Subaru Forester: Towing --- CVT or 6-sp?

phsycle

Adventurer
Looking at replacing my Tacoma with a Forester 2.5i. I had a 4th Gen Outback for a number of years and it performed well. Looking forward to getting back into a wagon again.
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I'm looking at towing a small utility trailer. It will typically weigh around 500 - 1,500 lbs. (typical load will be one ATV, so 500lbs or so). I am wondering how the two transmissions will do towing. We've got some decent mountain passes around here (about 9-10k ft), so that should be considered as well.
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The Outback I had was a CVT. It did well. I never towed with it, though. Up the same mountain passes, it did great (albeit a bit loud/whiny). I just don't know how it will do with a load, and how it will affect long-term reliability as well.
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Before anyone asks, I did consider the Outback as well. It was a great car. I am going with a Forester for a few reasons. Main ones being, the roof rack (OB is horrendous), and cost (Forester is a bit cheaper). I don't need the extra room of the OB, and I would also gladly use up the extra garage room going with a shorter car. I also love the Pano sunroof (I will most likely get the Premium).
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I considered the turbo as well; however, required premium gas and decreased fuel mileage was a no-go for me. Plus, no manual option.
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Thanks for any input.
 

perterra

Adventurer
Don't know about the Forester CVT but have been towing about 2100 lbs with an Outback CVT, been working fine .
 

calicamper

Expedition Leader
Ok so Ive been towing with the Subarus since my 01 2.5 non turbo 5spd Legacy GT Limited now with our since new 2010 cvt OB.

Here are my real world notes
The old legact GT Limited had a different gear ratio than the stock Legacy and OB, closer ratio in the GT. It was also throttle by cable not throttle via nanny to servo. That car towed my 1800lb all up total weight Sailboat great!!! Except for the cooling capacity issue above 80 degrees.
Oh and we lived in San Francisco did hills and daily brutal commuting the clutch went 140,000 then the throw out bearing started failing full clutch job at 140,000 clutch had 10% meat left on it so it held up great considering the brutal abuse. I dont slip clutched its either on or off.

Fast forward to the replacement car. Two test drives of the 2010 6spd manual Outback on SF hills! First thing I and the wife noticed instantly was really really poor throttle resonse this resulted in heavy chugging / lugging in a empty car during a typical hill start that our legacy even loaded with the boat just barely would start to lugg. After two test drives we both agreed the manual would litterally be a no go and strand us on a boat ramp or even just 4adults going out to dinner in SF.

So we caved and got a CVT Limited Outback.

So a few thoughts I was horrified by my friends early Nissan CVT we towed a sail boat half the size of mine 700 miles to a regatta. At any moment I thought it would lock up and put us in a ditch at 70mph. Oddly it did just that a yr later ha!!

So!!!! With major trepidation I bought the Subaru CVT knowing it was a different design. I have 100,000 miles on it today zero complaints. You do a drain fill dealer only job at 60k so Subaru will fix it if it craps out on you. Do Not Let a local wrench do the drain fill!!!! Its easy but Must be done exactly correct or your toast. $200-$380 30min job pending how rip off like your dealers are.

All other maint is easy easy stuf local guy can do it.

The cvt tows like a beast highly active ratio management keeps the engine in its happy place all the time. The Subaru engines have lots of lazy grunt from about 2200rpm through 3200rpm which is the very typical range I run towing 3200 for long hard grinds its perfectly happy to do that all day. Bump to 4500 for a pass etc no big deal.
The manual shift mode is great for down hill speed check thats the main use but on some really long climbs Ill just put it in 2nd or 3rd and just run 3200 and whatever speed is whatever speed you get etc but those are steep long grinds where trucks are doing 35mph etc.

No trailer the cvt is magic in the mountains just leave it in AT mode and go!

Cooling system capacity is greatly improved in the 2010 and newer vehicles. Have yet to spike temps.

Now the bad!

First the Frontier the newer ones with cvt are all in the little Impreza platform and only rated for 1500lbs max passenger, gear and trailer. I have two young kids, wife and were active the Subaru Outback is never empty. It currently is hooked to the 4x6 that just hauled a foose table to grandpas house and has my rolling 50lb tool box in the back. Thats a fairly typical day for 3-4 days a week. My biggest complaint is its load carrying limits.

The forrester would be a wrecked mess after a year at my house simply due to the stuff and people we haul near daily basis.

The OB / Legacy is a heavier platform 2700lb tow rating. Up to about 1800lbs is easy for long trips anything 2000-2700lbs it tows fine locally but its not ideal for long trips just heavy and the suspension and cooling starts to struggle. My camping rig / trailer is about 1300lbs loaded. We run 20-21mpg 65-70mph easily no bikes on the roof. With bikes 18-19mpg easily.

My 21ft long 8.5ft wide 1800lb racing boat that sat about roof height I ran 16mpg averages 65-70mph easily. Big boxy trailer would be a very different experience and not nearly as nice of a tow or performance.

If you dream of big trips towing a trailer skip the little Forester and just get the Outback. Or wait till this summer and get the Ascent which will likely be my next Subaru.
 

phsycle

Adventurer
Thanks for the feedback. I love the CVT for high mountain passes. It keeps up with traffic just fine. Even better than my old V8 trucks. I am leaning CVT at this point.
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Again, Outback is not a contender. I don't need the extra towing capacity nor the room. Roof rack just kills it for me (although there is a workaround, but involves taking off the whole headliner). I also like the shorter wheelbase and approach/dep angles as well. Lastly, it's a couple grand (at least) cheaper.
 

Hobiecat

Observer
We have some friends, who own a CVT Forrester, and I don't know if I'd want to pull 1500 lbs behind it on a regular basis, but would hitch 500-800 lbs up to it in an instant. I've always found that it's best to get a vehicle with at least 25% more towing capacity than what what you'll be pulling.

Moving my sailboat is a miserable experience in my 5 speed Tacoma, so I'd be more inclined to get a CVT if I were buying a Forrester, which I might be later this year when we replace my wife's car.
 
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phsycle

Adventurer
We have some friends, who own a CVT Forrester, and I don't know if I'd want to pull 1500 lbs behind it on a regular basis, but would hitch 500-800 lbs up to it in an instant. I've always found that it's best to get a vehicle with at least 25% more towing capacity than what what you'll be pulling.

Moving my sailboat is a miserable experience in my 5 speed Tacoma, so I'd be more inclined to get a CVT if I were buying a Forrester, which I might be later this year when we replace my wife's car.
Thanks, Hobiecat. I 100% agree with you. I usually would not consider towing at max capacity in any vehicle. I am giving the Forester the pass, only because I'll need to tow that much maybe once a year, or every other year. Very seldom. And, it will be on flat terrain--no strenuous climbs. 99.9% of the time, my loads will be around 500lbs (again, just an ATV, maybe few supplies). So I think the little 2.5L will do fine for that. Appreciate the input.
 

fike

Adventurer
I've towed a lot with my 2016 Forester turbo with the heavy duty CVT.

* 1000 pound low-profile teardrop (Little Guy)was trivial. I could barely tell it was back there. It was barely more trouble than a rooftop tent.
* 2000 pound teardrop high-profile teardrop (t@B) was hard work. Temps ran higher, though no warning lights ever came on. I am not sure whether the bigger issue was the wind-resistance or weight. I suspect wind because there was a big temp and mpg difference between 55 or 60 mph and 65 or 70 mph. With that said, there was never a lack of power, the brakes were fine, and it was stable.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
We have a 2017 Forester 2.5i, most base of the base models. It's got a 6 speed stick (one of the reasons we chose the car). I put a tow hitch on but never wired it for lights because it's job is for bike rack duty. If I had to guess 500 lbs would be fine but 1,500 lbs would be a bit more than I'd want to drag around with it.

Don't buy Subaru's factory hitch, BTW. We got the Eco Hitch and it's quite a bit cheaper and the fit is very good, at least if not better than the Subaru. It's not a hacked on job like the typical Curt sort of thing. It does require removing the bumper since it's hidden.

takashi_hatekeyama_3_mid.jpg

The stick itself is pretty OK. Not the best manual I've ever driven but not the worst either. We didn't care for the CVT but it seems like a personal question.

If you get a stick shift Forester Subaru has a TSB for an ECU remap. Ours in stock tune was pretty lousy to drive. A several second, aggressive rev hang that was borderline suicidal here in Colorado. On slick roads it would act like a cruise control for a couple of seconds and try to accelerate if you shifted even vaguely fast. By that I mean, let's say you're starting in 1st, accelerate, push clutch, the engine would hang at 3,000 RPM (or whatever), go to 2nd, let clutch out and the car would accelerate because it's still hanging at 3K. During the test drives it wasn't something we noted but after a couple thousand miles and the first snow storm it became really obvious. One of those things that once you notice you can't forget.

FWIW, the original engine tune did seem much better suited to the CVT.

With the new map the rev hang is much less aggressive and tremendously shorter. I don't notice it hanging really at all, certainly less than my 2008 Tacoma and probably the same as my old '91 Toyota with the dash pot in place (but when I removed the dash pot there was zero rev hang on it). Our 2002 Jetta still has the best drivability of any stick I've ever had, they nailed the interaction of engine and driver IMO.

Next point on the current Forester is the turbo. It's not that bad around here but it's also not winning any awards climbing passes. Not sure if push came to shove we'd actually drop the coin, but do consider it if budget and configuration make it an option. If you're pulling 1,500 lbs you'll want it I think.

The factory roof rack is not worth it. Ours didn't have one but has the captured nuts for it. We put on the bars that SSD Performance makes and we love 'em for Yakima cross bars. They are stainless and no indication of any corrosion or paint flaking. They look really do look cool and are solid enough.

combo925new.jpg

If I was spending money again I'd probably just go straight to Thule or Yakima feet, though.

th460r_2009~Subaru~Forester_4_1000_mid.jpg
 
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Numbchux

Member
I think the CVT is great for towing as long as it has the paddle shifters so you can manually select a lower ratio.

Problem is, they never put the paddle shifters on a non-turbo Forester. I'm not a fan of a turbo for a daily driver, as they're a kind of high maintenance (sounds like you've already ruled it out).


That said, I probably wouldn't let the towing characteristics sway my decision. I've never driven a Subaru with a CVT and no paddles, but when I'm in one with paddles, I use them fairly regularly.....


I personally prefer the manual transmission, so that's probably what I'd choose.
 

altitudewrench

New member
I tow a 16' Scamp camper that weighs in around 2300lbs with a 2014 Outback with the 6spd manual. Last year you could get a manual in an Outback. I think it makes a huge difference in performance compared to the CVT or a traditional automatic. I do have trailer brakes as well, wired the 7 pin into the bumper to avoid the low hanging set up normally found on Outbacks.No issues at all. Towed it from northern Minnesota (Scamp factory) to Charleston SC with no issues.IMG_4421.jpgIMG_4367.jpg
 
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phsycle

Adventurer
Thank you for all the inputs. I didn't know the Foresters didn't come with paddle shifters. But in reality, I never used it in the Outback. I'm sure it'd be helpful for towing and/or certain off-road situations. Which brings the manual transmission back to the forefront. As long as it can tow 500lbs and can hold speed going up and over high mtn passes, I think I would be ok with it. I will have to test drive them. Problem is, I can't seem to find any at the dealerships (manuals). I may have to look to see if some slightly used models will pop up. If I go that way, I will be sure to get the reprogramming done.
 

Hobiecat

Observer
Oh, you should be fine with either. I used to have a Jeep Patriot, which as far as I’m cocerned is the closest the big three have come to a Subaru, and it pulled my boat like it was nothing (never weighed it, but I estimate 1000 lbs for the loaded trailer). Reverse was a bad experience becaus it required so much clutch slipping on my steep, curved driveway.

Pick the trans that you and your significant other feel most comfortable driving. My wife struggles with manuals and I love them for commuting, but hate them for towing.
 

Numbchux

Member
Thank you for all the inputs. I didn't know the Foresters didn't come with paddle shifters. But in reality, I never used it in the Outback. I'm sure it'd be helpful for towing and/or certain off-road situations. Which brings the manual transmission back to the forefront. As long as it can tow 500lbs and can hold speed going up and over high mtn passes, I think I would be ok with it. I will have to test drive them. Problem is, I can't seem to find any at the dealerships (manuals). I may have to look to see if some slightly used models will pop up. If I go that way, I will be sure to get the reprogramming done.
Yea, I wouldn't say not having the paddles is a deal breaker, but having them makes it better....

I don't think I'd want to pull a boat out of the water with a manual, but for a mostly-flat ground utility trailer use, I wouldn't hesitate (I tow a utility trailer behind my 5MT Celica fairly regularly...)
 

phsycle

Adventurer
Thanks. I've read that CVT has a bit lower gearing, which would make it better for some off-road usage. Towing wise, I think either would be fine for me. Decisions....
 

shortymac83

New member
I really wanted a manual when I was looking to buy an Outback in 2013. I ended up with a 2011 CVT equipped base model. I'm happy I did. I don't tow often, but when I do, it's a 6x11 ft trailer that's quite often loaded to the limit of its towing capacity. Living in Northern Indiana, it's pretty flat, but with a manual, I'd either be shifting constantly, or keeping it in 4th gear on the highway just to keep up with traffic. The little hamster can do it, but I'm not sure about a manual...Putting the CVT in "manual" mode, you have to shift a whole lot to keep the same speed without bogging...

Otherwise, it's been off road, through rather deep mud, snow up to its grille, towing, loaded with dozens of cinderblocks in the back, etc. I've taken it from here to the east coast at 80mph without breathing hard (and getting 28+mpg at the same time), and use it for my daily driver. I'd say it's a definite upgrade from the 04 Grand Cherokee V8 that I had...

That said, if I got a new Subaru now, it would be a forester. I'm really salty they don't make the 2.0L with a manual transmission anymore. Who wants a performance engine with a CVT? womp womp.
 
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