The CVT Paddle Shifter Review

Posted by reader James Vandenberg:

The MINI CVT is a fun drive!

We picked up our MINI Cooper CVT in late June, it was one of the first builds to come with the new Paddle shifters on the steering wheel. In the Canadian market it appears all CVTs ordered will now come with the paddles, while they are currently unavailable in the USA.

The CVT has alot of fun in store for those who give it a chance, and I think this is why MINI added the Paddles, to encourage customers to try the CVT's Steptronic and Sports Drive modes out.

In the MINI CVT you push the shifter over to the right to switch the car into Sports Drive (SD). SD is basically automatic with higher revs, giving the car a beefier feel while not having to change gears. >From the Sports Drive position, pushing forward or pulling back will take the car into 'Steptronic' mode. Pushing forward will knock the car into a lower 'gear', pulling back from the Sports Drive position will knock the 'gear' up. The feel of driving in Steptronic is very similar to a traditional manual (but without the clutch). You can drive in SD mode, and when it's time to overtake that SUV, go into a lower gear and overtake without putting the peddle to the metal. Once youre done you can either continue driving in Steptronic, returning to a higher gear, or pull the shifter back to the left and into Automatic mode.

One problem I found with driving in Steptronic when I test drove the CVT MINI, was that instinctively I wanted to push forward to go up a gear and pull back to go down a gear. While the new CVTs with Paddle shifters operate the same way (forward goes down, backwards goes up), using the Paddles this way is totally natural.

Like using the shifter, once you are driving in SD mode you can tap the Paddles forward or backwards to move the car into a lower/higher gear and initiate Steptronic mode. Both Paddles have the same operations, meaning you can Paddle Shift with the left or right side. You can easily operate the Paddles without taking both hands off the wheel, pushing the paddle forward with the thumb to drop down a gear, or pulling it towards you with your finger to go into a higher gear.

The responses of the paddles are very fast, and you can easily change gears quickly and remain in complete control of the wheel. While using the shifter to change gears feels more traditional in terms of your driving position, having the paddles when you want to make a start turning left of right in gear lets you focus on steering and still have the power at your fingers for speedy gear changing.

Design of the MINI Paddle Shifters is one thing I wasnt to keen about when I first saw pictures on MINI2 (before picking up my MINI), but they arent half bad looking in person. While I would have liked having a more discrete solution, they are certainly very usable right now and maybe the decision to use this design was more function than form.

All in all the Paddle Shifters are a great addition to an already very fun car, time to motor.

  • Bartek

    Is the CVT going to be available in MCS ??

  • no – the MCS will have it's own automatic coming 1/05. Do a search to find out more.

  • Jon

    The MCS should not have an automatic. Period, end of story. Anyone complaining that it SHOULD have an automatic is really missing the whole point. The Mini, especially the S, is a gift from the automotive Gods. A responsive, highly tuned machine which give the driver incredible control and feedback. To put an automatic in is an abomination, pure blasphemy. There are those who claim that they have a weak left leg, or can't stand stick shifts in stop-and-go traffic. Well, sorry for you! Why should Mini have to dilute their MCS for you to have an easier commute? Sorry, I am not sympathetic. Suck it up and deal with it, or get another car. You're not worthy.

  • Gordon Murray

    Automatic MCS – Jon you have miscalculated the future for ALL cars. Paddleshift auto transmission is the most significant step forward for any true sports car. Go and drive a BMW M3 with SMG gearbox, Ferrari 360 F1 auto, or any Formula 1 car. The clutchless capabilities of these cars it truly amazing and I for one cannot wait for my MSC Automatic to be delivered in January 2005

  • Gordon – I agree with you on the semi-automatics you mentioned… I've driven an M3 SMG and it is fantastic. However it's worth noting that the MCS will have a normal automatic with a manual overide similar to what is currently available with the BMW 3 series automatic. It's very different than a true semi-automatic like BMW's SMG.

  • Jon

    Perhaps I am more old-fashioned and/or purist with what I want out of my car. I have driven many really bad automatic transmissions. Ones that fail to downshift when I'm trying to pass, even though I've put the pedal through the floorboards. I guess the hatred that I've acquired for anything other than a manual tranny is now also creating disdain for the SMG and paddle shifting tranny's. Admittedly, I've only tried Audi's Tiptronic shifter in an '00 A4, While it was nice, and better than the pure auto mode, it still didn't feel “right”. It was vitual reality shifting, but I prefer real shifting. There's something about mastering shifting in a manual. You get a certain joy out of pulling off a flawless heel-toe downshift in to a tight turn that you can't get otherwise. Shifting with paddles and these so-called “clutchless trannys” still, to some degree, robs you of having COMPLETE control over your car. Yes, they can shift gears much faster and probably smoother than I can, but so what? I would still have to give up some degree of control to these transmissions, something I'm not comfortable with. Maybe I've watched the Matrix trilogy too many times, but I'll never be ready to give up control to a chip, at least not control of my gear shifts. Technology is great, but sometimes, it is better to be a purist.

  • Jon – the Audi tiptronic system is really just an auto with override controls. The SMG is a totally different beast. Essentially it's a 6 speed manual transmission with an extra component that make it's a semi-automatic. It's much much more enjoyable than a steptronic or tiptronic automatic transmission.

  • Joseph

    Will the MCS automatic transmission be similar to the BMW's steptronic transmission?

  • Jan

    We just ordered a MC Cabrio w/CVT. Will it – or will it not – come with paddles? Is that something that should have been selected separate?

  • As stated in the article above:

    “In the Canadian market it appears all CVTs ordered will now come with the paddles, while they are currently unavailable in the USA.”

  • Mike

    My MC with CVT in manual mode is quicker shifting and quicker to 60 then the manual. I know as I have driven both. Also cruises at lower revs at 60-100mph.

  • Jacob

    If the Mini CVT is as good as the FIAT Punto Speedgear CVT, I would say go for it. It kicks-down instantly, in theory is more efficient than manual and you can cruise at 80mph (130Km/h) with just 2000 rpm which makes for comfortable long distance drives… and when you want power, the revs go the the maximum HP rpm about 5500-6000 rpm , stay there while the transimission changes and the car accelerates … nothing like old auto boxes when you would never know if and when it will kick down, or kicking down when you just want to gently accelerate…

    CVT are the way forward… the only reason auto-makers are pushing robotised manual gearboxes (i.e. Alfa Selespeed, Opel Easytronic etc) are because they are cheaper to make..

  • 808state

    The use of CVT’s have been around in japan for years, the vehicles that use them are getting great gas mileage. What I hoped to see was a CVT with full manual control of the ratio. Until then Ill enjoy the Mini and Ford 500 here in the states, and i will build a full manual CVT in Japan.

  • Kevin

    C’mon an MCS with AWD and a true SMG with paddles on the wheel, I’ll take it! That purist stick guy is nuts! It’s called progress…

  • Gordini

    I’ve had my MCS with the 6-speed Steptronic for several weeks now. I agonized over the decision of manual vs automatic. I’m now convinced that I made the right choice. The Steptronic actually has 3 modes of operation. The normal automatic which is pretty mushy and not very fun. You can still manually shift with the paddles or the stick. It will switch back to auto mode if you don’t perform another shift within about 10 seconds. This is very handy for normal commuting when you want to quickly downshift to accelerate momentarily. Move the shifter to the right and it goes into Sport mode. This is still fully automatic but the gearing gets much taller and crisp which provides considerable performance automatically. If you manually shift with the paddles or the stick in Sport mode it goes into the third mode which is completely manual. Once in this mode the car will not shift until YOU shift it. The shifts are very crisp. The Steptronic is clearly the best of all worlds without the hassle of a third pedal. With all due respect, people that think they are purists because they think performance cars must have a clutch are not purists at all but instead are stuck in the past with outdated technology and, in fact, inferior car performance. The MCS with the Steptronic is faster than one with a manual transmission.

  • Actually Gordini – this is a review of the CVT, not the new automatic MCS. That said official data does not back up your claims of the automatic MCS being faster than the manual MCS. Further the official data also shows that the CVT MC is significantly slower than the manual MC.

    Until MINI offers a true auto-manual (like BMWs SMG) the automatic will always be slower due to the nature of the transmission.

  • Gordini

    Gabe, interesting that you mentioned the MCS automatic in an earlier post on this “review of the CVT”. Not to mention the other references to MCS automatic in this thread. Hopefully others that mentioned the MCSa with questions won’t be so negative about getting first hand info about it.

  • I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t meant to comment on the MCSa review we had done a few months back. It was quite positive btw.

  • Gordini

    Nope, I read that one also and found it to be a excellent review. My decision to purchase a MCSa would have been much easier if I had read that review prior to purchasing. Just trying to comment for those that had posted questions.

  • Jace

    I know this is a bit slow now… but as for the unnatural feeling of pulling towards you to shift up and pushing away to shift down; the “video game generation” (ie. me) feel it’s natural because that’s how many arcade games such as Initial D work.

    I think the worst tiptronic layout was in the Mercedes Benz (2002 C Class?) whereby you shifted left-right to go -/+ gears. Mind you I never drove it but I rode in the car whilst my Mum test drove it- in case anyone wondered, we didn’t buy it because there was a 3mth waiting list and she ended up with an X-type.

  • Dilpreet

    I am engineering student and i have designed a CVT system, it does’nt need even paddle shift. I have also some new ideas but i need a platform. Please reply so that i can contact you.

  • Braydon

    Hello, Dilpreet i am wandering about your cvt system you have designed. Would you be able to send me the design so I can see how it works.



  • Dilpreet

    To, Braydon, Please contact me on my mail,

  • I’ve yet to drive a car with a paddle shifter, but they look like a great idea. I bought my first automatic transmission vehicle in about 2003, and not by choice. I’ve got a degenerative joint disease and repeatedly pressing the clutch pedal to the floor in city traffic was increasingly painful. I had a V6 4WD p/u that was a joy to drive but it took a fair amount of strength to operate the clutch.

    I need both an automatic and a vehicle with room for my electric wheelchair (they don’t fold), and I bought the old shuttle van my mechanics used. It’s OK and in good shape. It is, no matter what else I say, an automatic.

    Paddle shifters look like a wonderful option for those of us who have physical problems with our legs but still want to have control over the vehicle we drive. I know what gear I want my car in, and being able to control that part of my car (as well as the other things we all control) is something to look forward to when I replace my current vehicle.

    I’ve always liked the Mini, but I cannot get out of a car that’s that close to the ground. I need a vehicle that has a seat much higher off the ground. For people who are still agile, it’s worth looking into driving a MiniCooper — they are great fun.

  • If the Mini CVT is as good as the FIAT Punto Speedgear CVT, I would say go for it. It kicks-down instantly, in theory is more efficient than manual and you can cruise at 80mph (130Km/h) with just 2000 rpm which makes for comfortable long distance drives…

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