I'm with you on the CVT... the Subie models seem lethargic and boring.
And they have taken most of the fun out of the base models...
Only the WRX. And coming STI have any spice left in them.
You used to be able to get the Forester XT (turbo) in a 5 SPD manual.. but the newest one gets saddled with the CVT as the only option. ...
Wrx owners react to CVT (humor)
Truth is though CVT problems are not just about seeming sluggish performance though that is part
Issues (at least with the currently used CVT technologies):
Downshifts: the 9 speed can jump down several gears pretty much instantly, providing a whopping boost in power when needed. CVTs have to gradually move through their ratios.
Durability: gears with minimal care last the life of a car and then some. They are efficient with almost zero lost energy. Most CVT designs use friction drive with all power running through dynamic friction with very small contact area. This is wear waiting to happen and it's only a great deal of exotic technology that keeps them from breaking down the first month.
Efficiency: There is virtually zero energy loss in gears. Same is true with dog clutches as being now used in ZF transmissions: efficient and will probably outlast the car. Since the motivation of CVTs is supposedly about efficiency this is a trouble spot ... friction drive chains and pulleys start eating up some of the efficiency they are supposedly providing. At the same time engines are getting far better with a much bigger sweet spot, so maintaining a precise RPM is not nearly so important.
Reduction Range: This has always been a problem. Whereas gear systems can have pretty much any range (the 9 speed is something like 9.5 to 1), manufacturers have struggled to improve the range of CVTs. They are getting better but NOT close to impressive
Reliablity: If you read the press reports, the problems are mostly solved yada yada... but if you read user comments on forums, there are big troubles: overheating (which dumps you into limp mode), major repairs, problems dealers can't solve etc.