RIP Four-speed Ultradrive, Soon to Be Dead at 32

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

As the automotive industry fluxes towards utility vehicles and electrics, the death of familiar nameplates has become an all-too-common occurrence. Goodbye, Focus, Fiesta, Taurus, LaCrosse, and Regal. And goodbye, too, to the Ultradrive four-speed automatic transmission, which meets its end in the coming year.

The Pentastar-stamped unit — seemingly older than Kirk Douglas’ dad — meets its maker after a lengthy career managing power in a dizzying array of models.

Who can forget the Dodge (in Canada, Chrysler) Dynasty? Plymouth Acclaim, anyone?

Deep within the yet-to-be ratified labor agreement reached between Fiat Chrysler and the United Auto Workers lies a list of manufacturing investments, one of which foretells the fate of the Ultradrive 41TE automatic. Per Automotive News, Indiana’s Kokomo Transmission Plant will wrap up assembly of the four-speed unit in 2020, spelling the end, at least for now, of the tranny’s sole application: the Dodge Journey.

FCA hasn’t confirmed rumors that the compactish CUV, which bowed for the 2009 model year, will give way to an athletic Italian import, but the current generation’s impending demise has been clear for some time. For 2020, the Journey soldiers on in just two trims, both equipped with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and the beyond-venerable four-speed.

Luckily for Kokomo, the Ultradrive is not the only tranny living under its roof.

Joining the Chrysler stable at the tail end of the FWD Decade, the Ultradrive found its way into dozens of models over the ensuing three decades, supplementing (and in some cases, replacing) the solid three-speed Torqueflite. The best-known application was the automaker’s wildly popular minivan lines.

Elsewhere, Ultradrives ushered New Yorker and Imperial drivers to their tony dinner destinations, sometimes in limp-home mode. Early problems with the transmission earned it a black eye, though improper fluid selection (an issue Chrysler caused by listing Dexron as an acceptable substitute) was the cause of some of these second-gear-only trips.

Later on, the tranny served as a semi-sporty partner to Chrysler’s cab-forward midsize sedans, outfitted with Autostick manual shift mode. A version designed for rear-drive applications turned up in the 2000s, later joined by a six-speed 41TE variant found in the current Dodge Grand Caravan and Ram Promaster.

The document doesn’t say exactly when the last four-speed will leave Kokomo (will there be a run of 2021 Journeys?); rather, it merely lists 2020 as the unit’s final year of production.

[Images: Murilee Martin/TTAC, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Dec 09, 2019

    With the PSA merger FCA now has access to Nissan's CVT transmissions which start to make the Ultradrive look good. How much better can it get Italian and French quality in every product.

    • Mjz Mjz on Dec 10, 2019

      Nissan is partnered with Renault, not Peugeot, so the merger will not provide access to Nissan's CVT transmissions. Fortunately.

  • Warrant242 Warrant242 on Dec 10, 2019

    I used to like reading reviews here, back when they were honest. Some of us stick around just because we've been here a while. But why would new people come here for the same thinly disguised puff pieces they can get everywhere else?

  • EBFlex No they shouldn’t. It would be signing their death warrant. The UAW is steadfast in moving as much production out of this country as possible
  • Groza George The South is one of the few places in the U.S. where we still build cars. Unionizing Southern factories will speed up the move to Mexico.
  • FreedMike I'd say that question is up to the southern auto workers. If I were in their shoes, I probably wouldn't if the wages/benefits were at at some kind of parity with unionized shops. But let's be clear here: the only thing keeping those wages/benefits at par IS the threat of unionization.
  • 1995 SC So if they vote it down, the UAW gets to keep trying. Is there a means for a UAW factory to decide they no longer wish to be represented and vote the union out?
  • Lorenzo The Longshoreman/philosopher Eri Hoffer postulated "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and ends up as a racket." That pretty much describes the progression of the United Auto Workers since World War II, so if THEY are the union, the answer is 'no'.
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