Loving the CVT
Back when I was reading everything I could about the new 2014 Forester one of the consistently negative threads was about the CVT transmission. For some reason there were a lot of posts putting down CVT transmissions and claiming Subaru had made a mistake putting a CVT into the Forester.
Now I have had my new Forester just over a month. I have put over 4,500kilometres on the odometer in that time. I have done five trips down to my work and back, which is a about a 700 kilometre round trip when you include the daily trips from my motel accommodation to work and back.
In these 4,500 kilometres I have tried just about every variation possible using the CVT in the XT Forester that does not involve towing something—but I did get a towbar fitted.
The first thing I should say is that the CVT in the XT Forester is not the same as the CVT in the non-XT models. The CVT in the XT models is the high-torque variation which is not available as standard or as an upgrade option on the non-XT models. Additionally the CVT in the XT models has the ‘enhanced Sports’ mode (or Sports Sharp mode as it is sometimes referred to).
The above is one of the key reasons I paid the extra cash and went for the XT model. Another reason is the much improved tighter suspension in the XT model.
At this stage I am loving the CVT transmission. It is an engineering marvel.
Anyone who buys a 2014 Forester XT and just pulls the transmission down into “D” and forgets about it is missing out on a heap of driving fun. By putting the transmission into “D” and ignoring all the other options possible you are just driving around in full CVT mode, or what Subaru call “I” mode.
Please, if you own an XT model, don’t do this. Following I will try to outline some reasons why. When reading the following remember that, unlike a typical automatic transmission, the CVT in the Forester does not have a torque converter. At speeds above about 3 kph the automatic clutch remains disengaged and the engine is through to the wheels.
Gear Selection Indicator: In enhanced Sport mode the centre console shows you the virtual gear that the CVT control computer has selected. So as you start to go up an incline, or if you depress the accelerator for more power, you see the gears drop below 8th down to 7th or 6th, or even 5th.
I like seeing what gear the car has selected. I like to know what the gearbox is doing. None of the other gearbox modes shows you at all time what the gearbox is doing.
Engine Breaking: With the CVT set in enhanced Sport mode you get intelligent engine assisted breaking when you apply the breaks harder. So if you are coming up to a corner and break a little aggressively the engine management system and the CVT control computer will recognise this and the CVT will downshift to assist you breaking. This is very effective. It works very well.
I have found this also works when you are descending a hill. If you start to break harder the CVT will downshift more quickly—although, as I point out later, I am often the one doing the downshifting before the CVT control computer decides to.
Significantly More ‘Power’: In enhanced Sport mode the Forester has significantly better performance. This is not only because the CVT control computer picks lower gears more quickly when they are needed, but also the engine management system ensures faster engine response when required.
This is especially useful for me. I live in the hills to the east of Perth and the new Forester is never found struggling as it climbs effortlessly up the hills. It pulls up the hills with ease and with plenty in reserve.
Having more performance also makes overtaking so much safer. The longer you take to overtake slow moving traffic then them more likely you are to get a stone or other road rubbish thrown at your windscreen (by the vehicle you are trying to overtake), or something fall of the vehicle and hit yours (especially when overtaking trucks), and the more likely it is that oncoming traffic will become an issue.
‘Temporary’ Manual Changes: The engine breaking in the XT Forester is great. Because there is no torque converter (there is an automatic clutch at very low speeds) it works very well. I find that I am using it all the time. I use the left hand column paddle to ‘tap’ the gearbox down as I approach round-a-bouts, town speed limits, corners, or go down hills, etc.
Double-tapping causes the CVT to drop two gears.
If the car is not in forced manual mode (“M”) then, as soon as the engine management system realises that the breaking is over and engine breaking is no longer required, then it slips the CVT back into ‘automatic’ mode and starts changing up again—all by itself. This works exactly how you would want it to. It is very well done and almost perfectly calibrated.
Gear Change Speed: The speed at which the CVT in the XT Forester changes gears is amazing. I realise that the gears are virtual and the all that happens is the CVT computer control simply changes the gap on the variable “V” pullies in the transmission, but even so gear changes happen very quickly—practically instantaneously.
If you double-tap the downshift paddle the double-downshift happens in less than a second. Probably in about half a second. You go from 7th to 5th in the blink of an eye and you feel the engine breaking effect immediately.
Admittedly I have never driven an Audi and I understand the downshift speed in the DSG (dual clutch or ‘direct shift’) automatics in Audi and Volkswagen cars (where fitted) is just as impressive.
Economy: Now here is the most amazing thing I have found out about enhanced Sport mode. For the driving I do, going back and forth to my work about 200 kilometres away on highways and freeways with a small amount of country town driving plus some serious and long hills driving when I get back home, the economy in “I” mode is the same as it is in enhanced Sport (“S#”) mode!! It hovers around 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres.
For those in Australia that still prefer mpg (miles per gallon) then that is 32.5 mpg. Or for my American readers that would be around 27 mpg (because you only have 3.78 litres in your gallons and we have 4.536 litres in our gallons).
So for me there is no fuel economy penalty for driving in enhanced Sport mode.
A point I will make here is that normal Sports mode (“S”) uses more petrol than enhanced Sport mode and I have worked out why. For whatever reason the engine revs higher in “S” mode in almost all cases. At 100 kph on the open road the engine does 1,800 rpm in “I” and it does the same in enhanced Sport (“S#”) mode, but in “S” or normal Sport mode it does 2,000 rpm.