Piston Slap: Avoiding Brutal CVT Step Gears?

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

TTAC commentator Raincoaster writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I currently drive a 2011 Honda Fit(Manual) and I’m mildly interested in a CVT for my next car purchase. I have never driven one, and one thing that gives me pause is all the “fake gears” that they set them up with. I understand that this is to make them drive in a manner familiar to traditional automatic transmissions, but this seems unnecessary and possibly inefficient to me. Are there any cars/companies that don’t fake it and just let the engine/trans cook up the best ratio at any given time? I’d like to test drive something like that to see how it feels.

A second and 2 part question. I work a 40 day on, 40 off shift and while working, my car (2011 Fit) sits. Is this bad and is there anything I should do for preparation or upon first start up? This also got me wondering about cars on dealer lots, do they periodically start sitting inventory?


Sajeev answers:

A 40-day stagnation period has been discussed, here’s the first example. Your only concern is having an older battery: newer cars in many geographic locations are rough on 3-5 year old batteries, so be ready for a dead battery that won’t come back from a jump start. Hopefully there’s an open parts store or a Wal-Mart nearby when that happens.

I also like the traditional, non-stepped CVT as witnessed by my 2014 Mirage road test. The Mirage lacks flappy paddles and fake gears, but has a manual “low” for steep hills or maybe autocrossing in a serious sleeper. Add that with the fuel economy benefits, these CVTs are worth considering over auto-erratic slushboxes.

As I mentioned in the review, compared to the slow upshifts and the borderline-unsafe delays on WOT downshifts of modern 6-8 speed automatics (considering decades of performance-oriented designs, both from the factory and the aftermarket) a stepless CVT is okay. But public adoption sans fake gears is unlikely, Nissan’s D-step redesign is proof of that. Hopefully you, me, and threads like this mean that CVT step gears become a fad like motorized seatbelts.

Speaking of steps, I’m side-steppin’ your query. Aside from the Mitsubishi, I don’t know which new CVTs run without steps. I assume Toyota hybrids stay stepless, as people are okay with a Hybrid being different. This is why Piston Slap only succeeds with the Best and Brightest in play. So off to you!

[Image: Shutterstock user pxl.store]

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Speedlaw Speedlaw on Mar 25, 2015

    I got a civic loaner with cvt. I HATED it. give me a manual OR standard autobox... thrash + no acceleration....why ?

  • Spartan Spartan on Mar 31, 2015

    Nissan tends to make the best CVTs IMO. My brother and his wife have a 2013 Altima 2.5L. It's incredibly smooth in operation and doesn't make much fuss. It's an appliance, but like a waffle iron, you put waffle mix in it, wait 2.5 minutes and you get a waffle. I honestly don't see why people hate CVTs so much. In commuter cars, they're perfect for what most non-enthusiast people need.

    • Pragmatist Pragmatist on Nov 18, 2015

      My biggest concern is what I see as trouble waiting to happen. In a convetional automatic, the friction surfaces only wear during the fraction of a second of the shift. And gears last pretty much the life of the car. The rest of thetimethey are static. With CVTs (this does NOT apply to the hybrid systems which are entirely different) the chain is constantly gripping (tight enough to transmit power) then ungripping. When ratios are changing it's even worse. I cannot see this as a good idea. More of a tradeoff between service life and government mandated fuel economy. Guess who loses.

  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
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  • CAMeyer Considering how many voters will be voting for Trump because they remember that gas prices were low in 2020–never mind the pandemic—this seems like a wise move.
  • The Oracle Been out on the boat on Lake James (NC) and cooking up some hella good food here with friends at the lake place.