is the definitive answer, but


#10

Thanks for the great info and I will check out these other cars. I have never owned a car with automatic transmission. Your responses make me believe I should be open to getting the CVT if I get another Subie. I hate rental cars because they are automatic. My current Subaru has a dying transmission at 240+K miles, requiring me to skip 4th gear, and it makes grinding sounds in all gears, possibly related to when I tried to use it as a snowplow on steep, deep ice and snow hills to get out of my drive winter before last. I blew the clutch and shattered the flywheel and drove the rpms off the dial. Maybe the CVT would not have allowed such stupid behavior. I know the CVT is better than a regular automatic, but it is hard to give up a real manual stick shift after all 45 years of driving.


#11

Well, if you plan on continuing your snowplowing hobby, an automatic is the best transmission for the job, preferably behind a V8 pickup truck engine!

To be perfectly honest, every single vehicle that meets your needs is going to be within a few MPG’s of each other regardless of transmission choice. I personally think that when you’re only talking about an MPG or two in the 20+ MPG range, you’re in the margin of error and it’s really not worth having that as a decisive factor. It sounds to me like you’d be best served by and happiest with with a manual transmission Subaru. Don’t get so hung up on buying a car “by the numbers” that you end up with one you’re not really going to be happy with.

Also, do I ever wish my High School had had a cross-country ski team!