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Discussion Starter #1
Emboldened by Motor Trend having acknowledged this themselves in their long-term update on their Outback XT (link below), I wrote the following to Subaru today and submitted it via their customer care website.

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Dear Subaru:

I write as a mostly satisfied owner of a 2020 Ascent Touring (built in Feb 2020). We took delivery in early March and have been pleased with the car overall. There is one issue, however, that has caused moderate frustration: the programming of the CVT. The are two attributes that we wish would change.

1. The slow speed jerkiness/inconsistency. Shortly after getting the car moving with light throttle, the CVT will quickly (and sometimes aggressively) shift into a numerically lower pulley ratio, which can sometimes cause a moderate bog in acceleration. It’s enough to cause passenger’s heads to move forward. Additionally, at many speeds under about 35 mph, the operation can be somewhat jerky, including being hard to drive smoothly at nearly closed throttle (like cruising slowly through a neighborhood). The on/off throttle transitions are hard to manage and predict. It will sometimes be very smooth and imperceptible, while other times being jerky and abrupt. I think it’s rather unbecoming of a $45k premium vehicle.

2. The “fake shifting” under high throttle is not smooth or even necessary. I understand that these shift points were likely designed to make the transmission feel more like a traditional stepped automatic. To be honest, one of the strong points in the Ascent’s favor as we were shopping for SUVs was its CVT. After years of driving stepped automatics, I wanted something completely smooth. I’ve driven a few Nissan and Honda CVTs and they were butter smooth. After having owned our Ascent for a few months and few thousand miles now, I wish it was programmed to drive more smoothly.

I don’t believe any of the above is a mechanical malfunction. The slow speed jerkiness doesn’t happen at all when the powertrain and fluids are cold, or when the adaptive cruise control (ACC) has authority over the powertrain. When resuming ACC from a stop, the Ascent accelerates smoothly and without any abrupt ratio changes. It manages the pulley ratios (smoothly) to keep the engine at a relatively constant RPM as the car accelerates. It’s beautiful – I wish the programming were the same when the driver is using the gas pedal.

Having said all that above, I will say that I love the paddle shifters. For times when I want to be able to control what the transmission is doing, I’m appreciative of the ability to do that. Frankly, I use them more than I thought I would to try to smooth the car’s driving, especially in situations described in point #1 above. Obviously, that acceleration “bog” when the CVT aggressively lowers the pulley ratios doesn’t happen in manual mode (because it’s not changing pulley ratios outside of me clicking a paddle), so I’ve been using manual mode quite often around town to keep the drive smooth.

I’m a member of an Ascent enthusiast forum on the internet (ascentforums.com) and this issue is discussed pretty regularly there (both the low speed smoothness issue and the high throttle fake shifting), and neither behavior is seen favorably. Many members on that forum are life-long Subaru owners who wish the Ascent would drive like their other Subarus. Others (like me) are “conquest owners”, Subaru having won us over for the first time from other brands (and wishing the Ascent drove smoother). This issue also just gained widespread attention in a long-term update from Motor Trend; they have an Outback XT (with the same 2.4L turbocharged engine and CVT that the Ascent has) and they describe the issue pretty well in a June 23, 2020, post on their website:

This 2020 Subaru Outback 2.4 XT CVT Quirk Takes Some Getting Used To

Please forward this plea to your product engineering department as feedback from one owner who shares the thoughts of many (including Motor Trend!): bring the smoothness back to our CVT. I know some of us would just love a software update for these cars that would make them smoother to drive. When a globally recognized automotive magazine acknowledges an issue, I have to think it’s a legitimate need.

Thank you very much in advance.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Any response?
Yes, I guess I should post that here. I did get a polite reply via email a few business days later. The SoA representative thanked me for the letter, encouraged me to visit my service department if I feel there's something wrong with the car, and said she would file my complaint with their product engineering department. Based on what I've heard on this forum about their customer service, I do believe they actually will file my report, but I'm only mildly hopeful that something will come from it. Subaru seems to have taken a pretty consistent position with the simulated shifts in many of their vehicles and I presume that most people don't notice or even care.

I was encouraged that Motor Trend wrote about this in a national publication...but I'm still not terribly hopeful of a software patch.
 

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A major well known test entity (maybe even Motor Trend) PRAISED Subaru in 2014/15 about the new Outback emulating a regular automatic. Our 2020 Ascent is more refined in this regard than our 2015 Outback, but I still wonder “Why?” We have noticed both the shudders and the silly fake shifts, but it bothers us less than most. SUPER vehicle!!!
 

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Yes, I guess I should post that here. I did get a polite reply via email a few business days later. The SoA representative thanked me for the letter, encouraged me to visit my service department if I feel there's something wrong with the car, and said she would file my complaint with their product engineering department. Based on what I've heard on this forum about their customer service, I do believe they actually will file my report, but I'm only mildly hopeful that something will come from it. Subaru seems to have taken a pretty consistent position with the simulated shifts in many of their vehicles and I presume that most people don't notice or even care.

I was encouraged that Motor Trend wrote about this in a national publication...but I'm still not terribly hopeful of a software patch.
They'll file it, and, I am sure, at some point, they'll find and read the thread with the poll - especially/sooner if someone ends up emailing them a link to it. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #7
The behavior that Motor Trend recently reported on their Outback XT (and that happens with our Ascents) is what feels like a pretty big bog or hesitation just after you start accelerating with a light and steady throttle. I don't have a lot of Subaru experience (this is our first!), but this seems to be part of the programming only on the turbocharged FA24 engines, and not on the naturally-aspirated FB25 engines. SoA's response to Motor Trend was they wanted to dampen the throttle response so the turbo engine didn't seem so jumpy. I think they could have come up with a much less intrusive way to do it than the software currently in the cars, but I guess it is what it is.
 

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Ugh. I hate the simulated shifts!
i had a first year Nissan rogue 2008, and just loved the cvt. Yeah, a little rubber bandy, but fun watching the tach as I accelerate into traffic.
my 2nd rogue, 2015, added the stupid shift points. I hated hated it.
I was indeed looking forward to this new cvt and disappointed with the shift points.
nicely written letter.
 

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Our Ascent is at the dealer today for some warranty work and I specifically asked for a 2.5L Outback as a loaner. I love the Outback...and its drivetrain smoothness is what I thought I was buying with the Ascent. :cool:

When you take off with light-to-moderate throttle, the engine speed doesn't flash up to about 2000 rpm and then get ratcheted back down like what happens in the Ascent. It rises to 1500 to perhaps 1800 rpm and then just...stays there. Like it should with a CVT. After a few seconds, the CVT might lower the ratio a little bit, but it doesn't put the engine down to 1200 rpm like what happens in the Ascent...it's a smooth transition. The Outback definitely does not have the power of our Ascents, but I'd definitely buy an FB25-powered Outback vs. an FA24-powered one if I were buying today. The drivetrain is notably better sorted in the Outback. It drives like a CVT should drive.

Well, except for high throttle simulated shifts (I presume it has those, though I didn't try to find them on the relatively short drive home).

It's definitely renewed my interest in Subaru fixing the programming issues with our Ascents.

I don't care for the big screen in the dash, but I could get used to it. My loaner has the heated seats, heated steering wheel, SRH, and all the toys. I really like it. REALLY like it. I'm not ready for another vehicle yet, but I don't particularly see me wanting something other than one of these when I am ready.
 

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I've put about 50-60 miles on our loaner Outback and...I really don't mean to beat a dead horse but...the powertrain on it feels really, really nice. The CVT is never out of sorts, you can give it throttle and not have to get into it harder to avoid the bog and hesitation that we have in the Ascent. It's very polished doing just about everything. It's definitely down on power compared with the FA24F and I'm often into it at half throttle or so. But the engine just revs up and does its thing. The simulated shifts are very smooth and crisp. The Ascent's shifts can feel abrupt and clumsy...but they're clicked off in this Outback like it's a slick-shifting automatic. I don't mind them at all in this car.

The 11.6" screen would be a non-starter for me. It has locked up non-responsive a few times and the need to click through menus to set temperatures and seat heaters is not necessary. I love the FB25D/CVT powertrain, but I'd have to look at a Forester to avoid the tablet in the dashboard.

I really hope Subaru issues a software update to sort our powertrain programming.
 

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Our 2020 is really very smooth. Under normal acceleration you don’t notice any “shifts” at all, just a steady pull. It took a while getting used to it as I’d end up speeding without realizing it. Under more spirited acceleration the transmission feels like any automatic except more “gears” than I’m used to.
The only thing I’ve noticed, twice now, is when you go heavy on the gas to merge and then someone changes lanes so you can back off the throttle a bit, the engine keeps the revs way up there for an extra 4 or 5 seconds rather than backing off when you do. The ratio seems to change as the car stops pulling as hard but the rpms stay up.
 

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Have to agree with op on the outback. Although with a non Turbo Engine, the CVT has one less variable to factor in( I am assuming your loner was not a turbo). I noticed the outback didn't have the sag or surge I get in the Ascent. I will say I noticed the sag and surge in the 20 Ascent loaner I had.
It seems to me the new outback feels like a more premium, refined vehicle than the Ascent, not that the ascent is unrefined, it's very refined and very class competitive, But I would almost argue the outback feels like a C class or E-class, I think because the controls are a little more muted, i.e. The throttle isn't so sensitive, the steering is heavier, and the ride is a little bit more absorbent and not as bouncy. And even though I don't like touch screens for every single control in the car like the new Outback, you have to admit it looks more upscale than the Ascent.
But in general, I don't have any issues with the CVT. It's invisible most of the time and that's the way I like it. But, The next best thing to being able to actually downshift a manual transmission and get that punch in your back when you hit the throttle, is having an automatic kick down and give you that push in your back as it shifts into a lower gear, whereas the CVT tends to engage a little more gently on 'kickdown.'
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Yes, I specifically asked for a non-turbo Outback. And yes, the programming and general behavior is just brillant. There are no "hanging revs" when getting off the gas or when going up a hill and the engine speed sometimes surges like what happens with our Ascents. There's no sag or surge after step-off like what happens with our Ascents. There are no shudders and there is no indecision in this CVT like we sometimes have in our Ascents (various threads on all of this). It just feels ... sorted.

This experience is what I was hoping for with the Ascent. You're right, @Percy Garris, the Outback feels more refined than its price tag would lead you to believe. The throttle behaves as you'd expect a throttle to behave. There's no learning curve -- it drives like a car should drive, and the CVT is 100% in the background.

After being able to compare them back-to-back, I'd trade our Ascent for an Outback or Forester if my wife would let me. The driving experience is that much better to me with the non-turbo drivetrain.
 

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Have to agree with op on the outback. Although with a non Turbo Engine, the CVT has one less variable to factor in
The other factor being it's not the same CVT. The TR690 is decently different.
 

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You're right, @Robert.Mauro, we do have a different CVT. I did, however, expect ours to feel largely like other CVTs to the driver. I've driven a number of CVTs, including from Subaru now and formerly from Honda and Nissan. Honda and Nissan, we know, use a metal belt rather than a chain. However, the CVT programming in the Outback feels like I'd expect a CVT to feel based on my experience with other CVTs. You give it some gas and it accelerates smoothly and without much change in engine speed or rate of acceleration. It's just...completely smooth...and it feels entirely refined.

Again, I totally know that I'm beating a dead horse. I'm not really going to trade our Ascent in, but I will probably write in to SoA again and plead with them to fix it. They know how to make a car drive smoothly! They know how to make this work! Please fix this for the Ascent and turbo Outback and Legacy ... your most expensive and up-market models. ;)
 

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I think the key is the removal of the fake shift points. Something I've begged Subaru to consider for over two years, now. Hoping others, like you, @hokiefyd, keep "beating a dead horse" and letting them know how you feel about it as well... on a personal level, I benefit from that as soon as they're removed from my Ascent... but, also, it'd be nice seeing everyone enjoy how the car accelerates (which is something else I'd like to see).
 

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Our Dodge, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Corvettes, Mustangs all gave gearshift points you can feel. When manufactures started using CVT transmission the public didn’t like the one gear golf cart feel of the transmission. So the manufactures programmed in ‘gear shifts’. Both of my Outbacks had programmed ‘shift’ points. Our 21 Ascent seems to drive the same way. The kick down pause some perceive may not be totally the CVT, could be in conjunction with turbo lag common to most all single turbos. The ‘gear shift’ paddle shifting happens really quick. I like the ‘shift’ gear feeling, I guess your milage may differ.
 

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I test drove the Outback XT back to back with the Ascent. I don't believe that the Outback programming has an issue coordinating the fake shifts with the turbo. I drove the Outback down the same 20mph speed limit side streets and it didn't experience the "bogs" or overly upshifting like the Ascent. I believe that the difference in the feel of the 2 cars is due to the weight difference. The Ascent is heavier and loses momentum more quickly than the Outback.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
My biggest gripe with the Ascent's programming is the weird step-off throttle response. I don't mind the simulated shifts too much. In fact, I often drive our Ascent in manual model to avoid the CVT clumsily (and aggressively) changing the ratio with light throttle just after you leave a stop light. This part is very unlinear. Observing it in Active OBD (Android app), the ratio aggressively changes from where it starts in "low" gear to where it is, numerically, when you're in manual third speed. So it's like an automatic that shifted from first to third speed. If you coordinate an increase in throttle at the right time (or just give it at least moderate throttle from the start), you can avoid the aggressive ratio change.

If Subaru'd fix that (and make it like the Outback), I'd be happy.
 

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In order to move one and a half tons more weight (and overcome the related inertia), the ratios in the Outback XT and Ascent are different. That's not fixable.
 
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