By on July 23, 2013

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Well, folks, it was nice knowing you. Really, it was. I’ll never forget the days I spent reading Nissan LEAF-related anecdotes from gslippy, and Hummer-related anecdotes from Hummer, and of course fully capitalized anecdotes from bigtruckseriesreview @ Youtube. Really, ladies and gentlemen: the pleasure was all mine.

I’m not saying these things because I’m going anywhere. On the contrary, I think you’re going to make me leave after I devote today’s column to defending the single-most hated item in the entire automotive industry: the continuously-variable automatic transmission. (If you hadn’t read the title, you’d be thinking: “Is he going to defend… the Dodge Avenger?”)

Car enthusiasts, as a whole, hate the CVT, a fact I primarily attribute to the noise it makes. You see, the CVT either doesn’t have gears or has an infinite number of gears. No one knows for sure, except a TTAC commenter who will reply with a long, detailed explanation of just how many gears a CVT has before calling me a giant doofus.

Anyway: because of the CVT’s lack of gears, or possibly its infinite gears, it loses the typical upshifting and downshifting noises we’ve all come to appreciate from a normal transmission. This seems to really piss off car people. Seriously, if you’re a car enthusiast, it doesn’t matter what you think of US government policies: your least favorite drone is the one that comes from the CVT.

But I’m here to tell you the CVT isn’t so bad. Really, it’s not. And I will explain precisely why in the next few hundred words, all of which will conveniently ignore any possible opposition. Here goes:

1. Performance. Betcha didn’t think I’d pull that out as number one, eh? But it’s true: the CVT is better than a traditional automatic for performance.

Here’s why. Say you’re cruising along in your four-cylinder Altima, which is equipped with a CVT and hubcaps. And you reach a stoplight next to a four-cylinder Camry, which also has hubcaps, but includes a highly inferior six-speed automatic transmission. In this situation, there’s only one thing to do: continue talking on the phone.

No, what you really do is you race, because that’s the only way to determine value in our society, at least according to those Fast and Furious movies. And if you do race, what you’ll discover is that the Camry has to go through upshift after upshift, constantly starting over from the bottom of the rev range, while the Altima’s CVT simply holds its engine at peak power. The Altima, meanwhile, would whrrrr its way to victory, miles ahead of the Camry (apparently this was a long drag race), and the Camry’s owner would hide in shame and mediocrity.

2. Fuel Economy. As we all know, the CVT offers vast fuel economy benefits over a typical automatic transmission. There are several highly technical reasons for this, and I – as a highly trained automotive journalist who recently attended a press event where I was allowed to drive a Jeep Wrangler on a race track – know absolutely none of them.

Because of my distinct lack of technical acumen, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. And the numbers are:

Toyota Prius (CVT): 51 MPG city, 48 MPG highway
Lamborghini Aventador (Not a CVT): 11 MPG city, 17 MPG highway

From this we can gather that the CVT is incredibly beneficial to fuel economy, possibly as much as five times over a regular transmission. Also, the Prius might be faster than the Aventador, based on reason number one.

3. Can still sound like a normal automatic. So you understand that the CVT is better for performance. And you know that it’s better for gas mileage. But you just can’t get over the fact you’d rather listen to “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus, playing on repeat, with backing vocals from that girl who did the “Friday” song, than spend even a moment listening to a CVT automatic.

Fortunately, I have a solution for you: manual shift mode. I’m currently driving a CVT-equipped Subaru Impreza press car, and while it certainly makes the traditional CVT “whrrrrr” noise, you can, at any moment, put it in manual mode, where you will quickly discover its shift paddles are roughly 57 times better than the ones in my Cadillac. Goodbye, annoying CVT sounds!

Unfortunately, this also means “goodbye, awesome fuel economy” and “goodbye, street racing potential.” But if you ever find yourself wishing to maximize those incredibly important items, just slide it back over to “D.” And turn up Miley.

So there you have it, folks: a defense of the continuously-variable automatic transmission. I’ll go into hiding now.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars and the operator of PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.

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215 Comments on “In Defense Of: The CVT Automatic (Yes, I’m Going There)...”


  • avatar
    quiksilver180

    Lets fit the Lambo with a CVT for more powaaaaaaahh. That will help power delivery and fuel economy too!

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    So what is the CVT trans doing aftee braking for a turn and you go to reapply throttle to accwlerate out? Even paddle shifted torque converters you could select your after turn acceleration gear which gives a nice torque converter spike when you get back on it.

    • 0 avatar

      In this case, CVT smoothly goes to power band without a jerky downshift. Brilliant, really.

      • 0 avatar
        See 7 up

        Except when you are at the limit of traction and you cannot determine precise torque output and manipulation since the CVT is constantly changing gear ratio. ButI am sure there is a traction/stability control saver though, You know to make you a “faster” driver.

      • 0 avatar
        Windy

        I reciently had the chance to drive a new Prius for the first time…. This was the first time since about 1964 when I drove a DAF cvt car and I admit I have been carting about a large pile of prejudice about the cvt ever since then…. It wound seem that there have been a few improvements in the tech since the more than 60 year old version I drove in the DAF (a bottom price bracket very small car from Europe that I expect was engineered in the post WW2 time frame.
        The Prius was rather amazing taking it for what it is a design focused on economy of running costs…. The tech has come a very long way since the days of dual cone belt systems and I wonder how many who have a kneejerk response to it have any experience driving cars with current state of the art versions.

  • avatar
    Willyam

    I was watching “Top Gear” last night, as I am wont to do, because I cannot get enough of watching cars on TV that I cannot have. Anyway, they drove the Renault Clio RS, which is a brightly colored lozenge-looking “Hot Hatch”.

    It comes standard with an “app” (an abbreviation I like about as much as all current car commercials “emm pee gee’s”) which allows you to play mythical engine sounds through the speakers.

    As all of us non-CEO’s continue to go broke, and gasoline taxes continue to punish us for driving, we can at least listen to V-12′s and wastegates and pop-off valves as we rubber-band down the road.

  • avatar
    ajla

    You are history’s greatest monster.

    Just listen to it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk0Es28pB44

    It’s what hell sounds like. I’ll take slower and less efficient over an aural assault like that.

    • 0 avatar

      Hahaha. Sadly the Insight does not have manual mode.

      • 0 avatar
        Piston Slap Yo Mama

        My CVT Insight (1st gen) has two big buttons on the steering wheel marked D and S, which incidentally are also my initials. For months I thought that was how much Honda loved me because, you know, it’s all about me. Turns out that D means “drive”. I guess. S means “sport” which given the context is nonsensical. Pushing S bumps the octave of the joyous CVT drone to an even higher RPM which connotes “fast”. I am naturally spit-balling here because more accurate answers would mean “reading the manual” which is out in the glove box and which would require an “effort”, something I am at times loathe to do except when I’m rebutting the baloney that BigTrucksReview writes. Otherwise I’m a fan of CVT’s, at least in tiny crapcan cars.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        It does if you can find a first generation.

  • avatar
    jerseydevil

    The Prius vs Avendor piece made me laugh out loud. Thank you.

  • avatar
    captnslur

    So, the worst thing about a CVT is not how it sounds, but how it makes the engine sound? It’s called “motor boating”, I believe. Like, that’s so terrible! Airplanes all sound the same way and they are cool, right. So boats, airplanes sound the same way – it’s only automobiles that go “runnn, runnn, runnn, up through the gears. Perhaps it’s cars that are weird, not cvt cars.

    Another note, one CVT, the ones on Toyotas are electronic – no belts, no hydraulics, no gears, just magnetics digitally controlled – now that’s really cool, I think.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      No, airplanes are cool because they go in the sky. Their engine drone drives people to madness.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “motor boating” – I for one am highly in favor of motor boating and cringe whenever I hear someone use this forum to talk about how terrible VAG is.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      CVT in the Toyota is not magnetic it is planetary gearset with two inputs, engine and electric motor in the hybrids. This makes it a hybrid only transmission style, though it is in fact very clever. I like playing with the simulator eahart.com/prius/psd/

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        I’m unclear as to why it would have to be hybrid only. I do see the need for electric power to the transmission only gears, which might require enough associated parts, chargers, etc. to make it only feasible on a hybrid, but it appears to work when the primary electric motor isn’t powering the car.

        The volt uses a near identical system (except that while the motor is in the same place, it drives the wheels from a different gear).

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “Airplanes all sound the same way and they are cool, right.”

      The best sounding airplanes, for the most part, have turbine engines. There are exceptions, most notably those that use Rolls-Royce Merlin/Packard V-12s and Pratt & Whitney’s R2800 series.

      • 0 avatar
        Toad

        A WWII era B-29 Superfortress flew over my house last year on a demonstration flight. Four 18 cylinder 3500 horsepower engines…coolest sound ever. Unless you were under one in Dresden.

        The CVT in my wife’s Cube, not so intimidating. But it works great for what it is.

        • 0 avatar
          carlisimo

          I don’t believe B-29s ever made it out to Europe.

          • 0 avatar
            Syke

            They didn’t. European theater was B-17′s, B-24′s and Lancasters, primarily.

          • 0 avatar
            wumpus

            Supposedly something about the windows fogging up. Worked in the Pacific (maybe the South Pacific battles were over) but not over the North Sea/Germany. Charles Lindbergh was supposed to be looking into it, but how much his heart was into killing his Nazi friends was in doubt.

            Anyway, that’s the story the guide at the Smithsonian had to say when stopping by the Enola Gay. I’m surprised the Atlantic/Pacific issues weren’t reversed.

        • 0 avatar
          Willyam

          Toad, I’m with you on that one. I was sitting outside in a drive thru line just north of our airport (and flight museum) when they took off for the next destination. I don’t know enough to gauge altitude, but it was pretty low. The sound was awe-inspiring.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        All turbine aircraft sound the same really, though i love the noise of the Rolls Royce RB211.The mentioned Merlin and radials sound way cooler. And most of the time, they aren’t using full power in deference to the engine. Also, avgas is at least 5.00/ gal in most markets.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          The CFM engines on the small Airbuses don’t sound like anything else. Turbine whine changes to angry buzzsaw grind at climb thrust after takeoff. I have read this is caused by the main fan blades breaking the sound barrier – basically a continuous sonic boom.

          I do about 60 takeoffs (and so far an equal number of landings) a year in these planes, so I rather enjoy the sound.

    • 0 avatar

      This is an interesting point but the answer is that the sound we like is context dependent. I love the sound of twin rumbly turbo diesels spooling up in a launch but hate the exact same sound in a car

    • 0 avatar

      They could get rid of that motorboating if they’d just anodize the muffler bearings

  • avatar
    ash78

    If we had no historical concept of what things “should” sound like, nobody would have an aversion to diesels or CVTs. But since we have some historical context, some baseline to draw from, our collective opinions take a while to change.

    I mean, Mona Lisa, right? La Giaconda. The pinnacle of beauty, the likes of which could never be surpassed through hundreds of years of evolution of bulimia, plastic surgery, and spray tanning, potentially leading to a collective shift in our concept of female beauty? Never gonna happen.

    • 0 avatar
      See 7 up

      Actually, scientists are starting to understand that beauty is very often universal across societies and cultures.

      Pleasing people tend to be more symmetric.
      Pleasing sounds tend to fall under certain harmonic structures and a test was actually done using car exhaust notes along with other sounds that replicated the harmonics of the good and bad without being identifiable as an exhaust note or natural sound.

      But, I don’t think the “CVT” sound is the issue. It is that people think that is not how a car should work – and in that your point is correct.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve often said this. If we didn’t EXPECT the engine to sound a certain way, we wouldn’t have problem with the way CVTs sound. But alas, we’ve come to know cars to sound a certain way, and we can never escape it now.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    “Toyota Prius (CVT): 51 MPG city, 48 MPG highway
    Lamborghini Aventador (Not a CVT): 11 MPG city, 17 MPG highway”

    Since I do so much commuting, what I really want is this…

    Toyota Aventador (CVT manual mode): 51 MPG city, 17 MPG highway

    This will bolster my eco-friendly right-wing creds when I trade in the Leaf.

    PS: Perhaps you’d like the 1-speed effect of an EV, whereby motor speed always corresponds to road speed. No shifting, no slushbox, no CVT whining.

  • avatar

    If you had as much fun as I did on the road, you’d type in all caps too!!!

    When I drop that 440 into my new car, the screaming won’t stop…

    And what car might I ask has the best CVT on the market?

    • 0 avatar

      Undoubtedly, my Nissan Cube.

      • 0 avatar

        HAH!!!

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        I was on board with your argument that a CVT might be a better housewife transmission than a 6 speed auto. But that you got a CVT in your Cube, instead of the 6 speed manual, has me doubting you. Especially after you got the auto CTS Wagon.

        There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        I was on board with a debate of whether a CVT or a 6 speed auto is better for a housewife sedan. But now you admit that your Cube has the CVT, not the 6-speed manual? On top of your CTS Wagon not having the manual?

        There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.

      • 0 avatar
        Cubista

        You kid, I know, but you’re not far from wrong. The one thing preventing it from being true is your point that:

        “Fortunately, I have a solution for you: manual shift mode.”

        Nissan CVT (at least the one they saw fit to use on the 2012 Cube that I drive) hasn’t got it.

        The Honda Fit CVT, however, does. Accesseible via paddle shifters, no less. I would KILL for my Cube to have that ability. If you think the CVT-addled drone is bad on a bone stock model, imagine the amplification when run thru an aftermarket exhaust system.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought it was Subaru

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      I’m on my second cube and a physical condition has forced me to the CVT. I still have the anal pucker every time I think of durability. Was going to put a small trailer behind the first one with the manual but cancelled the thought when we traded. We can haul another two adults with lots of room but luggage or camping equipment not so much. Actually not at all.

      Anyone with any input on how long the Nissan CVT’s actually last or how much increasing the load with a Harbor Freight trailer cuts their life. Sorry about interjecting a couple real concerns into the sea of angst over the sound. Oh btw, with reference to a comment you made in another article, the 2013 cube has a trim level that includes automatic climate control and other bells and whistles. Why, idk.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If forced to choose between a world of 9 or 10 or 25 speed automatics and CVTs I will choose CVTs because of the reasons Doug cited above. Just give the CVT cars better sound deadening so I don’t have to spend much time listening to it.

    But then again what do I know? My first car had a TurboHydromatic 125 as its transmission and my favorite car has a Ford Cruise-o-matic transmission so I am obviously a philistine.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I have a Cruise-O-Matic equipped Ford as well. Easily the worst part of the car. It’s a 2 speed pretending to be a 3 speed. First gear (blue dot instead of white dot) is optional. Why???

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Depends on the model year. Ford kept using the “Cruise-o-matic” in sales literature and in owners manuals after they redesigned the unit to start in first. The “Ford-o-matic” was always 2nd gear start but went out of production by 1964.

        Either is better than being limited to ONLY 2 forward speeds like a Powergilde. (And anybody who wants to talk about how strong the Powerglide is and it is used in 1000hp race cars BLAH BLAH BLAH… I’m talking about real world driving, not a 1/4 mile at a time.)

        Not that any of this should be confused with the Fordomatic that was introduced after the Cruise-o-matic. That Fordomatic was a two speed unit patterned on the Cruise-o-matic. Isn’t marketing fun?

        Which is why most people just talk about the C4 and C6 etc…

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Actually that would be a 3sp masquerading as a 2sp and you must have one of the early C4s or one of the Borg-Warner built/licensed units. The idea was that starting in 2nd would make for more economical operation. Plus it didn’t make the GM converts that had been stuck with a 2sp think something was wrong or different.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          I call it a 2 speed pretending to be a 3 speed because first gear is somewhat too high a ratio to be useful, but when you actually want it to kick down, you really have to lean into it. It just doesn’t work very well in practice.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        At least it wasn’t the miserable VW Beetle “Automatic Stick Shift” which was a three-speed manual with an electric servo-operated clutch activated by a microswitch on the base of the gear lever (just what a 53 HP car needs, fewer gears) in which you were supposed to ignore 1st gear, start in “D1″ (actually 2nd gear) and shift to “D2″ when you hit 35. My Dad bought one of these when I was 15 and I learned to drive in it.

        How did I loathe thee? Let me count the ways. As Car & Driver discovered, a hand on the gearshift tripped the microswitch causing the clutch to disengage. Accidentally brush the gear lever? No power. Fun. Then, after a while, the wire connected to said microswitch breaks because there’s no strain relief and the clutch *won’t* disengage making shifts impossible. The there’s the killer, an utter lack of initial forward momentum. Regular VWs had a very short first gear which made them quick off the line long enough to get out of an intersection with some brio. The A.S.S. robbed the car of that quality which almost got me killed the night in 1975 when a drunken bozo blew a red light and I had to gas it to get out of his way. I almost made it as he clipped my rear bumper at about 55mph and spun me around.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        Try this: “Tricks For Ford-O-Matic Power Shifting For Speed”
        http://www.aeclassic.com/comments/fordomatic.html
        ;-)

  • avatar
    npaladin2000

    BLASPHEMER!!!!

    Ok, now that that’s out of the way, CVTs really do have a lot of performance potential. The problem is, pretty much every racing series has completely and utterly outlawed them, so no one bothers figuring out how to make a sporty, performance, or racing CVT. Oh, except for that one open-wheel series that uses snowmobile engines anyway. This is to protect the owners, makers, and lovers of X-speed transmissions, some of whom use the sheer number of gears to make up for the inability to use them properly.

    What we will probably need is a racing series specifically “geared” (get it?) to the development of CVTs as a performance part. And then we need to hope that NASCAR, FIA, and the SCCA don’t attack the thing en-masse and shut it down.

    • 0 avatar
      tpepin

      You mean to say my cube is banned from the track? For shame!

    • 0 avatar

      If you want to see what a CVT can do, look at snowmobiles. They use CVT’s and since they just use springs weights and ramps, they are easy to tune for how you want them to work.

      And since fuel economy is not a big concern, they are not tuned for fuel economy, just power and smoothness is varying degrees depending on the model and what it is intended for.

    • 0 avatar
      See 7 up

      The problem with most race cars and their technologies is that they suck for the street. Can a CVT technically be the best tranny for racing ever (peak power all the time man!) – Answer: YES.

      But, I don’t want peak power all the time in my street car. Sometimes I want peak efficiency. Sometimes I want peak torque. Sometimes I need to finely manipulate torque output to the wheels to prevent breaking traction, something hard to do with CV gear ratio.

      Now that in mind, I suppose like all automatics, if the car engine was huge, torquey, and powerful – a CVT would be great. Too bad they are usually mated to something horrid.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        With proper programing a CVT can do both, since the overall goal is keeping the engine operating as most efficiently as possible whether it is for max acceleration or max economy. Properly mapped the pedal position will tell the computer which one you want.

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        “Too bad they are usually mated to something horrid.”

        This. People dislike CVTs because the only cars that have until recently been equipped with CVTs are fuel sippers and economy cars.

        I feel that the people who would benefit the mos from CVTs are truck drivers who tow in hilly areas. Now just need to build a heavy duty CVT that doesn’t eat itself in 50,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t know race series have outlawed them. I was a bit curious why we didn’t see them show up in racing…

      • 0 avatar
        alexndr333

        Look at two-wheelers for a clue. The big scooters – Suzuki Burgman, Honda Silver Wing – have CVT’s. Motorcycles do not. I’ve had a Burgman 650 for about 10 years, and the CVT is a brilliant little device. They even put in a 5-speed toggle shift so one can pretend it’s an automatic. But the thing is slow from zero. I just don’t think in its current level of development it can take the rigors of racing.

        • 0 avatar

          The slow from zero is probably so it will be smooth. If the engagement RPM were higher, it would take off faster, but not be as smooth. Just like everything else, it is a trade off. Plus, a scooter isn’t really aimed at a performance market.

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        Because they’re afraid that if someone does a CVT right, it’ll be too much of an advantage.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Twenty years ago, when Williams-Renault was routinely a generation ahead of their F1 competition in most areas, they had a CVT ready to go. It was going to send everyone back to the drawing boards so the FIA banned it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3UpBKXMRto There is no technical justification for anything else. Had the FIA any interest in advancing technology at the time, there’s no way we’d have contrived automatics with fake manual controls today. Paddle shifts are supposed to be a performance feature. They exist because the FIA banned fully automatic shifting. They’re as performance enhancing as runners tying their knees together would be.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      The CVTs seem to work very well in SCCA Formula 500. They work well with the peaky F500 two stroke engines, and would likely work very well with peaky Formula One 18,000 RPM four stroke engines.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Bloggers and car buff book editors write about CVTs as if they gave their grandma terminal cancer or something. I realize that they’re not perfect, but no transmission is.

    I love manual transmissions and have owned dozens of cars equipped with the row your own set. I’ve also owned a few traditional automatics and have now driven quite a few different variants of the CVT and find them to be quite pleasant for what they are.

    Drony, yes, sorta noodely, yes, but that’s to be expected. The CVT in the Impreza that Doug mentioned is one of the better new generation of CVTs currently on the market. I think the one Subaru cooked up for the Forester XT is even better.

    Instead of whining about them, the blogosphere and buff book writers best get used to them, because they’re going to be much more commonplace in the very near future.

    Also, the Prius doesn’t really have a CVT in the true sense of the term, it’s actually a pretty clever planetary gear system. But hey, this is the internet right?

    • 0 avatar
      tpepin

      You mean to say my cube is banned from the track? For shame!

    • 0 avatar

      Indeed, the Prius CVT is different from the more conventional ones. In fairness, Toyota actually calls it an “ECVT.” But really I was just looking for something to help me easily demonstrate that (somewhat) spurious gas mileage stat!

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Here is more information on the planetary/no belt Prius transmission.

      http://prius.ecrostech.com/original/Understanding/ContinuouslyVariableTransmission.htm

      The Prius drives absolutely brilliantly. I’ve owned nine cars, all with manual transmissions, and the Prius is the only automatic car I’ve driven where I’ve had to admit “Ok, I would buy this with auto.”

  • avatar
    mies

    I test drove an Accord with a CVT, and I have to agree. It’s fine. It didn’t even make any of the weird noises. It just pulled until it reached speed then “upshifted” to something more efficient. No whirring, no drama. I passed on the Accord not because of it’s transmission, but because I couldn’t justify having that big of a car when I’m the only person in it 95% of the time. If the CVT turns out to be reliable in the long term, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a car with one next time.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      And reliability in the long term remains to be seen yet, at this point in time.

      A friend of the family had the CVT in her Murano go out twice during a five-year ownership period. No abuse, just the daily commute was its lot.

      The first time, Nissan replaced it under warranty. The second time it failed, she bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 4X4 with the 5.7 and the 6-speed automatic, and sold the Murano to a chop shop to be parted out.

      There is no doubt that all auto manufacturers will ease into replacing standard step-automatics with CVTs. That’s the wave of the future. CVTs are simpler, cheaper to build, and return greater profits than a standard step-automatic to the auto manufacturers.

      But since the CVT has been around since the late sixties and was introduced to European drivers in the DAF sedan from the Netherlands, why has it taken so long to catch on in the global industry?

      The answer is that CVTs had, continue to have, and are anticipated to have, a much higher fail rate than standard step-automatics and manual transmissions because the metal belt riding on the variable cones will wear faster under load than any other type of transmission.

      The belt is sacrificial. And so are the owners. Clearly a case of planned failure with an eye on the replacement/repair after-market.

      I’d like to know if anyone has surpassed the 100,000 mile mark with a CVT transmission and/or what the highest recorded mileage on a CVT was before it croaked.

      I’ll take hydraulics or synchromesh over CVTs any day.

      • 0 avatar

        In fairness, Nissan has extended the warranty on ALL its CVTs to 10 years and 120k miles. I sleep easily even knowing my Cube may be a ticking time bomb.

        http://www.nissanassist.com/ProgramDetails.php

        • 0 avatar
          wstarvingteacher

          Dated info on the Nissan warranty. When we picked up the 2013 cube I was expecting a long warranty to allay my anxiety. 60k and we bought an extended 75k for the whole car.

          He said the extended warranty had done it’s business and now the cvts had proven themselves. I did not laugh because I was in search of a deal.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            It is true that Nissan and CVT are currently synonymous with excellent deals, if you just want transportation and don’t keep them past the warranty period.

            In MY area, the 2013 Altima with a 4-banger, the CVT and cruise, air, PW, PDL and base seat trim routinely sells for <$18K, plus tt&l. Though "Bait and switch" is alive and well and has to be reckoned with.

            Other Nissan CVT-equipped models are pretty much in line with those percentages below MSRP. Lotsa Nissan money on the hood.

            But the hot-sellers and much-in-demand youth-oriented models, like the Cube, those are rarely discounted. Classic supply vs demand, and the stylish Cube is in demand. Even my 20-year old grand daughter thinks they are cute!

            As I said earlier, the CVT is the wave of the future for ALL car makers, so we better get used to it.

            At this time in the evolution of the CVT, we still have a long way to go for the CVT to develop a track record of longevity and reliability.

            Eventually, a spin-off industry will emerge that will offer brand-new alloy-steel CVT drive belts and cones so that lifeless CVTs can be rebuilt, revitalized or refurbished with after-market parts.

            The hydraulic cone-activators are basically standard issue hydraulic gear, managed by computer-controlled input.

            The problem is that every manufacturer who brings a CVT to market tries to do it differently and there is no commonality in design, just commonality of function.

            I believe that within the next 5 years we'll see computer-controlled servo-activated CVTs hit the market that operate like a fly-by-wire system on advanced aircraft.

            We already see electric power steering and the CVT is the perfect candidate to have the cones moved by an electric motor.

            At that time, I believe we will see a deluge of vehicles, of all classes and categories, become equipped with only the CVT transmission.

            Imagine the F150 or the Silverado with a 10-ton-rated CVT. That puts it in the Alison class of transmissions.

  • avatar
    graham

    I’ve spent some time behind the wheel of a Nissan Rogue with a CVT and I’m impressed with it. Very responsive, without excessive “motor boating” sensations. The 4-cyl will scream just like any little engine hauling around a chunky CUV, but I didn’t find it any more intrusive then a traditional automatic. And gas mileage is respectable.

    • 0 avatar
      mklrivpwner

      +1
      Wife got a Rogue with the CVT to fit a second carseat. Changed my perspective on CVTs. Well, sort of. More like gave real-life creadence to the theoretical (which I was suspicious of at best).

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    CVT’s have their place. I drove a Nissan Versa once. The car itself was pretty bland, so I doubt that the upshifting sound from a traditional automatic would have made it better.

    But in its defense I have to say that off the line, it gave a surprising kick and brisk acceleration – much moreso than a 4 speed Auto Civic I drove once.

  • avatar
    nutbags

    While I will always prefer a manual transmission; given a choice between a conventional automatic or a CVT, I would take the CVT. My wife had a Murano that had the CVT and to be honest I never really noticed any noise from it but I did notice that while accelerating, the engine went to a certain RPM and stayed there until you eased off the throttle at your cruising speed.
    What was the first mass produced car with a CVT? Was it the Subaru Justy?

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. Justy. And the Murano does a pretty good job of hiding it, as it’s more of a high-end vehicle. You should hear my Cube. It sounds like there’s a one-speed automatic mounted in the driver headrest.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Yeah, me too. I’ll buy manuals as long as I can, but I don’t see why I’d choose an automatic over a CVT. If I’m not shifting myself, why bother with gears at all?

    • 0 avatar
      bunkie

      In the recent era, yes. But, as has been mentioned, the Dutch automaker DAF mass-produced CVT cars for years back in the 1960s. DAF was acquired by Volvo and the S40 and V50 were, I believe, built in the Holland DAF factory.

    • 0 avatar
      Johannes Dutch

      Google Variomatic and read all about it.

  • avatar
    oldowl

    No technical comments, or technical knowledge either, just that our 2003 Nissan Murano has run 120,000+ miles with no transmission problems. None.

  • avatar
    Timothy

    Technically speaking all the things you said are true (mileage, power bands etc), but I damn you to hell for saying it.

    The aural assault provided by the the CVT/Engine combo in the Rogue that my sis drives (her among the other 69% of women Rogue owners) makes me want to find the son of a bitch who first thought of the idea, strap him into the seat beside me and let him experience the rattling, screaming, torturous sounds the car makes as it finds its “power” band.

    Don’t even get me started on the noise it makes when the car is warming up. Cats in a gang bang make less noise.

    No no… give me a DCT, Automatic, or a proper manual thanks.

    • 0 avatar

      Hahaha. Can’t argue with this. And I believe the Rogue does NOT have a manual mode, right?

      • 0 avatar
        npaladin2000

        Some trims have paddle shifters I believe.

      • 0 avatar
        Timothy

        No paddles in her SV edition, which I think is the middle of the road? It does have a sport button. Press that and watch the hell out, Mr.

        The gear selector has D and L and an O/D Off button, which I truly don’t understand as the tranny has no overdrive gear. Doh.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Possibly one of the worst “soundtracks ” in the automotive world is a 2.5/CVT Nissan product at full song. 5000 rpm is the worst.

      • 0 avatar
        Timothy

        Preach GH77, PREACH!

        Oddly enough, I rented a V6 Murano while on vacation last year (front wheel drive, natch). and found the combination worked extremely well! The Nissan 6 sounded nice, and not having to rev the piss out of it quelled any complaints about thrash in the upper RPM’s.

  • avatar
    catachanninja

    I drive a ’10 Nissan Altima with a 3.5l engine and I’ve been pretty happy with it so far. Power delivery is usually right on target, makes passing on the highway super easy. Granted my previous vehicle was an 01 Ford ranger with a 4.0l and a the 5 speed automatic so it wasn’t exactly a performance machine, but it was no slouch either.

    edit: also it’s not that loud

    • 0 avatar

      The 3.5 is a whole different story. But let’s be honest – most are 2.5s. I wonder what the split is, actually…

      • 0 avatar
        catachanninja

        Its obscenely in favor of the 2.5, even the coupes. I always look for 3.5s to wave at, ususally i just scare families by coming out of nowhere and tailgating them before I blow by. The vase majority of 3.5s are also burgundy, i don’t know why, but i test drove three in burgundy and have seen another two all in burgundy.

        • 0 avatar

          Agreed. Gotta be 90 pct/10 pct, and burgundy accounts for like half the 10 percent. What color is yours? I really like that dark gray they have.

          • 0 avatar
            catachanninja

            Burgundy, was literally the only color offered to me through three vehicles. I had to have the 3.5. I got offered a 2012 a 2010 and 2008. the 08 had to many miles and the ’12 was a little out of my price range. I’m “ok” with the burgundy, would have preferred the gray or black, loved the blue, someone who works next store to me has a 2.5 in blue and i always frown when i walk buy it on breaks

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Doug when are you going to write up the Impreza?!? I just found out they are doing a “sign and drive” $179/mo lease and I am seriously considering picking one up for my daily driver. I was hesitant because of the CVT and the mileage, it would be great to get your opinions on both. Lease offer ends at the end of this month so please hurry… :)

    • 0 avatar

      It really depends on what you’re looking for in a car. The Impreza is maybe the best car ever (and maybe the LAST car ever) at being a simple, straightforward, few-frills, solidly-built car. We know it’s reliable and bulletproof and capable and this one is a hatchback, which makes it practical too. But the interior isn’t exactly stylish and this one doesn’t have infotainment or anything, so the stereo is very basic. I like it for that reason, but if you’re looking for the latest and greatest, this ain’t it.

      • 0 avatar
        racer-esq.

        My take is that if a BRZ is as close as we can get to an e30 M3 then the Impreza is as close as we can get to an e30 318i sedan/wagon. Of course that is with the 5-speed.

        • 0 avatar

          Interesting analogy. Obviously the car feels MUCH heavier than those. But from a simplicity and driving standpoint, I could get behind that.

          • 0 avatar
            racer-esq.

            They are very similar. The Impreza weighs about 250 pounds more, but keeps the same power to weight ratio. I ran an MSN compare:

            http://autos.msn.com/research/compare/exterior.aspx?c=0&i=0&ph1=t0&ph2=t0&tb=0&dt=0&v=t9509&v=t116664

            It’s too bad Subaru wont sell it without the front half shafts.

          • 0 avatar

            I cannot BELIEVE that only 300 pounds separates these cars. It doesn’t feel like that at all. Maybe the bigger difference lies not in weight, but transmission and sound deadening. The CVT Impreza (presumably heavily sound deadened vs. the E30) feels nowhere near as spry as the E30, and let’s be honest – the old E30 318 hardly felt spry.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Maybe because I’ve spent so much time around airplanes the droning doesn’t bother me as much. No it’s not as sonorous as an engine going up and down through its rev range, but it isn’t irritating, and I understand the sound engineering principle behind it. It’s funny, I have a good friend that’s an airplane mechanic, and asked me one time why a car company hadn’t developed a transmission that worked similar to variable pitch constant speed propellors which have been since before WW2 in aviation (which on an airplane means the engine stays at a more constant rpm and the propellor blades adjust their pitch to take more or less of a bite out of the air). I got to enlighten him that such ideas were already in cars…

  • avatar
    mcarr

    I have stated that I hate CVT’s before, but in fairness, I have only driven a handful of Nissans and Dodges so equipped, so that may or may not have been the same CVT.

    The biggest pet peeve I’ve had with them is in pulling out into traffic, foot on the floor situations. The engine screams at redline…while forward progress is limited to 10 mph. You have to lift you foot and put it down again to get the transmission to “shift”. It seems to me that my biggest complaints against the CVT are probably software related, and that possibly the newest gen versions are much better than I’m used to.

    I may have to give them another chance.

    • 0 avatar
      Prado

      ‘Off the line’ performance is my biggest gripe with CVTs as well. Same complaint with DCTs. I care alot less on how quick a car is in the 1/4 mile than I do about the first 50 – 100 feet. For modestly powered cars, nothing beats a manual, where you can apply as much RPMs and clutch slip as needed for a quick launch.

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        I was genuinely surprised by the off-the-line giddyup of a new Nissan Versa Sedan I had as a courtesy car a few months back. It’s quick for the first 100 feet. Reminded me a lot of my grandparents’ old Subaru Legacy in that regard– twitchy throttle you had to get used to for a minute.

        Our cube’s off-the-line performance, on the other hand, is much more relaxed. As befits the cube’s attitude about life, no less.

  • avatar
    JD321

    All I got was “Lamborghini Aventador” and “Miley Cyrus” out of that article…What do you think of Miley’s new hair style?

  • avatar
    suspekt

    Bless you Doug, you are a joy to read.

    I must point out that the Prius is actually a very bad example to cite as a CVT powered vehicle as it’s transmission is quite unlike the “traditional” CVT a la the Nissan Altima.

    This is a great read in understanding how the Prius ICE and Power-Split Device (PSD) actually function. It is mind-boggling. More so when you consider that the Gen 2 and Gen 3 Prii are pretty robust vehicles.

    http://prius.ecrostech.com/original/Understanding/ContinuouslyVariableTransmission.htm

  • avatar
    Power6

    Interesting…my problem with the CVT has been the implementation, not the basic lack of gearshifts, I understand why that is.

    Every CVT I have driven, has abysmal response, doesn’t change ratios fast enough. Stomp the gas from a standstill, to get across an oncoming lane, you get a little “oh crap” moment before you barely miss getting t-boned. Not much better on the move when you need a “downshift”. Haven’t found one that doesn’t do it yet, though the Internet CVT lovers of the world keep saying “the model year after the one you drove has been fixed” for the last 5 years now.

    Maybe the ultimate is a “dual CVT” so it can pre-select a ratio for quick downshift at all times. As far as I can see the tech just isn’t there yet to change ratios quickly.

  • avatar
    tubacity

    For me, it is still question of durability. Breakdowns cost. Some CVT’s have issues with breakdowns, sketchy parts availability, high cost of repair or hard to find a shop that can repair the CVT at reasonable cost. Cannot generalize that if Prius CVT is reliable, brand X CVT should be. They are mechanically different.

    Do not mind engine noise with a CVT if it is economical, durable, does not waste horsepower.

  • avatar
    becauseCAR

    So you say a CVT is better for performance. Not on the autocross course.

    Because the engine is constantly revving, you don’t quite know where the braking points should be compared to a car with gears, because then we know which speed is good for which gear, even on an automatic. In the case of a CVT, you have to throw that out the window because the engine pretty much sounds the same at any point, meaning the braking point comes later, namely at the point when you think “I have to slow down!” And promptly you understeer spectacularly nearly knocking over a sign. Which happens when you autocross the new Altima after driving a Camry.

    I’d love to say I don’t speak from experience.

    • 0 avatar
      Power6

      Probably more of a software issue, what CVTs are being programmed for good autocross performance? I am guessing none of them right now.

      If you had an auto-x mode, where you have a target RPM say 5000 or whatever makes sense for the powerband, and the CVT tried to adjust ratio to keep you there all the time, you are always in the powerband and get predictable engine braking.

      From my limited experience auto-xing this season, I’ve found that there are many corners where you will bog down at low RPMs, perhaps not quite enough to shift down, in our case (Focus ZX3 RTF H-Stock index) downshifting to first is difficult anyways we run in second all the time. With a CVT we would always be in the “right” gear on corner exit, no matter what the speed!

      The problem is I don’t think the technology is there to change ratios quickly enough for this to work, right now.

    • 0 avatar
      SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

      When racing you would typically use waypoint for your braking points as drafting and traffic can influence your speed a lot.

      Think of go-carts. They typically don’t have gears either.

  • avatar
    crm114

    I love the engine noise on my wife’s CVT Honda Helix clone, it makes it easier to pretend I’m on a jet ski when I’m stoned.

  • avatar
    Nico

    I don’t get why people (enthusiasts) have a problem with CVTs. If you want your car to handle the shifting for you, might as well let it do it the most efficient way. Otherwise, pick a manual and do all the shifty noises your heart desires.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      I tend to equate enthusiasts with people who want to wring out the cars for what thy have, which cannot be done on a CVT, I have a hard time equating enthusiasts to those that are concerned about efficiency first and foremost.

      Not saying they don’t exist but, it’s like nice houses beside a ghetto, they exist, but it will throw you for a loop if your not used to it.

      • 0 avatar
        hubcap

        “I tend to equate enthusiasts with people who want to wring out the cars for what thy have…”

        I like that definition. I’ll be “borrowing” it in the future.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        I think CVTs are great…for other people. I still would rather have a manual transmission, I enjoy that more. But if I were stuck with two pedals, I’d prefer a CVT over a regular automatic. The most time I’ve spend with a CVT was in a rental Altima for an ~800km trip on the highway, and in that context, it was fine.

        Of course, there’s also the argument that, at least on my daily commute, just how much can I wring out a car? If I’m stuck doing a boring 35km/h slog stuck behind some inattentive twit, I might as well take the more efficient (re. less costly) option.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I agree 100%. If you are going to have an automatic, it might as well be the most efficient one possible. I don’t find CVTs any more offensive than any other automatic, other than the demonstrated durability issues with some of them.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    The people want cheaper cars, manufacturers give them what they want, if Manufactorures can use CVT to help produce a cheaper car, then I’ll be all with it.

    I look at them from a enthusiasts stand point, which I find them to be terrible, I’m sure not everyone shares my sentiment, however not everyone enjoys cars as much as the BB here.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    LULZ delivered, it was a good start for the day (it’s 24th here), thank you.

    Since I guess you had a rental Caliber yesterday and you enjoyed it immensely (don’t lie to us you naughty boy). I can guess your next piece will be “In defense of the Dodge Caliber, it’s great (yes I went there)”.

  • avatar
    Slave2anMG

    Good god, man. Think of the children!

    No Dronemaster transmissions!

  • avatar

    A friend of mine refuses to buy any car but one with a CVT. Just in case you thought that stick-jerkers were the worst.

  • avatar
    Theophilus138

    I’d like to try a CVT in a Panther for a full land yacht experience.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I think the CVT will be a permanent fixture in the near future in almost all motor vehicles. From an engineering perspective it gives more control to the designers to achieve the emissions and FE targets.

    But, the same could be said for an automatic. They don’t sound as good as a manual.

    The best sounding (one of my better performing vehicles) was a L20 I had in a minitruck (Datsun 620). I had quite a wild cam (35/65 with an extra 90 thou of lift) and most everything I could manage to get done to the heads ie, valve guide bosses removed, inlet opened up from 33mm to 41mm, exhuast ports the same.

    But what made the most wonderful sound was the close ratio Stanza 5spd roadway gearbox (billets) and the orchestra of sound from the pair of DCOE 45mm side draught Webbers. I wonder how this would have sounded with a CVT?

    In my mind a manual gearbox creates a far better sound than a CVT or automatic.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    I like to describe a CVT as a car that accelerates on the gear box and not the engine. I truly hate the sound of an automatic, especially the gear change. Sometimes you hear that wonderful V8 accelerating away only to have that slow, lazy gear change ruin everything. Then you have to deal with that “clutch slipping” sensation that is the blight of all automatics, even the new ones.
    So give me the drone of a CVT… sighs, left foot stomps on the brake peddle, looking for the clutch, again…

    • 0 avatar
      FractureCritical

      I feel the same way, but let’s be honest with ourselves about today’s drivers; 80% of them have never been in a proper V8 powered car where you can hear the sweet sweet sound of solid valve tappets clacking around in joy,90% probably have never even been in a stick shift car, and 99% have no idea what a CVT is. (sounds like some sort of a contraception thing) the 100% of you and me have to count out the grey hairs in our beards every morning ;)

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    Give me a manual. No automatic knows what gear I want five, ten or twenty seconds from now. If traffic is slowing up ahead, I may not want to upshift. If I’m in a relaxed mood, I may skip gears and shift 1-3-5.

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    “No, what you really do is you race, because that’s the only way to determine value in our society, at least according to those Fast and Furious movies.”

    Only CVTs have enough ratios for the shifting in the F&F franchise.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    https://says-dot-my-production.s3.amazonaws.com/says_news_remix/story_element/image/51a317d51744fe1b2a0022ea/62a2763c-bbd0-4fb9-b889-f421a8e3e262.jpeg

    I really hope this link actually shows up…

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    OK … I’m back from my “happy place” and settled enough to share, though I suspect some more sessions with my analyst may be needed.

    Buried, deep in my subconscious where it can’t harm co-workers or woodland animals, is a CVT experience that caused my first gray hairs to emerge way before their time.

    The four year old 1988 Ford Fiesta 1.1 CVT (silent scream) owned by my then girlfriend was an rolling human rights violation. Not just noisy, but really nasty-noisy with its screaming asthmatic banshee under the hood.

    This “Thing” was the most exhausting and stressful vehicle I have ever driven on any road under any conditions. Acceleration was a crap shoot where even a modest uphill grade caused anxiety attacks.

    Between the ailing banshee droning and absence of sufficient power to keep up with traffic, Motorway (Freeway) driving was like dancing with death and would have made a VeloSoleX feel safe on the same highway

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V%C3%A9loSoleX)

  • avatar
    Hummer

    I just imagined something funny.

    A large pushrod V8 with a loud exhaust, connected to a CVT, the looks one would get.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Our 2005 Nissan Murano SL features a CVT. Never mind that it can barely crack 20MPG these days; the only feature that I dislike is the delay in response, whether stomping on the gas or letting off of the accelerator. Still, for motoring that *isn’t* aggressive, it doesn’t really affect drivability. Other than that, it’s a very smooth ride.

  • avatar
    GST

    Right, the B-29 did not go to Europe for a couple of reasons, the first being the Allies could reach the Germans with the planes they already had, the B-17 and B-24 plus the British planes.

    On the other hand, the longer range B-29 was needed to reach the Japanese. The first B-29′s in combat had bases in India and forward bases in China until the Marianas Islands were taken by us.

    CVT=the future for all cars?

  • avatar
    probert

    I was going to write that the Ford Escape Eco was the worst car I have ever driven and possibly the worst car ever made, and it comes down to the cvt . Further research reveals it has a 6 speed transmission that – I guess – simulates the worst cvt ever made. Now that’s hybrid technology.

  • avatar
    TybeeJim

    Rumor has it that due to its superior performance and economy, the 2015 Porsche GT-3 will come with a CVT transmission in place of the much loved 7 speed, paddle shifted, PDK transmission.

  • avatar
    Dan

    It’s not the CVT, it’s the economy car with an economy engine that’s almost always bolted on to it.

    We then make a far out of class comparison to a car we actually like and damn the one with the CVT for being a noisy, soggy and unresponsive POS. Which it would remain with an EPA tuned planetary auto and be even slower besides.

    A Nissan with a CVT V6 is a pretty good place to be so long as it’s not a 5000 lb Pathfinder.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    First time I was ever in a car with a CVT, I thought I was in a motorboat. Hated it then and hate it now. But I’m biased because I don’t really like ANY car that does that doesn’t require three pedals to operate.

  • avatar
    340-4

    I own one. 2013 Altima 3.5 SL, with the CVT.

    And I love it.

    Performance? 0-60 in under 6 seconds, quarter mile in 14 or less. It pulls like a 60′s car (I know, I still own one) on the highway.

    And it gets 20+ in town, and 34+ on the highway. All day long.

    The paddle shifters are fun, too. So is being able to drive around and keep the rpm’s at or under 1500 most of the time.

    I wouldn’t go back to a conventional automatic.

    How long will the CVT last? I don’t know. If it goes 150k with only a MAF replacement like my last Nissan, I’ll be happy.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Friend of mine had an ’07 Altima 3.5 with the CVT. Four of them in 100K actually. He just traded it for a Camry. I hope yours does better than that. Do they still give a 100K warranty on the transmission? At least they were all free and he got loaner cars while it was in the shop.

      • 0 avatar
        Alexdi

        Even on the forums where people complain about every little thing, I’ve heard of exactly one CVT failure from the 2009-2013 Maxima. The car with 290 HP routed into the same unit in the V6 Altima.

  • avatar
    rolladan

    This article was so entertaining to read I almost don’t hate you for supporting cvts.. Almost… So die in a fire but after you write more of your excellent articles. Btw Prius vs Lambo comparison = me almost choking to death on food. In all seriousness you bring some real valid point up about cvt but the one problem is repair costs. No trans shops want to touch these….. It’s boneyard or dealer 90% of the time..

    • 0 avatar

      Glad you enjoyed it, and I promise to write a few weeks ahead before going near any sort of flammable substances.

      Your point is correct, I believe – when a CVT fails, you’re stuck at the dealership, and they’ll want to charge zillions.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        That’s no different than the series of 4 speed automatics that I had in my VW Jetta.

        If you had a normal auto, they’d rebuild it for you. If you had an odball Europeab-only model with a 50k-mile design life (a recipe for repeat business), they wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

        I’ll take a Toyota or Nissan dealer over a VW dealer any day….. Or Aamco, for sufficiently popular cars.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    I think the CVT in my Juke is the best auto trans I have ever driven. Its very smooth and makes good use of the Juke’s powerband, overall making it excellent for commuting.

    Sometimes I wish the Juke was the 6MT variety, but then I remember my other car is a SBY 2013 Boss 302 and somehow everything is ok…

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    After hearing all the cvt hate over the past few years I was wholly expecting to throw up like the Excorcist when I drove one while car shopping. The dealer let me take it solo for 90 minutes; after 15 minutes I paid no mind to it and found the car more than enjoyable.

    It’s just a paradigm shift that’s all.

  • avatar

    I spent my teen years working on boats like these
    http://youtu.be/gw8D2vgKoh0
    As long as the drone sounds good I’m fine

  • avatar
    epsilonkore

    Great article, for both humor and bringing up a great point… CVT’s are superior on smaller engines for keeping them in the right rev range and reducing annoying lag associated with the rev drops of a conventional automatic. Maybe its because I grew up with a Polaris 4 wheeler equipped with a PVT (polaris variable transmission… belt based) with infinite ratios… but I could out pull, out run, and get more hours of fun per tank of gas than my friends Suzukis and Yamahas with 5 speeds. Fast forward from 1990 to 2013 and our Prius c has a smooth silky CVT that keeps power (relatively of course) and economy on tap. I also drive a manual 6 speed FR-S… to me the real devil is the traditional torque converter automatic (DSG’s not included) when it comes to smaller engined cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the kind words, and very much agreed on torque converter being the killer in small-engined cars. Those things will sap any usable performance and they shift at all the wrong moments. How do you like the Prius c?

      • 0 avatar
        epsilonkore

        We do love the Prius c. It is exactly what it is advertised as: smooth, reliable, astonishingly efficient, low cost of entry, and lower cost of ownership. Lots of room, attractive exterior (for its price and class) and lots of standard tech toys to keep you entertained while you play the “how high can I get my MPG” game (this game helps you overlook the interiors hard surfaces in our 2012 that have been replaced with soft touch materials in the 2013). A recent eco minded trip from Nashville to Panama took only one tank of gas… 9 gallons, and we AVERAGE in light city driving about 52mpg+ . A 40mph, no traffic trip down the Nachez Trace resulted in the mid 70′s one time. That game is far safer, and sometimes just as rewarding as the game I play in the FR-S, which is “how hard can I legally drive this car”.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      A Prius c and an FR-S is a pretty brilliant combination of cars, congratulations.

      I am going to have to get pedantic on you about the Prius CVT because really what the Prius has is much better than a CVT (including not having to rely on the sometimes unreliable belt system). This is a pretty good overview:

      http://prius.ecrostech.com/original/Understanding/ContinuouslyVariableTransmission.htm

      • 0 avatar
        epsilonkore

        I agree, and realize, the Prius is not a traditional CVT, not just because of the electronic portion, but because of the lack of belts and its dependence on the electric motor to function at all.

        Ive read the engineering differences before we bought the Prius c (back when its drive train was in the original Prius in the early 2000′s). The fact it does away with belts all together helped me realize how much of an engineering feat the Prius family is. Owning my old Polaris 4 wheeler with its “old fashioned CVT” leads to one result… you will be replacing belts frequently with spirited trail riding. Nissan uses a special metal belt that should be more reliable… other manufacturers have belt durability tricks too, but I still remember my friends mid 90′s Subaru Justy belts constantly smelling as he hammered the gas pedal in a futile attempt at motivation.

        So one achievement in life was to own a car with no belts(I figured it would be an all electric car). I am struggling to think of ANY belts in the Prius c other than the timing chain on the ICE. None in the transmission, no accessory belts (electric power steering, brakes and air conditioning, and no traditional alternator)… doing away with belts should increase reliability, and reduce maintenance even further… if the new electric substitutes are designed right.

        Despite being a sports car enthusiast, I am also a technical design engineer, and I do love our little Prius c for everything original it brings to the market.

        BTW that page you cited is like porn to me, and it explains the transmission better than my previous understanding. Showing the thresholds of where the ICE alone could not power the ECVT in the Prius, but with the help of the electric it makes Toyotas ECVT functional. This also points out a flaw in the Prius ECVT design (if you call it that). The Prius ECVT would not work at all if the electric drive failed on startup, … as the ICE cannot supply enough torque alone, at least from what Ive glanced over before writing this reply.

        ECVT for the eco minded, dual clutch autos for the high performance, but “dont bother me with shifting” crowd, and three pedals for the rest of us! Die Torque Converters DIE!!!!

  • avatar
    CGHill

    I once burned up a Powerglide in a ’66 Nova with the 230 straight six, which probably didn’t have enough power to do that without help from the idiot behind the wheel.

    Oh, and Miley Cyrus’ single “We Can’t Stop” is nowhere near as good as the cover version released by Rebecca Black, aka “that girl who did the ‘Friday’ song.” Not that you should take musical advice from someone who owns a Nissan (actually, an Infiniti) with a four-speed slushbox.

  • avatar
    Scribe39

    Yes, De Muro, you should go into hiding. Been smoking those funny cigarettes, haven’t you.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    I’ve haven’t heard the Avenger get too terrible of a rap on here. Basically, it is fast as hell, cheap as hell, looks decent and drives pretty much like a modern car. That’s it. Sounds good to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Now, quick: name a worse car currently on sale.

      By the way, your ‘fast as hell’ comment only applies to the V6 model. The four is very bad, and probably accounts for nearly all sales.

      • 0 avatar
        Kamaka

        Gah! My head hurts trying to come up with anything. Aveo, gone, PT Cruiser gone. Ugh how about a Jeep Compass because it ends with ey ess ess. Cheap shot. Uh 2013 Jeep Patriot base 2WD 2.0L manual windows, manual door locks CVT.

        • 0 avatar
          dolorean

          First thought that comes to mind is unfortunately the Avenger four-pot rental special. Even the ’13 Ford Fiesta S with such bargain basement standard equipment as roll-down windows, plastic covered 14′ wheels, a shiny shift knob on your 5 spd tranny, A/C thank God, a four speaker 25w stereo and a rear window defroster seems like a better choice.

  • avatar
    nvdw

    I’ve owned my CVT car (1991 Volvo 340) for more than six years and I’m afraid there’s no going back. Every gearbox that has actual fixed gears in it won’t do anymore. However, since most manufacturers seem to cater to the ‘enthusiast’ with either manuals or DCTs or slushboxes the choice in cars is horribly limited.

    For the reliability stats: it has done almost 100,000 miles and only the belts were replaced as well as some worn-out diaphragms, which was expected. The gearbox itself is bulletproof. Much the same goes for my other CVT car, my 1972 Daf 66.

  • avatar
    SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

    In response to the article there are some common misconceptions regarding CVTs which really need to be addressed:

    1: E-CVTs drone.
    I know that Doug DeMuro, although he says that a Prius has a CVT, knows that it in fact does not. However. You can to this day still read reviews where cars equipped with E-CVT (any Toyota and Ford hybrid) have an annoying “drone” from the CVT. The planetary gears in these cars are silent. The drone is purely the engine running at optimal output and only so when accelerating excessively. There is a reason why owners generally love their hybrids while reviewers hate them. If you ever read a review that mentioning the “rubber band CVT” or “noisy CVT”, then you can be pretty sure that the author is oblivious to the drive train at hand. The idea of a whining CVT dates back to the old DAF days where you could hear whining from the belt driven CVTs. Modern day CVTs don’t make a whining sound.

    2: CVTs are more fuel efficient.
    Sorry, Doug DeMuro, but modern CVTs are generally not yet as fuel efficient as manuals or DSG transmissions (remember: Prius CVT is not a CVT). The CVT-transmissions of the current generation have so much internal friction that it negates the benefit of always being at the right RPM. See Toyota iQ 1.33 or similar cars for the actual numbers.
    The new Aisin units (see press releases for the next gen. Corolla) might change this.

    3: CVTs offer better performance.
    For the same reason as in 2. CVT equipped cars are currently not as fast as their manual counterparts.

    Otherwise it was a great writeup and I especially like the CVT/non-CVT comparison example.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, no one was comparing CVT to manual! That’s a comparison I promise CVT won’t win! Your points are well taken though. Damn that E-CVT.

      • 0 avatar
        SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

        Ah, yes. You are right. I’m mixing common misconceptions with what was actually said in your writeup. When you say automatics, I’m immediately thinking DSG since it’s all the hype at the moment. It’s too bad the current crop (especially of the low torque Volkswagen version) are so damn unreliable. Thankfully they are so popular that the reliability issues should be sorted out soon enough. At least I hope so.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “3: CVTs offer better performance.
      For the same reason as in 2. ”

      A CVT really has so much internal friction that an acceleration run at a constant 6000 rpm puts less power to the wheels than a manual that runs 4000-6000-declutched-4000-6000 again at an average of somewhere just under 5000?

      If they’re losing that much (read as, cooking, rubbing, and bending themselves that much) then it’s no wonder they have such a reputation for breaking.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatist

        This is the problem I have with CVTs. Every configuration I know of relies on transferring a lot of power through a small contact point of rolling. Gears, by comparison do not rely on rolling friction are are well proven to have almost unlimited life with very little power loss.
        Same with static clutches (whether manual clutch or the clutches inside an automatic–there is very little wear involved, and power is transferred through non moving surfaces.)
        Even the power losses in a torque converter don’t involve any form of friction wear… as long as properly cooled a torque converter can chug all day (which is why a growing subset of Jeepers have become automatic fans).

        Until CVTs start working on a more confidence inspiring principle, I would stay away.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I think you are taking “CVT drone” a bit too literally. I doubt any of the writers meant that the TRANSMISSION is making noise, rather the CVT is causing the engine to drone.

      The Prius certainly DOES have a ‘CVT’, in that CVT simply means a transmission without discrete gear ratios. Whether you get there with a planetary gearset and an electric motor, or with an arrangement of cones and belts is completely irrelevant. Likewise, I can’t see making a distinction between CVT, DSG, or tradition torque converter transmissions – they are all ‘automatics’, just with varying pluses and minuses.

      Otherwise I agree with you completely. The fuel economy benefits of ALL automatics are largely only on the EPA test, IMHO. All automatics are simply too eager to change down a gear or gear ratio for optimum economy, though the Prius has a big advantage of being able to use that electric motor torque to help out.

    • 0 avatar
      Alexdi

      The Altima 2.5 has the best real-world fuel economy in its class by a country mile. The Altima 3.5 has the best acceleration of the all the V6 FWD sedans. You might try measuring your theory against empirical data.

      • 0 avatar
        SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

        You must make the comparison on cars that offer both transmission types on the same engine. This is why I pointed out the Toyota iQ. Granted, it does date back to 2009 and the new Aisin box is currently getting ready with the latest advances in CVT technology, but the stats stand:

        iQ 1.0 MT vs CVT:
        Acceleration (0-62mph): 14.1 vs 15.2
        MPG (UK): 67 vs 60
        Emissions (g/km): 99 vs 110

        The reason why I mention DSG is an automatic that it has the low friction penalty of a manual while adding a little in weight. Unfortunately I don’t know a car that offers both DSG and CVT.

  • avatar
    william442

    The one in my Audi A4, worked fine.

  • avatar

    CVT’s remind me of the Powerglide transmission on my first car, a ’72 Nova. For a teenager with a tired musclecar, it did not provide the exhilarating climb and drop of gears shift. Instead, you got one long, lazy climb with no discernible shifting to be heard.

    Pretty impressive if you ask me.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    The top fuel rails and funny cars work on the same principle to get the engine at peak, but in that case they slip the clutch pack until it is all fused together. So to follow the line of thought here, a Dodge Avenger funny car with a slipper clutch will out accelerate the autobox equipped version.

    I don’t know of any enthusiast that complains about the drone they make either.

  • avatar
    mklrivpwner

    “…except a TTAC commenter who will reply with a long, detailed explanation of just how many gears a CVT has before calling me a giant doofus.”

    And here I am. A CVT has ZERO gears. Instead they have pulleys.

    …giant doofus.

    • 0 avatar
      mklrivpwner

      Sorry, couldn’t resist.
      What a CVT DOES have is a (metal) V-belt driven over two pulleys that have been halved as to allow them to seperate and close opposingly along the same plane. By allowing the pulleys to open and close, the transmission changes its “gear”-ratio to meet the optimum “gearing” for the engine. This is based on a programmed power and torque mapping so as to match the desired engine RPMs.

      The biggest drawback is (as others have noted) the MASSIVE internal frictions of a metal belt that is being perpetually pinched by two metal pulleys because of the limited contact required by the CVT pulley setup. The pulleys are required to be cut at a deeper V than the belt to produce a wider range of “gearing” ratios.

  • avatar
    JasontheF

    Actually, I’ll go out on a limb and say that CVTs work great for luxury cars too. The lack of any discernible gear changes and smooth transitions between speed makes for great “waft-ability” in most traffic a luxo-barge is ever likely to encounter.

    I liked it enough in the family GS450h, which was deceptively quick – the drone would stay constant and the speedometer caught up with the “Power meter.” A bit disconcerting, but nobody could argue with the straight line results. Around corners, however, it is a different story….

    • 0 avatar
      epsilonkore

      I totally agree. As I have followed the industry since my youth, luxury (and even every day) cars were reviewed on many merits including the ability to shift smoothly. A smooth shift represented well executed and thoughtful design, precision, reliability, that culminates into comfort. An ECVT provides all of those in a way that step shifting autos cannot. As long as it can properly handle/manage the power of the typical luxury engine without too much engine drone, the public should embrace it for what it represents.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    You lost me after motorboat.

    bit.ly/1c2WDym

    :)

  • avatar
    Kamaka

    Thank you for finally defending the CVT. Have you driven a 1st Gen Versa 4spd auto vs. CVT anyone? I like that when CVTs starting taking hold some put 0 gears and some put the infinity sign ∞. Also little known kuddos shout out to Mitsubishi for putting their metal, real magnesium, paddle shifters fixed to the steering column. That’s right, right always upshift, left downshift. But finding a Mitsubishi is worse than locating a brown diesel station wagon with a stick.

    Another great article Doug. I almost want to stalk you, but I’m afraid of the competition.

  • avatar
    davejay

    The folks at Nissan figured this out with the JUKE CVT.

    In normal and economy mode, the JUKE drives like a normal CVT. Put it in sport mode, and it “shifts” through a collection of fixed ratios, like a normal transmission. The CVT makes these “shifts” very quickly and smoothly (it’s just a ratio adjustment, the thing that CVTs always do quickly and smoothly), the engine speed climbs and falls and climbs and falls like a normal transmission, and it ends up feeling just like a very good normal automatic with lots of forward gears.

    If auto manufacturers simply offered “economy” and “normal” modes, running the CVT with infinite ratios in economy and a series of fixed ratios in normal, all the CVT hate would go away (and the EPA numbers wouldn’t go down, because they’d just put an asterisk and say “in economy mode.”) An elegant solution to a consumer perception problem, and you can try it today in a JUKE.

  • avatar
    Mitsu_fan

    I own a 2011 Outlander Sport with the CVT and I really like it and have no complaints about its operation. The only time it ever gets obnoxiously loud or drony is when I’m driving it obnoxiously. If I drive it like a normal person, it goes about its business trying to mimic the sound of a traditional geared automatic between the range of 2,500 RPM and smoothly steps itself down to 1,600 RPM. When I drive one of the company cars with traditional automatic transmissions they feel broken to me, like something is wrong with them until I get used to them again.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    Tried the CVT in four different cars and found it perfectly adequate in three, and abysmal in the fourth.

    Got the most experience with it in a Lexus GS450h, where after toying once or twice with the fixed ratios I gave up on it altogether. The fact that the engine is rather on the large side for Europe and that the electric motor provides additional torque low down, I never found the CVT gearbox to be much of a problem. The car is also sufficiently quiet, meaning the engine noise is not a big problem. Sure, the Toyota V6 is not nearly as melodious as a NSX unit from Honda, but it is also not a real problem.

    The next two were in the family’s other two Lexi – a RX400h and a RX450h. Neither of the two would have been my choice, and I do not find them to be any fun at all – but this has little to do with the CVT alone. Maybe a conventional torque converter would be better but then again you are not really meant to drive the two like you stole them, so it really is a moot point.

    Last but not least, the Audi A6 with a diesel and a CVT. This has got to be one of the most pitiful drivetrains in history. It manages to have a pretty high fuel consumption for a diesel, makes it impossible to have a normal, clean start away from standstill, and one is under the impression that the engine works it the wrong rev range most of the time.

    Of the three what bothered me most were the starts. The options available are a normal throttle application, where the car rolls lightly for a bout two seconds, after which it starts picking up speed with the enthusiasm of a glacier. Making joining traffic smoothly impossible. The alternative is a much more spirited throttle application, where again nothing happens for two seconds, followed by a slow start for another two, followed by squealing tyres befitting an 18 year old.

    On top comes an engine, that is forced by the CVT to often operate in the 3000 rpm range during even light acceleration in the city (high for a diesel), neither helping fuel consumption, nor really improving on the noise.

    But then again, maybe it is Audi’s trick into getting the people to upgrade to a larger engine, where they will happily sell a torque converter or double clutch autobox?

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    No one but epsilonkore has made the important distinction that cars such as the Murano have a very different CVT from cars such as the Prius. The Murano etc. uses a snowmobile cone/belt design, while the Prius etc. have a planetary gear set. The planetary gear set allows power input from two sources — the gas engine and an electric motor. It also provides a path for spinning another electric motor used as a generator to regenerate braking forces into energy stored in the traction battery.

    I have a Ford Escape Hybrid. It uses a planetary gear set very much like the Prius’. Ford built these things from ’05 to ’12. A lot of them had awd drivetrains. I would speculate that a planetary gear set is not sensitive to loading such as climbing grades or pulling trailers. It just sheds whatever load it doesn’t like into the form of higher revs.

    Though there must have been a few, I can’t recall of hearing of any failures of the eCVT. In cities such as New York and San Francisco, they put 300,000 miles on Escape Hybrids before retiring them. Carefully note that 300,000 miles in SF just might involve some strain on the transmission.

    One thing I don’t like about the eCVT is that you can’t tell how fast you’re going, or if you’re gaining or losing speed by listening to the engine note. You have to understand how it works to know why this is so. When climbing hills, it can actually change revs considerably with no change in speed. This is because the gas engine has to rev faster to maintain speed when the electric boost is used up. It means you have to look at the speedometer two or three times as often as with a regular manual or automatic transmission.

    Also, this setup has no way to provide power from the gas engine when reversing. So when the Pruis or Escape Hybrid reverse, it is electric-only. Which is dependent on traction battery capacity and an electric motor with less power than the gas engine. But I’ve never heard of anyone having a problem due to this.

    SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN is correct that the eCVT is silent. When in electric-only mode, the Prius and Escape Hybrid transmissions are bing used, but are silent. The droning is a result of using a CVT, but comes from the engine.

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    “No one but epsilonkore has made the important distinction that cars such as the Murano have a very different CVT from cars such as the Prius. The Murano etc. uses a snowmobile cone/belt design, while the Prius etc. have a planetary gear set. The planetary gear set allows power input from two sources — the gas engine and an electric motor. It also provides a path for spinning another electric motor used as a generator to regenerate braking forces into energy stored in the traction battery.”

    +1000. The CVT in a Prius is NOTHING LIKE the CVT in a Nissan – or other CVTs in other cars. Its far closer to a normal Automatic.

    I’d point out some other things about CVTs.

    #1) They use torque converters.
    #2) They are now using a planetary gear to augment the range of the CVT (CVT low and CVT high).

    So in reality they are getting closer to torque converter autos.

    On the bad side – they still exhibit “lag” that is the CVT has to slide to the correct ‘gear position” and while this happens quick – its not as quick as a torque converter auto. It is lower cost and so represents a good cost effective solution for those who want an automatic.


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