Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No More Manual?

Tomorrow, at the New York International Auto Show, the new face of Subaru's flagship will be unveiled.  The 2015 Subaru Outback, slated for release later this summer, should bring another level of refinement to the lineup with lots of new features that will make it competitive in it's market.  However, when the Legacy was revealed earlier this spring, the Manual Transmission option had gone the way of the Dodo.  One can only assume that the Outback will follow suit, as the two are sisters when it comes to features.  This might upset many of the Subaru Faithful who have stuck with their tried-and-true manual gearboxes over the years.  It's always been available in every model (except the TriBeCa) and many who knew the Subaru brand had come to expect a manual transmission, even if it didn't have all the bells and whistles.  No leather, no sunroof, no problem... as long as it had 3 pedals.

There's also the addition of the Sport Lineartronic transmission in the WRX to give it an automatic option not seen since 2007.  So while the Manual option is going away on their more popular models like the Legacy and Outback, the automatic option is making its way into the sportier cars, too.  Even at the Ride-and-Drive event that I was at in Minnesota with the WRX, the only model we test drove was the Sport Lineartronic automatic as opposed to Subaru's new 6-Speed.  While I was impressed with how this new CVT worked in the WRX... it's still not what many core enthusiasts are looking for.  At least they still have the option to get a manual, but for those who had been waving the flag for the manual transmission Legacy and Outback, they'll have to warm up to the CVT Flappy-paddle gearbox.

Not all is lost, though.  The Impreza still features a 5-speed manual transmission in the base model, premium, and Sport premium, as well as the premium XV Crosstrek.  The Forester's new 6-speed manual transmission option also got a bit of an upgrade when Subaru added the panoramic sun roof to the premium version.  The BRZ, WRX, and WRX STI will all still have manual transmissions too, so there's still plenty to choose from in Subaru's lineup of cars and crossover vehicles.

I think what's getting left out here isn't just the clamoring enthusiasts on a web forum, but the adventurer at the core of the Subaru brand.  The manual transmission option does more than offer shift-crazy drivers some fun, but it's practical for those who need that control.  Not something to mimick gear shifts like a paddle shifter or "manual mode", but the ability to give complete control to the driver.  On difficult terrain, those who still know how to whip through gears in their Subaru are crowned king of the hill over the automagic CVT models when push really comes to shove.  There's no denying that the CVT gives Subaru the competitive edge with gas mileage in the market, but I think moving away from a manual transmission option is something that will not be received well by their loyal long-time buyers.

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