Subaru Crosstrek Addendum

  • December 16, 2023

I recently spent a week test driving another ’24 Subaru Crosstrek – which is now an automatic (CVT) only Crosstrek.

Full review is here.

2023  – the model year just ended – was the last calendar year you could buy a Crosstrek with a manual transmission. These were so popular it was almost impossible to buy a Crosstrek so equipped – which begs the question: Why did Subaru decide to stop selling them?

Well, Subaru didn’t.

Not in terms of having much choice.

The government leaving little in the way of that.

Here’s the deal in a pair of stats: The ’24 CVT-only Crosstrek with the standard 2.0 liter four carries an EPA MPG rating of 27 city, 34 highway. The ’23 Crosstrek with the same 2.0 engine and otherwise the same in every way except for its standard six speed manual transmission carries an EPA MPG rating of 22 city, 29 highway.

That roughly 5 MPG average MPG difference makes all the difference . . . to the government. And – thereby – to Subaru. Which must deal with the government and its mandatory-minimum MPG requirements. One way it deals with them – or rather, one way it complies with them – is by getting rid of transmissions that can’t be programmed to perform best on government tests. As by shifting up sooner rather than later, which reduces engine RPM and so increases gas mileage.

At least on paper.

Never mind that on the road, the driver will likely force a downshift to a lower gear – by pushing down harder on the accelerator pedal, in order to wring some acceleration out of the vehicle. The only way to mirror the test results on the road is by driving without moving, almost.

But it doesn’t matter that in real-world driving, the programmed car will probably not deliver the mileage touted by the results of the government tests. What matters is that the programming helped Subaru (and all the others that have gone automatic-only) do better on the tests that determine compliance.

Since a manual can’t be programmed, it gets eliminated. And that’s why the ’24 Crosstrek is no longer available with one of the features that made it more appealing than other already-automatic-only crossovers. Though not quick, it was fun – because at least there was something to do. It was also empowering – because it is always true that when the driver has control over the drivetrain, he has more control over the vehicle. You decide when to shift up – or down. You can raise the engine’s RPMs to wherever you like before engaging the clutch. You can feather the clutch, to control how the vehicle launches.

Automatics take that all away. Plus something else – if the automatic is a CVT, which doesn’t shift up or down. These latter are even more desirable than programmable automatics with programmable shift points because they’re even more conducive to compliance. The reason for that being they don’t shift at all. Instead, they vary the range – which is a way to continuously alter the leverage for maximum MPGs (on the test). That is the only reason for the proliferation of CVTs, which don’t offer a performance or longevity advantage over automatics that shift.

They are simply more “efficient.”

But they’re not more reliable. The reason for that being the nature of the layout. Most CVTs use a pair of pulleys that expand and contract – with a belt that rides in between – and this is how you get continuously varying leverage between the engine and the drive wheels. The transmission is always in the “sweet spot” of its range to eke out the most mileage from the engine at a given road speed. But in order to do this, the belt that rides in between the pulleys must expand and contract, continuously. This inevitably weakens the belt, which eventually snaps – and there goes the CVT.

Which will cost much more to replace than a clutch – when the latter eventually wears out. This generally won’t happen with a modern, manual-equipped car until the vehicle has accumulated 140,000-plus miles, absent deliberate abuse and even when it does eventually happen, the cost to replace a clutch is typically about $1,500 or about half the cost of replacing an automatic transmission (including a CVT).

But won’t you save money – on gas – in the meanwhile? After all, the CVT equipped Crosstrek averages (on paper) about 5 MPG better than the manual-equipped version of the same thing.

Well, let’s start with the fact that you’ll pay $1,550 more for the ’24 CVT-only Crosstrek than you would have for the same thing with a six speed manual. The latter had an MSRP of $23,645. The former stickers for $25,195.

How much gas does that $1,550 buy – and how long would it take to earn it back in savings on gas?

Rough math: $1,550 will buy about 516 gallons of gas at $3 per gallon. The Crosstrek’s tank holds about 16 gallons of gas. So, that $1,550 extra the buyer of a ’23 Crosstrek manual didn’t spend on the car would be available to buy about 32 full tanks of gas. Given the manual-equipped Crosstrek goes about 420 miles on a tankful in combined city/highway driving, that’s about 14,000 miles of “free” driving vs. what the buyer of the ’24 CVT-only Crosstrek spent to “save” on gas.

Now, yes, eventually the ’24 catches up to the ’23 – in terms of what the owner doesn’t spends on gas after the break-even point is reached. But this does not take into account the cost of the loss of choice – or control – not to mention the increased probability of higher ownership costs overall.

It’s a shame we no longer have much choice about any of that.

. . .

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