Life with the CVT auto in the Qashqai has its little surprises, and one comes up when you’re going downhill.
IF WE overlook Mazda’s 45-year detour with the rotary, it would seem the world’s automotive manufacturers are pretty much unanimous on the preferred fundamentals of combustion engine technology. Whether it’s petrol or diesel, Atkinson cycle or Otto cycle, the core design remains common across the board: reciprocating pistons and rods driving a crankshaft.
Interestingly, no such unanimity has been arrived at with automatic transmissions. Torque converters, dual-clutches, automated single-clutches and continuously variable ’boxes all currently litter the automotive transmission landscape.
Nissan has opted for a CVT in the Qashqai, pushing the line that it’s lighter than a torque converter, and more efficient. Fair enough; the CVT has undergone a bit of a resurgence over the last decade or so, and Subaru, Mitsubishi and Audi, among others, would seem to agree there’s real merit to the design.
One of the main CVT drawbacks, though, has been a tendency to make the engine sound a bit droney, because they are designed to keep the engine in the optimum power and torque band, depending on throttle position and road speed. Nissan, like some of the other CVT adherents, attempts to reduce this droning by calibrating ‘steps’ into the Qashqai’s transmission map, and it mostly works pretty well.
But there are three areas where the Qashqai’s CVT could do things better.
First up, there are no paddles, and moving the lever over for manual shifting sees its selection direction arse-about, with pulls backwards taking you down the seven ratio steps, not up.
Then there’s the off-throttle mapping when you’re coasting downhill. Often, instead of ‘upshifting’ (or is it ‘upbanding’?) and dropping revs, the Qashqai figures the throttle is shut, no fuel is being burnt, so it may as well just rev its little bum off to avoid the need for a downchange when you want to accelerate again. I guess the logic is reasonable; it just doesn’t make for very relaxed cruising on undulating backroads. Non-enthusiast passengers cast me nervous glances, as if I’m deliberately building a big stash of revs with which to unleash hell on the next ascent.
And finally, back in the urban grind, it occasionally stumbles as you come to a near-standstill and then need to accelerate again, as if it hasn’t found the lowest ratio that’s actually needed for smooth progress.
Perhaps the lack of consensus as to the best auto transmission design is because finding one that can do everything brilliantly remains an elusive box of tricks.
Home on the range-finder
BRIMMING the diesel tank, resetting the trip and seeing an estimated range of more than 700km continues to ignite my little inner glow-plug. I still haven’t taken the Qashqai for an extended freeway run, so given the stop-start-curse-the-traffic nature of my current use, the mid-eights consumption feels entirely reasonable.
Read part 1 of our Nissan Qashqai long-term car review.