By on June 15, 2016

 

cvt. shutterstock user Pixel B

Bob writes:

Hi Sajeev,

I think a survey of continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) would be useful. I’ve read that there are two types: sliding belt and variable planetary gearset. Which car brands use each and what does the cognoscenti think of them?


Sajeev answers:

Anyone with time to kill on Google and YouTube can do this — but how often do we ask ourselves this question?

The CVT’s history, from Leonardo Da Vinci to the Ford Five Hundred, is a worthwhile read. Frankly, I’m saddened that a CVT-heavy automaker such as Nissan hasn’t played up the Da Vinci connection in its marketing. Who would’ve thought the CVT predates many other boxes ‘o gears, much less the automobile?

Wikipedia has a detailed overview of CVT designs, and here’s another simpler explanation. Finding the differences between automaker’s implementations is more difficult: Google image searching shows that most CVTs now sold in new vehicles are of the variable-diameter pulley design variety. You mentioned a variable planetary gearset design, but that design only seems to apply to the reverse gear drive.

I assume the major differences in automotive applications are in chain/belt design, reverse (planetary) gear operation and electronic tuning. If I’m wrong, well, we know what’s gonna happen in the comments section; we shall see what the cognoscenti thinks. But I have the floor for now.

From my handful of Nissan rental cars (shout out to the responsive unit in the 2010 Nissan Altima) to the slow but uber-efficient unit in the Mitsubishi Mirage, I rather love CVTs. But since CVTs have significant torque limitations, automatic Corvettes, Mustangs, HEMIs and Teutonic Iron can breathe easy.

In non-performance applications, today’s multi-speed autoerratic gearboxes are slow to upshift and dangerously slow to downshift at full throttle. Granted much of this resides in the computer tune, and automatics are responsive enough at part throttle, but so are CVTs. If today’s eight-plus-speed autoboxes are (likely) packed with unique hard and soft parts that will be a financial nightmare to rebuild further down the depreciation curve, and they cannot match a CVT’s inherent efficiency … why exactly do we stick with this technology?

Electric cars with much simpler gearboxes are here to stay, and once a CVT can handle the torque of a V8 muscle car and/or luxobarge, upshift with the speed of a shift-kitted automatic transmission in a factory-programmed “sport mode,” all the while retaining its significant efficiency and simple design benefits, we might see the demise of the conventional automatic transmission.

[image: Shutterstock user Pixel B]

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89 Comments on “Piston Slap: Justy-fied Freestylin’ on CVTs, Part VII...”


  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Here is the Cliffs Notes version of the value/worth/experience of CVT Transmissions in lieu of and relative to a proper automatic or manual gearbox:

    THEY ALL SUCK, but some suck worse than others. CVTs should burn in he!! along with any vehicle that has one. Finit.

    • 0 avatar
      NotFast

      It’s a rare day I wholeheartedly agree with DW.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I disagree. Simpler is better. Efficiency will win out, I’m sure. I agree with a line that Arthur Clarke quoted in one of his novels: “A perfect machine has no moving parts.”

      Fewer parts=less cost. To OEMs this means money in their pocket, whether we like it or not. The closer any manufacturer gets to producing a product as near to free as possible is all good for them. After all, isn’t that we all try to do in our endeavors? We all like to keep as much of our money as possible!

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        I like that line. I saw something from NASA where they were basically bragging that the shuttle had something like a million parts, and I remember thinking that was a sign of poor engineering.

        • 0 avatar
          Piston Slap Yo Mama

          Detroit: my old man was a Colonel at the Pentagon when the shuttle program was first getting the green-light. By the time he retired and took the obvious job with Rockwell’s Orbiter program they’d quietly arrived at a risk factor of catastrophe per mission of about 1%. In reality it was about 1.5%, and are odds I’d have a hard time swallowing if I was about to ride in one.

    • 0 avatar

      The biggest problem with the CVT is that they have the “slow build to power”. They never feel “powerful”. They never feel “fast”.

      They are complicated and I don’t believe that Japanese cars with them will be as “bulletproof” as the Japanese cars of old. I expect reliability ratings to slip in the decades to come – wherein a 80’s or 90’s Honda/ Toyota still commands a double-take at their seemingly inflated price.

      • 0 avatar
        smartascii

        This! I know that it’s the computer protecting the transmission, but especially on smaller, low-powered cars, the delay between mashing the throttle and getting (more) forward motion seems to be much worse with CVTs than in is with any other kind of transmission. And they’re already slow enough to begin with – why make it worse?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      REEEE-OOOOO-REEEEERRR-OOOOOO

      -Nissan

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Please exempt Toyota and Ford hybrids from your CVT hate, as they use they use a CVT (planetary gearset) as a very reliable powersplit device.

    • 0 avatar
      probert

      yup

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “THEY ALL SUCK, but some suck worse than others. CVTs should burn in he!! along with any vehicle that has one. Finite.”

      Maybe in cars, they’re the $hit in snowmobiles though. ZAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaap!

      Just get rid of the crappy ICE powered car altogether and go electric – problem solved!

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      CVTs are great, especially in luxury applications. They’re far smoother than conventional automatics and allow the engine to be at the most effective speed for whatever the driver wants.

      If you think you hate CVTs, what you actually hate is the sound of the engine attached to the CVT. Yes, on heavy throttle the engine will go straight to the power peak and stay there. That’s how you get the fastest possible acceleration. If that annoys you, get a more refined or better-muffled engine.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Dal, how/where are you getting 4% yield on cash in that account that you spoke of in the recent “Ask Bark” company man column?

        Is it liquid? Does it have a risk of loss of principal?

        (Serious question)

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “That’s how you get the fastest possible acceleration.”

        Don’t care. I could probably live with the lost .2.

        I like to feel my car shifting, and I like to hear the engine wind out repeatedly. I’m definitely not interested in supreme smoothness and likely not a good candidate for a luxury car. I should probably own an Evo GSR or cammed Tri-Five.

    • 0 avatar

      No, CVT works pretty well in a snowmobile…but in a car, it is a simple “no buy” decision. Self Solving Problem.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    The planetary gearset CVTs in the original question probably refer to the Prius’s transmission. That’s a special case because you need to have an electric motor driving one of the three transmission inputs.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      All Ford hybrids and all Toyota hybrids except the upcoming Lexus LC500h/LS500h have this setup. It’s really excellent. Mechanically dead simple, extremely reliable.

      • 0 avatar
        redliner

        Yes, the planetary CVT transmission as seen in popular hybrids is extremely simple… all the complexity is in the software controlling the various inputs.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        +1

        We owned one in our Prius for 12 years, and it was very reliable.

        The NVH started to get to us near the end, but we’d still be driving it, if it weren’t for an inattentive driver in a Silverado.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Wonderfully smooth! Driving the Ford hybrid eCVT really ruined me for any other transmission. Even the best stepped automatic feels jerky to me now.

        But it does have one downside in common with a conventional CVT: a considerable delay between asking the engine room for full power and getting it. The traffic light’s turning yellow? Floor the accelerator! Three-quarters of the way through the intersection, the engine roars and power comes on. Too late.

        And it lacks one upside of a good electronically controlled conventional automatic: the ability to “learn” and serve the driver’s style. (I remember GM’s later Saturn automatics as being particularly quick and intuitive learners, for example–instantly sensing and delivering the gear I’d have picked if driving a stick.)

        Worse, a software update can change those characteristics whether you like it or not. The original C-Max programming made more frequent but lower RPM use of the ICE, for example, so that the car felt and sounded like it was in silent electric mode even when it wasn’t. The mandatory fuel economy update made for louder, higher-RPM ICE operation and more frequent and abrupt transitions to and from all-electric mode…which did indeed gain me two MPG, but I’d totally return them in exchange for the much more serene character that originally drew me to the car.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    For my part, I would never, ever buy ANY CVT equipped vehicle, even if I have to buy used, in case that ALL small cars only come with those crappy things in the future. Most buyers could care less, however.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    The moan. Oh the moan. :( As the Metallica song says, Nothing Else Matters.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “I’ve read that there are two types: sliding belt and variable planetary gearset. Which car brands use each and what does the cognoscenti think of them?”

    Sliding belt is pretty much what you say it is: a belt slides between two variable-sized pulleys. The pulleys are usually a cone (or pair of cones that move in and out, allowing the belt to be nearer or further from the shafts and thusly changing the ratio. Most CVTs are variants on this; snowmobiles, too.

    There’s also what’s called an extroid (toroidal) CVT. That one’s kind of strange: it’s an input cone, and output cone and two or more intermediate cones that slide between those two. There’s no belt involved in this. I think Nissan uses these in their newer models under the Xtroid branding.

    I think there’s some other variants that aren’t used in cars

    I’m not sure what “variable planetary gearset” is. If it’s the Prius, then that isn’t really a CVT: it’s an electric motor and a regular planetary gearset.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Because I can’t edit the article: Sajeev is right, most cars are variable-diameter pulley CVTs with a push-belt. Nissan uses a toroidal CVT.

      Some older cars used a variable-diameter pulley, chain-driven CVT. These suck.

      I actually quite like CVTs. Other than the torque handling concerns, which is more of an issue with belt- or chain-driven models, they work very well: the engine can be kept at it’s most efficient state without any drops/rises in RPM, gaps for shifts, etc. You have to get used to the sound and feel, though: on a proper CVT*, the engine RPM will be pegged during acceleration, and the car will just speed up. Unlike a conventional transmission, you won’t see the tach drop at a shift point; it’ll just “stay there” until you reach you desired speed, at which point it’ll drop.

      This is actually a good thing, but it’s very weird, which is why automotive enthusiasts (who are often luddites to a fault) don’t like it. I quite like it; if you drive one for a while, you get used to not feeling the car wobble on shifts, which is nice.

      They’re not particularly unreliable: if you read Consumer Reports, Nissan’s transmissions (other than the 2003 Murano) don’t, on average, fail any more or less often than most other brands’ ATs. You can see this if you look at makes & models where transmission problems actually are epidemic (eg, Honda’s V6/5AT combo, which is black dots across the board). CVTs aren’t anything like that.

      Personally, I agree with Sajeev about the cost and fragility of an 6-9 speed AT and/or a DSG. There’s no way those will be appreciably cheaper than a CVT is to repair, replace or rebuild, and they’re often unpleasant to drive.

      * one without fake shift points. I hate that the OEMs have added fake shift points just to make people feel better. What’s next? Fake crank starters? Fake horse flatulence for people who couldn’t get over the loss of their buggy?

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        According to Nissan, they use a sliding belt.

        http://www.nissanusa.com/blog/cvt-continuously-variable-transmission

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “You have to get used to the sound”

        You might as well ask me to get used to listening to Smash Mouth everyday.

        Also,fake CVT shift points FTW! I think those are great. What’s so bad about an OEM adding something to make me feel better when I spent $35k on their product? It’s not like you can’t keep it in wounded bison mode if that’s your preference.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Some BODY once told me…

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “Also,fake CVT shift points FTW! I think those are great. What’s so bad about an OEM adding something to make me feel better when I spent $35k on their product? ”

          Because all the fake shift points do is waste fuel and slow you down.

          I mean, sure, if you want to that’s fine, but it’s basically cosmetic.

          “It’s not like you can’t keep it in wounded bison mode if that’s your preference.”

          On many cars you no longer have the choice; the shift points are fake and/or the transmission programming is deliberately blunted to run the engine at a lower RPM (to avoid droning) which, again, slows you down and dings your fuel economy.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “all the fake shift points do is waste fuel and slow you down … but it’s basically cosmetic.”

            I could live with that in this case.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            “all the fake shift points do is waste fuel and slow you down.”

            They also subject you to extraneous and unnecessary head-bobbing. Shifts suck. I don’t understand why people want to feel them.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          Honest question: *Can* you actually opt of fake shift points on all fake-shift-point CVTs? I don’t think you can. Annoyingly, most reviewers don’t seem to delve into this.

          Almost as disappointing as non-selectable CVTs is seeing Sajeev trot out the trite and untrue phrase “dangerously slow.” You’re better than that, Sajeev.

        • 0 avatar
          ttacgreg

          The whole CVT sound issue strikes me as just plain wrong.
          It is commonly repeated in Prius reviews. I find it difficult to imagine that a ring gear encircling four planetary gears and one sun gear actually produce any significant sound.

          Likewise two variable pulleys and compression belt. Where and how is this “CVT sound” being produced?

          • 0 avatar
            psarhjinian

            “Likewise two variable pulleys and compression belt. Where and how is this “CVT sound” being produced?”

            The CVT sound is engine drone. With a normal powertrain you expect the engine RPM to change with speed (increase with speed, then drop, then increase, etc).

            In a CVT it….doesn’t. It just sits there are a constant RPM while the transmission ratio shifts. When you let off the accelerator, it finally drops.

            Some people find that very hard to acclimatize to.

          • 0 avatar
            Dave M.

            My Outback’s CVT is akin to a muffled motorboat sound. Nothing startling, just something I had to get used to.

            I’ve used the ‘sport shift paddles’ maybe twice in 3 years. Strictly a novelty.

      • 0 avatar
        Occam

        I agree – given the choice, I’ll opt for a manual.

        But if I’m not given the ability to select my own gears, why on earth would i want the car jumping between ratios, rather than gliding to the best one?

        The complaints of droning are because the car will stay at the best engine speed for the current power need. If it’s loud and annoying, that’s a problem of either not enough engine (forcing it to go high in the rev range) or poor noise insulation.

        I still would love to drive a manual CVT car. Give me a clutch pedal and a long sliding lever like the throttle in a boat so I can select the ratio of my choice!

        “What’s next? Fake crank starters? Fake horse flatulence for people who couldn’t get over the loss of their buggy?”

        Oh bless your heart. Try:
        – fake scoops.
        – Fake dual exhaust (you can see it splitting after the cat).
        – fake wood paneling
        – fake spare tire bulges
        – fake convertible tops
        – fake wire wheels
        – fake engine sounds
        – fake running boards
        – fake grill guards
        – fake carbon fiber
        – fake leather

        These are all either done, or have been done in the past. Tacking fake stuff on cars goes back to the 1899 Horsey Horseless (which had a wooden horse head on the front to make it look more natural).

        My pet peeve is fake stick shifts. Take a car that has no manual option, but try to make it look like it has a manual. This is usually an automatic selector in the center console with a rounded knob and a stitched leather boot. People want to *look* like they’re driving a manual, even when the car has a PRND21 indicator like their mother-in-law’s LeSabre.

        • 0 avatar
          Zackman

          Ummm… you forgot stick-on portholes (ventiports in Buick-speak) and windshield decals that are visible from space declaring what car you drive. “MUSTANG”, “CHEVROLET” “RAM”, etc!

          • 0 avatar
            RHD

            In the same vein, stickers or badges that say SPORT when there is nothing at all sporty about the car.

            There’s also the aftermarket fakery: the early fake cell phone antennas, fake cheapo AM radio dial that slid into the cassette deck to deter thieves, and on and on and on.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          “If it’s loud and annoying, that’s a problem of either not enough engine (forcing it to go high in the rev range) or poor noise insulation.”

          THIS.

          Stop blaming the CVT for what is really an engine refinement or sound insulation issue.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            Yeah but you guys are pointing out a condition that doesn’t exist for the cvt. There aren’t any super quiet, massively sound insulated engines paired to true cvt’s. I agree that on a huge luxury car the transmission type might shine, but c’mon, that’s entirely speculative at this point. What we have instead are mostly wheezing naturally aspirated 4 cylinders that are already nothing special. Or, they are paired to v6 engines where one of the engine’s selling points is supposed to be their character while running through gears. Both situations seem tailor made to highlight the cvt’s weaknesses.

            I dislike the feel of driving a cvt equipped car immensely at this point. Its because none of the other aspects of the car have been optimized for their use. It doesn’t have to be phrased as being the cvt’s fault, it’s still a problem though, and it is still specific to the cvt.

      • 0 avatar
        Blackcloud_9

        I agree. I think fake shift points are silly. If you use a CVT, let it be a CVT. But hey, BMW (and others) already pipe in fake engine sounds into a car – which I think is even more silly.

  • avatar
    SELECTIVE_KNOWLEDGE_MAN

    It’s saddening that the general consensus towards the CVT on car sites also fosters a lot of ignorance regarding the transmission type.

    A normal CVT has both the belt and a planetary gear set. If it had only the belt, then there would be no reverse gear, and no neutral. A planetary gear set is added to a CVT in order to provide these two features.

    This should not be confused with the planetary gearset used in most hybrid vehicles where an electric motor and an ICE power the two input shafts, while an additional electric motor is bolted directly to the front axle. Youtube can provide a long (30 minute) overview of HSD where the details are shown.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    The sliding disc type of transmission is used on many walk behind snow blowers and some early riding lawn mowers. Even one of the early ( 1913?) cars used a sliding disc transmission.

  • avatar
    cblais19

    As far as I’m concerned, the Honda CVT implementations are the best automatic transmissions I’ve driven. There’s no “moan”, “rubber banding” or any of the other common complaints. Instead you get super rapid ratio changes which make conventional torque converter automatics seem like sluggish unrefined things (and I’m including the much vaunted ZF 8 speed in this comparison!), while minimizing time spent at audible levels. If you do any driving in slow&go/stop&go traffic, or hills, the CVT also shines here since you don’t get the feeling of frequent shifts.

    Now, I once drove a Dodge Caliber rental and that thing was just horrible. Would have rather had an old 4 speed auto box instead.

    • 0 avatar
      Felix Hoenikker

      I bought an 2014 Accord with the four cylinder engine and the CVT. I normally dislike automatics in four cylinder cars, but IMHO the CVT in the Accord is far better than any conventional AT with a four cyl engine. Also, there is no “rubber banding” at all. What really shines is the low end performance. No hunting for the right gear which seems to be a constant complaint on the interwebs about the new 8 and 9 speed ATs. Within the torque limits for CVTs, there is no better AT out there. The big question will be long term durability.
      There, I said it.

      • 0 avatar
        ttacgreg

        I know at three non car fanatics who love CVTs because they are so smooth and (I am interpreting this second point) lack defined shift points.

      • 0 avatar
        Felix Hoenikker

        ttacGreg,
        I notice the lack of shift points on two occasions. First is reaching final speed after accelerating. For example, upon reaching 70 mph,the tach will drop quickly from 3000 rpm to under 2000 rpm. This happens without the noticable shift sensation in a regular AT. Also when driving at a constant speed on hilly terrain, the CVT adjusts the gear ratios up and down almost imperceptibly. You can see the tach move slightly, but there is no feel of a shift.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I’ve heard lots of good things about the Accord’s CVT. Did they really figure out a way to make it not sound like dying livestock at WOT? If so, that is a big step.

      Also, if shifting during stop & go traffic is a big issue, almost every conventional automatic since the late 80s allows you to lock the trans into 1st or 2nd.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        ajla, the Accord CVT benefits from being connected the relatively refined K24W engine which sounds ok at high rpm. However, on the very rare occasions that my Accord gets to WOT, it definitely makes unflattering livestock sounds. The trade-off is that CVT changes ratios smoothly in everyday stop-and-go traffic. For people who prefer stepped gear ratio changes, Honda also offers a 6 speed manual in the Accord and dual-clutch automatic in the TLX.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          The 2013-2015 Accord CVT felt like a conventional automatic without shift points when I tested one a couple days after the 9th-Gen Accords bowed in September, 2012.

          The CVT in the CR-V and last-generation Civic has more of the “usual” tendencies: a little bit of “rubber-banding” and droning at the peak point. Not too bad normally, but you notice a subtle difference or two when you have to step on it a smidge.

          (I did read something that Honda may have messed with the calibration a bit for the Accord MMC: car is a bit slower off the line, with a little “rubber banding” under the right circumstances.

          And cripe almighty, I deserve to have my Honda “fanboi” card revoked, as when I took my 2013 Touring in for “her” semi-annual detail at the dealer, the overnight loaner they gave me was an Accord Coupe, likely a 2015. Never having driven one, the engine note seemed a little deeper and not quite as smooth as my Sedan V6, and I didn’t notice any shift points, so I thought I had the K24 under the hood, though it seemed to have a touch more gusto than I remember when I tested that Sport. (The Coupes all have the paddle-shifters, and the PRNDL is identical for both CVT (4-pot) and conventional auto (V6), so you can’t tell WHAT you’re driving, without glancing at the rear of the car and counting exhausts.) And..was that a shift..and VCM activation?

          Got home, and looked at the back: car WAS a Baruth-mobile, minus six-speed stick! The exhaust note has a sportier note in the Coupe, which threw me!

          Note: the flappy paddles, unlike what I’ve heard on Acuras, are DOG-slow to respond: at least a second behind input until the shift!)

    • 0 avatar
      VW16v

      Subaru also uses a great CVT. The whining that is heard from CVT’s is more from the owners whining not the actual CVT itself.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    There are heavy-machinery CVTs which are kind of a hydrostatic / powershift hybrid, but I can’t think of any cars using that kind of design. (Hydrostatic drives are great for low off-road machine speeds but not so much for road speeds.)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Hydro-static drive (at least the ones in farm equipment I was familiar with into the 90s) increases your fuel consumption vs a conventional manual transmission.

      But they sure are convenient.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    I’m not getting the CVT hate. For day to day use they’re more pleasant to ride behind than is a conventional automatic.

    When you think about it, the way a conventional automatic has to behave is suboptimal. When you’re accelerating, why would you want the engine to have to periodically reduce its rotational speed? While it may be familiar, it’s not efficient.

    Two of the three cars we have are CVTs, and I prefer them. For sporting use, I’d still like a dual clutch, but for day to day use, CVTs are great.

  • avatar
    Joss

    I’ve had a Chevette hydraulic that leaked like a sieve at ye main seal and a Ford hydraulic that failed. I’ve also had a leaking 90’s Sentra hydraulic rebuild.

    I’m on my third car with CVT none of them have leaked or failed.

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    I have an Impreza with a CVT. It works well and drives great on long trips to boot. After over 4 years I have become a fan. Then I get into my work truck, a 2014 Transit Connect. Ugh. Thats a bad tranny.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    It’s nice to see someone else appreciating the positive aspects of a well-implemented CVT, especially that generation of Altima which tends to get hammered by enthusiast opinion. I expected to dislike the transmission in our 2012 Altima but found it to be the most responsive and intuitive mainstream automatic of that time.

    Some geared autos were quite good (Camry, Optima, 6) while others were very slow to downshift (Fusion), but none of them had the instantaneous downshift response as the Altima. Dip into the throttle gently, you get just a few hundred increase in rpm and the car moves forward commensurate with expectations. Dig deeper for a pass and it immediately slings up into the powerband. No shift shock, no pausing and waiting. While geared autos are calculating driver input, second guessing them for economy reasons, and working on a downshift, the CVT has already smoothly whisked the Altima forward. I appreciate the lack of awkward jolts from a rolling stop or in slow traffic.

    I think the term ‘rubberbanding’ was created to give a negative connotation to behavior they simply were not familiar with–the ratio change and acceleration are smooth and instantaneous compared to the pause-jolt-go of conventional autos downshifting. My only complaint with this car’s powertrain is the coarse engine. Under hard acceleration it fully lives up to the other term often used in conjunction with CVTs–drone.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I agree with this comment in its entirety. The Altima’s four has kind of an annoying sound, but I really like the CVT with a more pleasant-sounding engine like the FWD variants of the VQ. (Why do the RWD ones sound so awful?)

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        A refined engine would make many CVT complaints go away. Ever wonder what your LS430 would be like with a CVT?

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I don’t have to wonder. I just have to test drive a LS600hL. The thing is impossibly heavy (~800 pounds more than my already zaftig SWB LS460) and that affects the driving experience, and fuel economy, a lot. But the powertrain refinement is just absolutely amazing. The thing feels like a pure electric that happens to make a silky V8 noise.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Oh you may know this!

            Any reliability issues with the CVT+hybrid combo on the RX400h? I just wrote the model off entirely – have been shopping RX350s here past few days.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            None that I know of. I haven’t researched RX400h, but the RX450h powertrain is almost identical and has proven very reliable. Ultimately it’s just the time-tested Toyota V6 and an overgrown Prius transmission.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            The fuel economy gains of going to the RX hybrid never seemed worth it.

            My F-I-L bought one 5 years ago; I’ve never heard him complain about reliability.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Thanks Dal. @Vogo – I agree on the limited mileage gains vs. the added complexity. The standard v6 version isnt horroble on fuel anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      wave54

      Have a 2013 Altima 4-cyl and absolutely HATE the CVT. It hasn’t been unreliable, just the most annoying drive quality ever. It may well be the programming rather than the hardware. It seems as though it was set to always find the highest ratio to boost fuel economy. What you get, though, is a transmission that upshifts to what feels like 3rd or 4th gear before you cross an intersection. Feels like driving a manual in the wrong gear. Lots of rumble, lugging and vibration, too.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        I haven’t even sat in the 2013+ generation Altima, so I cannot add from personal experience. However, the tone of reviews toward the Altima CVT changed when the 2013+ was introduced, so I wonder if they programmed the transmission differently. The EPA ratings went up, so perhaps it more aggressively goes for low-rpm ratios as you describe. Our 2012 doesn’t do any of that. I get the impression that 2012 was the last year to get an Altima.

    • 0 avatar
      HotPotato

      The Altima’s CVT also delivers astonishing fuel economy. I was getting 39 MPG at moderately extra-legal freeway speeds in the one I rented. And it does it without the need for a tiny 1.5 liter turbo engine…Nissan’s honking 2.5 liter four restrains both purchase and repair costs and has nice linear response.

  • avatar
    SpecialVisitor

    I have a quick question for all the CVT haters. Have you spent your own money on a car with a CVT or are you just parroting what you’ve read in “the comments”?

    I bought a WRX with a CVT and all the options – a car that cost significantly more out the door than an STi, and you know what? I rather like it. I wasn’t sure I would, but I decided to find out for myself. After owning many manual cars (including a previous gen WRX) I’m here to tell you the CVT makes the WRX much more pleasant on a daily basis.

    Bob, don’t be a sucker for the notion that you’re going to drive everywhere with your hair on fire all the time, or that you will be a superstar track rat and need THE BEST the auto-jurnos say you must have (otherwise you are terminally lame).

    To my surprise, CVTs can actually be pretty nice.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I see a couple of problems with this generally.

      1) You bought a WRX (specialty sports model for enthusiasts which is sporty and not comfortable)

      2) You loaded it up (unusual for specialty sports model)

      3) You chose a CVT (this model is intended to be a manual)

      4) Buying such a car, hindering it with CVT and loading it up transforms the car into something it’s not supposed to be. Thus you reflect a quite unique bias among car shoppers, so your points aren’t as generally applicable.

      Turns out I actually had four problems there.

  • avatar
    MrMem0ry

    I am still on the fence with CVTs. Having a Forester with one, it is reminiscent of an old Powerglide when accelerating, where it just never seems to find the point at which it will shift. On the other hand, if you drive with a light-to-medium foot, it is quite efficient and smooth–ideal for around-town local driving. Overall, we get remarkable gas mileage for an AWD vehicle. I personally prefer to have some control, like pre-defined shift points and shift paddles, for times when you can anticipate a maneuver that requires a particular starting rev-point. They are lacking in this model, but available in other cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      Another Forester-with-CVT owner here – the base model without the fake shift points. I agree with much of what you write. But I’ll add that I personally am farther down the road to being convinced about CVTs – or at least Subaru’s CVT. No droaning here and no rubberbanding, either. Excellent fuel mileage for an AWD vehicle. I’ve found the longer I’ve owned this vehicle, the more I’ve learned the subtleties of operating the CVT. Frankly, it seems fine for this ex-racer. Enthusiasts can be such luddites at times. So can lazy automotive writers. But, in all fairness, I’m sure early CVTs didn’t work nearly as well as the latest examples.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      I have an ’11 Outback CVT without the fake shift points and had an opportunity to drive a ’16 Legacy CVT with fake shift points. I prefer the older CVT – reminds me of the old Buick DynaFlo’s from years ago but with much, much better acceleration (no more push the accelerator, engine spools up to 2000 rpm, wait 15 to 20 seconds for the car to move of the old Roadmaster) . The new CVT w/ fake shift points is okay I guess but makes me miss the smoother application of power up to speed and seems to be a pointless exercise.

  • avatar

    In reference to the article title, I bought my wife a ’91 Subaru Justy 4WD sedan with CVT new at the dealer for about $10G. It lasted her 8+ years with no major problems until the transmission began whining. I was told by several shops that just cracking open the CVT to find out what was going on would cost more than the car was worth at that point – about $1200 – so I reluctantly scrapped the vehicle.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Other than an EV, the most responsive car I’ve ever driven was a 14 Nissan Versa CVT. But I’m not a car journalist.

    Thankfully, our Optima Hybrid has a proper 6-speed automatic. But the clutch fitted to the electric motor can be snappy (especially when cold), and sort of soaks the fun out of having a regular automatic.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    First off, kudos for a shout out to the Subaru Justy and its lineage to all things CVT.

    My opinion… CVT sucks.

    A friend of my family’s Murano has issues with its CVT overheating. It’s right around 80k miles.

    The CVT in my household’s 2010 Maxima isn’t showing any signs of weakness *yet* (don’t get me started on the rest of the car, from electrical gremlins to exterior fit and finish), but I suspect another couple of years or so.

    My issue with the CVT is that it doesn’t seem to be engineered to be servicable. I mean.. correct me if I am wrong, but why can’t a CVT be overhauled? The common answer to CVT woes seems to be, by default, a replacement of the entire unit.

    It’s cheaper to manufacture, I get it. That’s only good news for the manufacturer and literally no one else. Trust, the manufacturer isn’t passing that additional savings on to the consumer, it’s just lining their pockets with additional profit.

    F*ck a CVT.

    But it drives great!!!!

    Pffft. So? Now it does, sure. Just wait…

    And if all “automatic” cars end up being saddled with a CVT, I’m buying manuals only. No, I’m not kidding. lol

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “My issue with the CVT is that it doesn’t seem to be engineered to be servicable. I mean.. correct me if I am wrong, but why can’t a CVT be overhauled? The common answer to CVT woes seems to be, by default, a replacement of the entire unit”

      There isn’t as much to go wrong; it’s two pulleys, a belt and some controlling equipment & electronics to adjust the pulley size. For the labour it would cost to refurbish you may as well swap it.

      • 0 avatar
        PandaBear

        There’s EVERYTHING to go wrong.

        Unlike the band, clutch pack, and brakes inside regular automatic, belt and pulley type of CVT has friction surface that are constantly in and out of contact. This is between 2 hard, steel surface of some type, and doing it long enough it will wear and stretch and deform, and before you know it, all it take is one slip and it will scar the contact surface, and the whole thing is trashed.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve Biro

      06V66speed… I suspect your issues with CVTs have to do with Nissan’s CVTs, which are manufactured by Jatco, of which Nissan holds controlling interest. Stories about problems with these units prevented me from trying a CVT for a long time. Nothing, especially an automobile or auto part, is perfect. But one doesn’t hear about problems with Subaru’s CVTs as they do such units from Jatco.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    If cars had had cvt’s before manuals or conventional automatics, the latter two would never have been offered on new cars. Cvt’s will prevail (prior to all cars being electric) and those used to shift points will die of old age.

    People who ride in my Escape Hybrid don’t even notice it doesn’t shift.

  • avatar
    Blue-S

    Some hybrid vehicles, such as the Dual Motor system in GM trucks and the short-lived 2009 Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango, use planetary gear sets together with an electric motor to achieve continuously variable drive ratios. How do they do this? Engine torque and/or electric motor torque drives an element of the planetary gearset, while the 2nd electric motor is linked to a different element of the planetary gearset. This 2nd motor can turn its planetary gearset element at a wide variety of speeds, including backwards, or it can hold (brake) the element. You could think of the 2nd motor as a variable slip, variable torque clutch. This action causes the output speed from the planetary gearset (and therefore the ratio) to vary.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    OK, I am looking at purchasing a new vehicle and all that I am considering either have a CVT or are a Fiat/Chrysler product. Thus the reason why I have not bought one and will be penning an ‘Ask Bark’ letter.

    Based on past history and scuttlebutt, my mindset is that CVT do not last as long as other transmissions and are far more expensive to repair (as they are usually just replaced).

    Is this true or is it based on the first CVT’s to come to market?

  • avatar
    SoCalMikester

    ive owned 7 japanese scooters since the 80s, and currently have over 30000 miles on a yamaha TMax 500. all are CVT driven, and all have been durable, reliable, and easy to maintain.

    OTOH, the one vespa i had- a 1972 primavera basket case, i could never get that thing to work correctly. replaced the clutch, cruciform, a couple gears, clutch cable, shifter cables… it would still pop out of gear.

    you can tune CVTs for power by replacing various springs and rollers to hold it in a lower (faster) ratio for longer but IMO its not worth it.

  • avatar
    Leg5Malone

    The video featured a render of a FWD BMW. Is there a FWD BMW with a CVT?

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