Well, I just came back from Japan where I had the opportunity to get my first relatively consequent experience with a CVT Honda (a 1.3L 2nd gen Fit in this case). Indeed, in Europe ATs aren't very popular, and CVTs nearly inexistent.
Main Previous AT experiences are: - the 7th gen Accord/TSX with the k24 + 5AT (short)
- previous gen CR-V with K20 + 4AT (long)
- 7th gen Civic hatch with 1.6L + 4AT (long)
- Prius 2nd gen (very short)
- Miata 1.8L 6AT (very short)
- 2nd gen Euro Jazz/Fit 1.3L 6AT (very short)
I have also had a relatively long driving experience with the European version of that Fit/Jazz using a 5MT on the same engine.
So, after about 1000km (600 miles) on nearly any condition (highway, roads, city, mountain-roads, etc.) all I can say it's I'm truly amazed by Honda's latest CVT on the Fit.
To be honest my first encounter with a CVT was on the 2nd gen Prius, and I'll always remind that drive as my worst ever feeling at the wheel of any car... I don't know, maybe it was not so much the trany but the overall Prius package, maybe it's simply that at the time I had not driven any AT car... I have also read reports of reliability problems coming from Asia, just as well as some jerkinesses and sluggish throttle response on other cars that I have never driven.
Right now though, I simply can't understand why would anyone want any other type of AT. A few impressions of my Fit drive while constantly observing/studying the CVT operation (I was really curious about it):
- SMOOTH, this might be the best word to describe it. That thing is simply as smooth as anything can get, and specially when coming from the 4ATs and European's Fit 6AT (automated AT) it's like day and night...
- "Grade Logic Control"? "Gear hunting"? Simply forget about it, this thing revs up and down according to as many factors as one could think of (throttle position, slope, etc.) without even giving you the opportunity to notice it. On the highway, on any slope, it simply keeps on smoothly variating the gear ratio to get the best out of the engine...
- Fast. Well, first of all if you go WOT on the normal position ("D") you get an acceleration ramp that is pretty similar to what you'd get on a regular tranny (and not the typical rev first -> accelerate later approach on other CVTs). Second, if you take the lever to "S" and accelerate the car simply jumps forward faster than anything I've ever seen (and thankfully it's a pretty easy maneuver that doesn't require any special trick on the lever). Sure if you are used to an MT it may not be pleasant to get the "CVT constant moaning", but it can't get faster to react and accelerate than this... Now, it's also very far from the sluggish rev->slip timing I remember from the Prius, this thing really "jumps" as soon as you smash the throttle.
- Impressive FE. Well, I'd always thought MTs still had the edge on the FE department. It might be if given all the proper ratios and driving it properly but... I simply achieved my best ever FE on the CVT Fit. How is it possible? I guess that always having "the right gear" engaged and enjoying the highest "gearing span" I've ever seen (this thing cruises at 1500rpm for 90kmph/56mph on a 1.3L engine !; vs. 2500-3000 on the 5MT) makes up for the additional loses. On my father's Euro 1.3L 5MT it's quite hard to get bellow 5.5L/100km (over 43mpg) whereas going bellow 5.0L/100km (over 47mpg) is a piece of cake on the CVT one. Sure the MT I'm talking about is the heavier top of the line version (with 16" alloys), but still:
- we averaged 4.2L/100km (55mpg) over a 300km round trip to Narita
- ended up the first tank (mixed city/road/highway) at 5.2L/100km (45mpg)
- were about 4.6L/100km (51mpg) when I left Japan past the half of the second tank (mixed city/mountain road/road/highway).
And those figures were achieved on winter time at near freezing temps. Now, probably if pushing the engine the MT would still get better FE on any condition, but most of the time you aren't pushing it anyway... Also, I wish I could try on a MT with a 6th gear as long as the longest available CVT one, but it seems Honda won't provide it...
Now, I wonder why Honda doesn't bring those cars outside Japan anymore (cost?, manufacturing incapacity?, market perception?), but it's truly a pity. I'd still rather have an MT myself, but if you want an AT... (Honda) CVTs all the way !!! (specially if you consider that you can get them with simulated gears for the "spirited driving times"; still have to try that on my mother's Insight though...)