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Subaru CVT Rant

I like terrible cars. I would daily drive a GMC TopKick. I *did* daily drive a Ford Festiva without doors. I voluntarily own three smarts.

So when a car disappoints me, something really has to be wrong with it.

The car? 2018 Subaru Impreza hatch. Base model 152hp flat four, AWD, CVT, 3,000 pounds.

Illustration for article titled Subaru CVT Rant
Photo: Samsung Galaxy A20

I’m a CVT apologist. I’ll even defend the CVT in a low mile Dodge Caliber. But this? This thing is almost hateful in how it has so little motivation.


Put the pedal to the floor on a green light. The revs will jump and the car will slowly begin moving. It feels like a horribly slipping traditional automatic. From 0-40 it feels like this car is moving in slow motion. Putting it into L makes it even slower, so don’t try that.

Motion picks up once the engine finally hits the end of the rev range. So past about 40-45 it’s somewhat nippy. It’ll even happily exceed 100 if you let it. Unlike some CVTs, this one will allow the car to flirt with redline then it’ll “shift gears” and do it all over again.


So when you’re driving it normally, it feels like a slushbox on its last legs, and when you weld the pedal to the floor it decides to simulate gears.

Even with traction control off in dirt I couldn’t get it to break the tires loose like I could in the Audi. I get this Subaru only has 152 ponies on tap, but it feels like what low end ponies are there are lost to the transmission. This car launches slower than a smart car. Hell, it probably launches slower than a Grumman LLV.


I have other complaints. Like noted in Car & Driver’s long term review, you constantly have to correct steering on the highway. It’s as if it is pulling in either direction completely randomly. And at slow speeds, the numb steering feels heavier than it should be. Apparently the car is so weak that Car & Driver couldn’t even break the tires loose in snow.

That said, I don’t completely hate it, either. Aside from needing constant corrections it’s comfortable on the highway and it has no problems making passes once you do get it to speed. Visibility is also very good for a modern car. It’s honestly refreshing to have big mirrors and windows that aren’t gun slits.


But if I were getting a base Impreza, I’d go for the manual. The CVT seems to ruin an otherwise fine car.

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