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The CVT Revisited – A Full Review

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.

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Written By: Gabe

  • Genessee

    Hi! It’s sooo good to hear that I’m not the only one with these problems. I have a 2006 Mini and started having problems around this time last year (Nov. ’06). The first dealer I took it to said they could not replicate the spiking RPMs 60mph at deceleration. I left and took it in to another dealership (Long Beach, CA) where they have accomodated me until now. I have just hit the 36000 mark and took it in at 35700 for them to tell me that the “play on the RPMs is normal”. I took their word for it, but the problem is back and getting worse. At first it was spiking to a little past 3000 but now is climbing to 4200 and hovers there at acceleration(50-60mph) too. If I give it some gas and get to 70mph it goes back down. If I take it in again it will be the 4th time I have brought it in for this issue alone. And, it can’t possibly be normal since they had “solved” it each time I went in.

    1. November 2006: Could not verify (Assael MINI)
    2. February 2007: Reset Adaptions (Long Beach MINI)
    3. May 2007: Transmission BAD. Replaced transmission.
    4. July 2007: Reset Adaptions. Performed 5 relearn cycles. Shop Forman Test.
    5. October 2007: Stated it was normal but come back if it’s getting to 5000rpms

    Well, I’m debating now whether to keep the car. A friend said I should just sell it after reading the other experiences. It’s a money bomb waiting to happen. They’ve already replaced the transmission, so really they’re going to have to come up with something better when I come it. I’m thinking of crying lemon, but it still doesn’t solve this problem. I love my MINI and don’t want to get rid of it. Demanding a new one seems pointless now after reading about everyone’s experiences. I’ll gladly join the lawsuit too.

    Any suggestions?

    gequiz@mac.com

  • Winnie Poon

    Hi Everyone, If you would like to join our class action against MINI USA, please write me at no2@numba-tu.com. We need all the participants we can get. Lawyers are not hungry unless we have enough people interested. Please also spread the words and let others who might be interested know about what I am doing. My goal is to contact one of the news channels in the Bay Area of California by the end of the month. If any of you out there are interested in sharing your story, please let me know. I hope that this will attract more participants if we get our story out there. Again, write me at no2@numba-tu.com. With everyone’s help, we can surely get the ball rolling and have our justice! (I must have your consent sent to my email. I promise I only keep them on file for the purpose of the class action suit and not for any other use).

  • dusty

    i got a ’07 dodge caliber about 3 months ago and i was really hyped on it at first, then the CVT overheat light came on and the car pretty much came to a stop, it had no pull to it at all, this was at about 70-75 mph for about 45 minutes, i got the problem fixed but a week later it did it again, so i got it fixed again, and now its overheating more than in the past. the other night it overheated to the point where it would only go 20 mph and wouldn’t go up a slight hill. i pulled over to let it cool off, and it overheated 5 more times in a span of about 20 miles. is this normal or whats the deal? it pisses me off really bad…

  • Gary

    Hi All. I seem to be having the same issue as pk and MiniPeter. My CVT issue also while decelerating and accelerating from 80-100kmh the revs go, what I think are somewhat high but at least not in the redzone. What is the adaptive value? I bought mine used with 124k and and other than high revs, seems ok however, only three months so far but I have managed to add 10k to the tally.

  • Synergy

    I have the same problems with hesitation on my recently purchased 2005 MC (non-S) automatic CVT. How’s the class action suit coming along?

  • Jay

    I own an 03 Audi with the 3.0 CVT. The transmission started to hesitate and the tach would start to bob around during acceleration. The transmission needed to be replaced. Audi only puts in new transmissions, a very costly repair. With the new transmission, the original hesitation is gone, but I am now experiencing the “dead spot” hesitation mentioned here by other drivers. If the car is on a hill in traffic, the car shudders and feels like it will stall (never does). Punching the gas gets beyond the point of hesitation and all is fine. Problem is the car is an Audi, and drivers should not have to “get used to” the problem, or worse yet, punch the accelerator to cover up for a flaw. An expensive car driving like it is combusting water instead of fuel is just not right. I’ll be back to a 6-speed in my next Audi purchase (yes despite my bad experience with the CVT the cars are otherwise beautiful).

  • MrN

    Some people here seem to be confusing Continuously Variable Transmission(CVT)with Steptronic and an automatic transmission with Steptronic. A CVT never changes gears. It seamlessly changes though an infinite number of gear ratios within the RPM range. Even when the paddle shifters are used the transmission never really changed gears. The CVT “shifted” if desired(driver is using Steptronic) with software-simulated shift points.

    If you have a Cooper S you do not have a CVT as it was never available on the S models. You have a regular automatic transmission with Steptronic. Just thought I should post to make this information as accurate as possible.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1365900163 Dave Pevsner

    i know i’m about six years late to the party here, but with 99,800 miles on my mini CVT, and me being only the second owner, i think i have some things to share. i do a lot of touch-and-go driving, as i deliver food and pick up supplies for work, and a CVT mini is a great car, for the most part, for all this logistics and delivery work. of course i’m afraid of all the issues that other high-mileage CVTs have, but knock on wood, my engine and transmission are still rock solid after 5 years and almost 100,000 miles of hard driving from two mini-enthusiast owners. and, i’m still averaging over 20 miles per gallon in high-traffic, extremely-touch-and-go driving, despite performing bare minimum maintenance and care to the engine and tranny. after i give my drivetrain a tune-up and fluid change this summer, and trade the touch-and-go driving for more rural driving, i expect to get as much gas mileage as the manual R50 minis, while still having the ease of use and smoothness that make the CVT such a gem. plus, since my mini is both a CVT and indi blue colored, i feel like it’s as rare as a JCW GP, which is a cool feeling in and of itself.

    the only issue i’ve had, interesingly enough, is one that i don’t think anyone else has had. when i put my transmission in sport drive or steptronic mode, the gear display goes blank and ignores my input, rather than showing “SD” or a gear number on the display. MINI USA customer support was useless about it and told me only the dealer can help me, but since i have neither time nor money to take the car in, i just have stopped using sport drive mode and stopped using steptronic. regular drive mode has enough pickup, and i’ve heard that in CVT minis with a SprintBooster throttle upgrade, the CVT spooling or lag, whatever you want to call it, becomes almost impossible to notice, so i’m looking into that.

    final verdict: if you find a good deal on a used R50 CVT, and you can get a test drive to make sure it’s not slipping or going into emergency program mode, buy it. you’ll fall in love quickly.

  • Bill LAwrence

    My MINI CVT just gave up the ghost at 198424 miles. With the cost to replace the CVT Transmission (since they are a sealed unit, that does not get repaired)at $7,000+ it looks like MINI has created a disposable car. Too bad, I wanted to go for 200,000 miles.

  • JIM TIERNEY

    I failed to update this post. The EP problem came back. After a lot of online research, I found that the original Mini battery does not charge above 11 volts dc when it ages. This causes the computer to get confused and turns on the EP warning. I made a copy of all my research and had the Mini hauled to the dealer with the copy. They kept it for 10 days and then “discovered” that the battery was not charging above 11 volts. They put in a new battery for $90.00 (no labor charge). It has run for 3 years now without any problems. Hope this helps

  • Fastfinger

    Mini Cooper CVT is normal mode is almost dangerous in city traffic. Often quoted solution is to start off in Sport mode… SOLUTION is to have start off REPROGRAMMED so that both normal and sport mode have no hesitation. SOMEBODY at BMW/MINI should IMPROVE the CVT by offering an upgrade to flash the tranny so that the normal takeoff works like that of the sport mode and thus avoid that dangerous hesitation.

  • Steven

    The cvt drives awesome, but when the transmission fails, it costs around 8000 to have it replaced only a very few extremely hard to locate people repair these transmission. So Basically if it breaks you’re stuck with an 8k bill. So I’d steer clear of any cvt transmissions. Also i have heard a few stories of dealerships having people come in to have the their transmission computer flashed while under warranty, then when the transmissions fails just out of warranty, they will not help pay. be cautious with these cars, or you could be in for a very hefty bill with very few options

  • Conn

    The cvt transmission on my 2003 MINI cooper has failed rendering the car not drivable. The transmission has always been quirky, but I was assured by the dealer that it was working properly. The transmission slips drastically and makes a very audible whirring sound. The only option for repair is a complete new part install at the dealer cost of $8,800. I have read hundreds and hundreds of identical stories about the cvts on MINI coopers as well as the power steering pump. It seems from research that this part commonly fails and replacing with a defective part at a cost near nine thousand dollars is absurd and disgusting. It is cost prohibitive to keep my car operating and I feel as though I have, as well as thousands of other MINI owners have been sold a defective product worthy of recall.

  • http://na David

    Another CVT bites the dust. My wife’s ’05 Mini has 74K miles and is now a paper-weight until I figure out what to do.

  • http://na David

    Please E-mail me if the lawsuit got anywere: david_lees@yahoo.com Or if you know a person wo rebuilds the CVT in North NJ or NYC area.

  • Georgia

    After 33,500 miles my MC 06′ CVT transmission is done!!!! I was fortunate enough to have purchased an extended warranty and it is being replaced for only a $100 deductible on my part. MINI of Manhattan said it would have cost over $9,500 for parts and labor (27 HOURS!?!?!?!)

    I lucked out but I am wondering if I should sell my MINI before this transmission goes too and then I am stuck with the bill!

    What is the deal? Why is this CVT transmission not being recalled? Is there a lawsuit being filed?

    HELP!

  • Peter Walker

    I have an 03 Mini Cooper that has demonstrated some problems with the transmission during its life, most recently showing EP and EML. Both are transitory but worrying. Since I am in the UK I do not expect that anyone can recommend a good independent transmission expert but I’d like to hear from anyone who has met with success in handling this issue. Mileage is 22,000 – yes, it’s my wife’s car.


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