For those who might not be keyed in on such things, Toyota (who owns Daihatsu) makes some of the best - if not the best, period - Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs) in the world, the crowning jewel of which is the Direct Shift-CVT.
First introduced in 2018, these Direct Shift-CVTs attempts to, and mostly succeeds in solving the most common criticisms of this type of transmissions, chief of which is the sluggish performance from standstill compared to torque converter-type and dual-clutch automatics. It accomplishes this by incorporating a physical first gear that would bypass the usual belt and pulley, hence its name, which is sometimes haphazardly abbreviated as 'D-CVT'. Guess the more accurate 'DS-CVT' wasn't catchy enough.
That’s where the confusion might set in, as that transmission (called the K120) is still sitting pretty at the top of Toyota’s hierarchy of CVT tech which, given its higher cost and more ‘premium’ feature set, is reserved for its more high profile cars fitted with its Dynamic Force family of engines in certain variants of the Corolla, Camry, C-HR, and RAV4.
In Malaysia, since UMW Toyota has axed the 2.0-litre variant of the RAV4, the only remaining vehicle currently on sale with this Direct Shift-CVT is the Lexus UX. Hopefully, that void will be filled pretty soon with the local arrival of the Corolla Cross later this year.
Despite identical initials, this is not the D-CVT (Dual-Mode CVT) fitted to the Daihatsu Rocky or Toyota Raize, and therefore the Perodua Ativa either (read our first impressions here). Though they do utilise some similar engineering, they are vastly different in terms of the main problem they’re designed to solve.
Where the Toyota Direct Shift-CVT aims to blur the line between itself and a modern-day conventional torque converter automatics by improving response, refinement, and allowing quicker shifts’ between its 10 preset forward ratios, the D-CVT coming in the Ativa is more focused on fuel economy.
Instead of a totally linear distribution of a belt-drive, the D-CVT adds a split set of gears connected to the input and output shafts of the pulley that can be engaged or disengaged via a clutch pack to better adapt to different situations.
At low engine RPMs, this transmission operates as a typical CVT would with the belt drive fully engaged. However, to reduce the rotational velocity of the belt drive when driving at higher engine speeds, which is when the dreaded CVT drone is most pronounced, the gear drive ‘split mode’ is engaged via the clutch pack to lighten the burden and provide a more ‘direct’ and effective transfer of engine power to the output shaft with reduced frictional losses, resulting in lower noise levels and improved fuel economy.
To the driver, and compared to conventional CVTs, the D-CVT mimics the larger spread of gears similar to the contrast between a 6-speed transmission and an 8-speed unit, but in a more lightweight and compact package that’s ideally suited to smaller vehicles and mated to smaller engines such as the 1KR-VET turbocharged 3-cylinder motor in the Perodua Ativa.
It’s a pretty ingenious solution to address some of the same issues that Toyota’s Direct Shift-CVT solves without adding too much additional complexity (and therefore cost) into the equation. This Dual-Mode CVT design can also remain quite compact and lightweight to make it an ideal fit for the Japanese Kei cars Daihatsu is known for, up to even compact B-segment SUVs like the Ativa.
That being said, being Perodua’s first foray into CVTs, the majority of the local automaker’s existing customers will need time to acclimatise to this transmission’s different, more linear, behaviour as opposed to the stepped gears found in conventional (torque converter-type) automatic transmissions.
Thankfully, due to its Japanese engineering background and proven track record in, among others, the Toyota Raize and Daihatsu Rocky, the D-CVT will very likely be a much more pleasant experience compared to the early Protons fitted with CVTs from Punch Powertrain, which ended up souring the first impressions of many Malaysians to this type of transmission.
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