CVT’s and the Death of a Legend

14 Oct

I recently had the opportunity to drive a Nissan Cube; you know that funky box car with the asymmetrical rear window and the front grille that was designed after a bull dog wearing sunglasses?  While the Cube itself has captured my affection because of it’s unique styling both inside and out it also left me wanting and it had nothing to do with shag carpet or the ripple effect on the ceiling and speaker covers.  I thought the Cube drove pretty nice too, for a box anyway.  The thing that put me out most of all and it may have been the only thing was the transmission.

Subaru's CVT

The majority of Nissan Cube’s, as well as a number of other Nissan’s, now come standard with a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission).  CVT transmissions are operated the same way as a traditional automatic transmission but it’s the guts of the thing that are different.  Rather than having planetary gears and different gear ratios that operate at varying speeds most CVT transmissions are composed of two opposing cone shaped shafts that are connected by a metal chain or belt.  Depending on the engine speed and driving conditions the two cones will move closer or farther apart which causes the belt to ride higher or lower on the cones.  The result is constant application of power to the wheels; because there are no gears to go through there is no interruption in power.

From the driver’s perspective, especially one that is accustomed to slushboxes (automatics) and the ever-endangered row-it-yourself standard transmission, the CVT is horrendously boring to drive.  When you floor a car with a CVT there is no hesitation followed by sudden rushes of neck snapping acceleration as you would expect from an automatic, instead you are rewarded with a constant wave of increasing power.  You don’t have to worry about down shifting or what rpm you’re running at either; you just push the pedal and listen to the constant drone of the engine.

Maybe it’s the control freak in me but couldn’t get over the CVT transmission in my spin with the Cube.  I have loved cars all my life and while CVT transmissions may offer better fuel economy and acceleration they are just too bland to be accepted by this lifetime enthusiast.  Leave the CVT’s for those who only desire point a to point b transportation and those with neck injuries.  I’ll sacrifice a little fuel-economy to be more involved in doing what I enjoy doing the most and that’s driving!

While CVT’s do have their place in the automotive industry and are being used by many manufactures such as Subaru, Nissan, Audi and Ford, they need to be kept out of cars that are drivers cars.  One of the greatest tragedies in the industry is that of the Nissan Maxima.  Once known as the 4DSC (Four Door Sports Car) the Maxima was competitive with the likes of BMW and Mercedes-Benz when it came to sport sedans.  Now the Maxima is only available with a CVT, the car is gorgeous and has great potential but it’s horribly hindered by two cones and a chain.  Give it a stick and six ratios and you’ll see me driving a Maxima once again.



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