I’m unlikely to get a call from Frank Skinner inviting me to make an appearance on Room 101, but until recently, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) would be one of the first things Iíd have sent to oblivion. Sure, the step-less transmission has come a long way since the days of the DAF Variomatic ñ a unit many readers will remember with a varying degree of fondness ñ but Iíd still choose a good manual gearbox over a CVT. Actually, Iíd probably choose a poor manual ëbox over a CVT.
The Outbackís Lineartronic transmission is the exception to the rule and is a good demonstration of how the technology should work. The biggest praise I can heap on the system is the fact that, for the majority of the time, I forget itís even there. Iíve had to adjust my driving style ñ smooth and measured is the order of the day with the Lineartronic ñ but the transition between gears is barely noticeable. It can catch you out: joining a dual carriageway via a steep incline, I found myself out-muscled by a Honda Jazz, as the Outback wheezed its way up the hill. Lots of noise and fuss, but very little in the way of actual progress.
But instances such as this are rare. Take a relaxed approach and the Lineartronic is perfectly fine. And if you do require a little more control, the paddle-shifters are actually useful, which isnít something you can say about many automatic cars. In the past, Iíve hardly touched the paddles, but I find myself reaching for them more often in the Outback. Theyíre especially useful when driving off road.
You might think that new-found relaxed driving style has resulted in some remarkably good fuel economy figures. Only it hasnít. Over the first 6,000 miles, the car has averaged 35.8mpg ñ 10.5mpg lower than the official combined figure. Not great, especially when you consider that itís lower than the 37.7mpg Subaru quotes for urban driving. Itís at this point that I should thank John Austin for getting in touch with Diesel Car and relaying his experience with a Subaru Outback fitted with a manual gearbox. Having passed 12,000 miles, John is averaging 41.8mpg ñ a little short of the 47.2mpg displayed on his dashboard ñ but a figure he is happy with, not least because 10 per cent of the miles were covered towing a relatively heavy caravan. Perhaps a manual gearbox is the key to achieving reasonable fuel economy in an Outback?
John, who says he has found the Outback ìto be an excellent car in every wayî, doesnít share my frustrations with the reversing camera. Fortunately for him, the camera has only required a single wipe, whereas the Devon mud has clouded my vision on a number of occasions. I still maintain that a washer jet, combined with parking sensors, would be the best solution for the Outback. That said, I must confess: since the weather has improved, the camera has stayed relatively clean. The solution: stay out of Devon mud!
Date arrived 20th October 2016
Fuel economy 46.3mpg (combined) 36.1mpg (on test)
Subaru’s Lineartronic transmission is probably the best CVT gearbox I have ever experienced.
Economy in the mid-30s is what I’d expect from a petrol-engined estate car, not a diesel.