After my initial post about my CVT loaner experience I got several emails saying that I obviously had a MINI with old software and the dreaded CVT stumble (that seems to have been fixed by the current software). Knowing the stumble was an issue that had been supposedly solved on the CVT I tried to not hold that against the car and do a review purely from the perspective of a diehard manual driver. It is worth noting that once the weather cooled down below 90F the stumble seemed to pretty much go away entirely.
As you'd expect from someone who drives manuals on a daily basis my initial thought of having to live with an automatic for up to a week wasn't appealing. That being said I'm happy to report that after almost a week with the car many of my initial impressions have been changed about the CVT.
The one thing that did take some getting used to was the slight pause when you first get on the gas from a stop. It seems that when you hit the gas the computer takes a split second and considers the most appropriate response. However once the decision made and the car is underway it's incredibly smooth. This very slight pause coupled with the fact that the car would seem to hold a gear ratio for a split second once I let off the gas gave me the impression (no matter how incorrect) that there was a rubber band at work somewhere in there – something that once I got used to was very endearing. This also allows more engine braking than you would typically get in an automatic – a good thing in my book.
In passing situations I typically had to plan ahead in terms of acceleration as it seemed as though the CVT needed to “spool” up to get me the power that I needed. However once it did the car had more adequate passing power. Of course all this heavy foot driving was done in SD mode. SD (sport drive) seemed to allow for higher revs and thus more power output throughout the range. I found the fastest acceleration was achieved in this mode by holding the pedal down just enough to not activate any downshifts and then “squeezing” it down. The SD mode also seemed to further enhance the engine braking that again seems to be somewhat inherent with the CVT.
Using the “manumatic” mode took some time to get used to as it seems to in all cars with this option. It's a little odd at first to have to glance down at the center speedometer to see what gear you're using. In fact more than once I made shifts that, to say the least, were inappropriate. Yet after several days manual shifting was fast becoming second nature.
Highway driving was very comfortable as the CVT was able to cruise at 70mph while running lower RPMs than the standard 5-speed Cooper. Of course daily commuting was much more laid back as I was able to simply “point and shoot” where typically I am much more actively involved.
In general the CVT was very impressive with it's inherent smooth operation and great day to day drivability. While I can certainly see how the CVT could be invaluable to many people, personally was I was itching to get back to my manual after 4-5 days. Nonetheless It's a fantastic option for those in the city or who have long daily commutes.