Gearboxes seem to be the differentiating factor for the last few cars I have tested. I champion the new twin clutch gearboxes with their ease of the auto, instant gear changes and all the control of a manual 'box. Not the cheapest way to build a car but my favourite. Sequential manual gearboxes are best reserved for the mechanically insensitive, and traditional autoboxes inefficient. The manual was, until the advent of the twin clutch, the enthusiast driver's choice. Now not all cars are built or even intended for enthusiasts. Their place is transport and their purpose is convenience, ease of use and price. Enter the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) and the object of my recent test, the Nissan CashCow, I mean Qashqai. The principle of the CVT is both extremely simple and mindbogglingly complex.
Two sets of pulleys infinitely vary their diameter, altering the gearing much like a bicycle changes gear ratio by which cogs the chain is stretched over. They generally do this by the sides of the pulleys being hydraulically squeezed together or separated forcing the drive-belt further from the centre or closer altering the gearing. CVT's were the exclusive domain of scooters and low torque vehicles until a decade or so when the technology advanced. Many modern “autos” are CVT's but until recently they were designed to run like autos with fake steps built in to feel more like an auto.
I blame my brethren, the fellow motoring scribes, many who felt the real thing droned, as one would accelerate with the engine running at steady revs while the gearbox changed ratios. A disconcerting thing to experience at first.
Valid? Hardly. I never hear of them complaining of the engine droning as they set the cruise control to a steady speed and the revs remain constant. Being too clever methinks. Every engine has a design specification of optimum revs for each of power and fuel economy. Variable geometry and adjustable cams help conquer the consequences of this fact. Modern Engines are designed as a compromise to run well at varying engine speeds. The CVT opens the door to new design. What if a modern engine is built to run at one optimum speed and a CVT gearbox does all the changing?
One could get massive improvements in both power output and economy. Getting to the point of this article. This is the first car I have tested that has a CVT that behaves like one should. Put your foot down, the revs rise to a point as per normal and then you go faster with constant revs, the tacho just under red line while you magically go faster as the box changes ratio ensuring smooth optimised acceleration. I never got tired of this experience. The car is slightly down on acceleration and almost identical in fuel economy to its manual brother. Oh and they put it in a great family car.
Aspirations of soft-roader 4x4 without bothering with the silliness of complicated transfer boxes and extra driven axles. It also has loads of standard features that normally weigh in as options: Auto-on Headlamps, Rain Sensing Wipers, Climate Control, an excellent sound system.
There is good space and plenty of stowage and the car has exceptional sound deadening for its class.
Well done Nissan. This isn't their only example of a proper CVT and I for one, hope it leads the other manufacturers to re-consider their position on this. Beats a conventional 5 speed auto any day.