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CVT v. 4 spd. automatic

We’re looking at a new car for '09 with a 4 cyl. engine. Some are hooked to a traditional 4 spd. automatic, and others to the relatively new CVT. Have the CVT’s

been around long enough to prove their reliability? Does one have advantages over the other?

I think they are reliable…HOWEVER…The one thing I HATE about them is that they are NOT serviceable. If you have a problem with it…the ONLY thing they can do is replace it at a cost of about $8000.

They’ve been being experimented with and tested for about as far back as I can remember. But in truth I don’t think they’ve been around in the real world long enough in enough quantity that they’ve developed enough empirical data. Not being a risk taker, and being one who prefers the tried-and-true, I’d opt for a traditional 4-speed, but I certainly cannot fault someone for wanting to try the new technology.

There’s a theoretical advantage in that the engine can always be operating in its “sweet spot”, but I don’t know how it works out in practice.

What make model is this car exactly? Most new cars these days have 5 or 6 speed automatics, some even have 8. I rented a car with a CVT transmission last year when I was skiing in Utah. The Dodge Caliber, appalling car, very little power, cheap/poorly fitted interior, bad seats, unremarkable handling, and the engine sounded like an asthmatic donkey wheezing through a drinking straw. It really was that bad. It’s only redeeming quality was that it returned an impressive 30 MPG despite my flogging. Anyway, this car had a CVT. I didn’t care for it as it operates in such a way that upon acceleration the RPM’s shoot up and stay high (usually near the engines torque or HP peak) until you let off the gas. It does a take a little getting used to, and I imagine in a better car it wouldn’t be as annoying.

Overseas many cars have CVTs, but they are almost always the very small sub-1000cc cars that you never see in the states. You never saw CVT's in normal-sized cars because they use to have very low tolerances for power; the transmissions just weren't strong enough to handle a bigger engine, largely due to the band connecting the two pulleys/drums. But these days some of that has been overcome, and you can get full sized cars with them. But in real world use a 5 or 6 speed automatic will get you better fuel economy, and will be cheaper to fix should something go wrong.

If you are fascinated by new things, you will like the way a CVT operates, but it is not always reliable and it has a computer that needs more testing. It is a great idea. My 03 Saturn Vue had great power from the 2.2 engine and got 29 MPG on the highway. The transmission needed warranty work twice in the 30,000 miles that I drove it. I got rid of it because I couldn’t stand the seats.