Subaru Exec Casts Doubt On Future Of Manual Transmission

2018 Subaru WRX STI Type RA, Image: Subaru of America

Is Subaru, a scrappy-but-approaching-the-mainstream automaker, about to ditch the manual transmission? That’s what some are gleaning from comments made by Subaru UK managing director Chris Graham on the sidelines of the Geneva Motor Show this week.

Speaking to Auto Express, Graham mused about the brand’s EyeSight driver-assist technology and Subaru’s desire to include the suite of safety aids on all of its cars. The trouble is, EyeSight isn’t available on Subarus equipped with manual transmissions. If you’re looking for goodies like automatic emergency braking and lane departure warnings, a Lineartronic CVT had best be on your wish list, too.

Graham’s comments point to a Subaru that’s prepared to weaken the bond between driver and car in the name of increased computerized control.

“I’m not sure if it’s compatible at all with a manual gearbox,” he said of the automaker’s EyeSight technology. “There are certainly no rumours we’ve heard that manual will continue, or Eyesight will be [offered] with manual.

Continuing, Graham said, “My gut tells me it will be Eyesight with Lineartronic ongoing and long term. They want to steal the mantle of the safest car in the world. I think if they do that, then they say ‘here’s a manual without Eyesight’, they’ll just ruin that [message].”

Is there nothing the future can’t do to piss off traditionalists? For now, Subaru remains something of a three-pedal holdout, offering a six-speed manual on a number of cars — including the vaunted WRX and its musclebound STI twin. All five trim levels of the WRX come standard with a stick for 2018.

However, Subaru really wants a reputation as the world’s safest brand, and that means shoehorning EyeSight into as many models and trims as possible. In the case of the WRX, the model remains on the old Impreza’s platform as it awaits an all-new generation. The model’s age has preserved manual availability, it seems.

While Graham’s thoughts aren’t necessarily company policy, there’s no doubt they’re guided by Subaru’s intentions. If given a choice, sticks would stay.

“For me an STI has to be a manual in the guise it is today, however if you look at [auto-only] M-series BMWs, I don’t think this is the end and I’d be very excited if they had a hybrid petrol STI,” he said. “That would be phenomenal in terms of its acceleration.”

Well, if Subaru goes the hybrid route for its next STI (and why would Graham mention this?), we can certainly kiss the stick — in that model, at the very least — goodbye.

2017 Subaru Impreza Sport Exterior, Image: Subaru

Subaru’s Lineartronic CVT isn’t much to get excited about when encountered in, say, a low-end Impreza or Crosstrek, but it certainly holds its own in hotter models. The CVT’s natural inclination for rapid, paddle-actuated shifting makes it a better choice than a traditional automatic in sporty models, and less trouble-prone than its quick-shifting, dual-clutch cousin.

Still, shifting into “M” or “S” while keeping your left foot firmly planted against the dead pedal is not nearly the same experience as working the clutch and giving your right arm a workout. Being one with the car, in a sense. If Subaru eradicates manuals, the brand would find itself moving dangerously close to the center of the mainstream.

Of course, buyers might disagree. And these days, Subaru’s beating a growing crowd of buyers off with a, um, stick.

[Images: Subaru]

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