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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
rip four speed ultradrive soon to be dead at 32

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]

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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?

  • Stuki Moi "...until I realize they're just looking for an open spot that doesn't have a hydrant next to it."As if that's some sort of excuse..... It's almost up there with the yahoos who effectively park, blocking a street, to wait for someone who looks like he may be, maybe..., leaving his parking spot at some point in the future.If you need to park; practice drive and dive. Cars have good brakes these days. Keep traffic flowing, come what may. That's the name of efficient driving game. Not all manners of "yes, but I'm like, you know, like...." so that everyone else are stuck behind you.
  • Dukeisduke I don't listen to AM that much, but I still listen. I think it's stupid not to include it in new cars.
  • ScarecrowRepair Most drivers in city traffic pass thousands of cars every day. We don't notice the many who drive sanely, only the few screwups. How many times a year are we the screwup? Call it 5 times. That means that 1 out of 73 drivers on the road are going to screw up sometime today. I'd say that comes to seeing one screwup a day, and we sure do remember them.
  • Arthur Dailey This car is also in my all time favourite colour combination for 1970s' Town Cars. The black exterior with the deep red (burgundy) interior. Even took my driving test in one. The minute that the driving examiner saw the car I knew that I had passed. He got in and let out a long sigh and started asking about the car. My Old Man always had a Town Car in that black/burgundy colour combination for 'business meetings' that required the use of a back seat for passengers. No way that his full sized associates could fit in the back of a Mark IV or V. So I also have quite a bit of driving time behind the wheel of Town Cars. Just add in the 450 cid engine and the 'optional' continetal hump and I would love to have one of these in my driveway.
  • Art Vandelay 15k for some old rusty 80s junk that is slower to 60 than the Exxon Valdez? Pass. Plus no TikTok on the old Mercedes