Your Next Vehicle Is More Likely To Have A CVT: Here’s Why Page 4

May 25, 2014
Fiat six-speed dual clutch transmission

Fiat six-speed dual clutch transmission

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Ford has gradually improved the software controlling its PowerShift dual-clutch gearbox that's used in the Focus and Fiesta—to the extent that it's expected to renew its vows with them in next-generation versions. Chrysler, meanwhile, has been withdrawing from plans to put its DDCT dual-clutch gearbox in more U.S. vehicles; after a lukewarm reception, it's only now offered in one trim level of the 2014 Dodge Dart (the Aero), and in the Fiat 500L.

“They’re having a hard time getting these smooth” for U.S. driving conditions, said Fisher. “It’s very confused in the 500L.”

CR recommends staying away from it, as well as from the Ford unit. “Although Ford has really worked hard to get it better,” Fisher said.

Myths versus reality

There’s no reason to believe that a CVT will be any less reliable than a conventional automatic, or have fewer trouble-free miles overall. That's confirmed through Consumer Reports reliability data, which is based on on detailed responses from subscriber experiences with 1.1 million vehicles.

Longevity is another myth; with the exception of some early V-6/CVT combinations, which we shall refrain from mentioning here, there are no indications that CVTs have a shorter life cycle.

Of course, there are some indications that say otherwise. In J.D. Power's VDS—again going back three model years—those owning vehicles with dual-clutch gearboxes report the highest satisfaction.

But it's also hard to say that either CVTs or dual-clutch gearboxes are pushing the versatile, refined traditional automatic transmissions out of the market—especially at the premium end of the market. Fisher points to the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that's used in a number of luxury and performance-oriented cars as an example of just how good conventional automatics can get. Versus that, and some other newer multi-speed automatics, Fisher, argues, “I don’t think you’d point to the CVT and say that it’s superior, in terms of how it drives.”

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Are you sure you won't go manual?



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The percentage of new vehicles sold with a manual transmission has fallen to around five percent—lower by some calculations. That change is easy to see, for anyone who remembers the greater number of manuals on lots just, say, 10 or 15 years ago.

Although CVTs, and even some dual-clutch gearboxes, get better EPA mileage ratings than manuals, a manual gearbox, driven properly, is still the transmission choice with the lowest cost over the long run, Fisher says.

And while shifting it yourself is still in vogue for a certain kind of performance car, manual-shift versions of mainstream models—from cost-conscious sedans to rugged crossovers—continue to disappear from the market at what is (to us) an alarming rate. Meanwhile, there’s no doubt that smartly tuned CVTs will be appearing in more new models.

So do you want a car with gears? Do you want to shift? Or would you rather not even care to notice most of the time? Just be aware that you have plenty of choice in that.


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