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CVT Transmissions: A Raphmoe Analysis

Illustration for article titled CVT Transmissions: A Raphmoe Analysis

Good evening and welcome to Raphmoe analysis, where your humble journalist looks at a topic of car culture and writes about it like you've never heard about it before.

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I have driven many miles in a Prius (my parents own the car), and am convinced that no other transmission would work as well with the hybrid drivetrain. It's designed to work together harmoniously for efficiency and acceptable performance, and the damned thing stubbornly returned 45 mpg in mixed driving no matter how hard I thrashed it and redlined it.

There are precedents for performance vehicles with CVTs that are very thrilling (snowmobiles, anyone?), but because we're accustomed to a sharply-escalating engine sound indicating performance in cars, I don't think we're ready to accept them.

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But consider this: most drag racers are automatics, right? With ultra-high stall, non-locking torque convertors, they act and sound pretty much like a CVT. And they're designed for maximum acceleration, right? No reason we can't adapt that line of thinking to performance cars that are made to handle a road course or a twisting country highway, too. It's just going to require a shift in perception about what a performance car should sound like and how much control we should have over the gear ratios.

Now, some of you may be asking me at this point: Raphmoe we want a manual! Well, Manual CVT transmissions would work, and here's how:

I can imagine a set of programmable ratios activated by paddles, which only change upon command, then add a standard, pedal-activated clutch before or after the CVT pulleys.

Hell, you could even take it one step further and introduce a video game-style stick shift, in which the gates are switches that activate the chosen ratios. And you could have different sets of programmable ratios, for surface streets versus highway (or just have 8 ratios, then skip a few when you don't want or need them, though it gets easier to get lost in the shift gates with so many ratios, I'm sure).

Another notch? Have a full auto mode that can be activated when the car is being driven by a valet or if your significant other is a non-enthusiast that doesn't care for self-selection of ratios.

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