LOOKING INTO THE FUTURE

— Trying to predict the next new technology for our rides —

By D. West .

The first issue of Dirt Wheels hit the newsstands way back in 1980, and ever since then we’ve been speculating and predicting what the next new technology for our sport might be. Right now, 38 years later, every ATV and UTV seems so good, it’s hard to imagine what new improvements could suddenly develop for them.

If I had to make a guess, I’d look for something different in the CVT style of automatic transmissions. For one thing, they play a major role in almost every 4×4 quad and UTV. All of those vehicles would benefit if there was a new durability and performance upgrade to the function of CVTs.

When trying to predict new mechanical advancements for the machines we ride, I pay attention to what’s going on with other types of motor vehicles. For example, CVTs have been used in automobiles for quite some time now.

For a while, I actually owned a Honda CR-Z two-door car that came with a CVT. One feature it had that I liked were three buttons that changed its performance. I never used the Econo mode, which made it slower than a Prius with a timid driver. I didn’t use the Normal mode much, either, but in the Sport mode, it actually felt like a sports car. The transmission would downshift sooner and stay in a lower gear to keep the revs up. In other words, it had a sporty-style shifting similar to that of the CVT in most UTVs. So, in this case, the car guys were copying us off-road guys. However, they did come up with something new recently that we might want to try.

For the 2019 Toyota Corolla, it has a fixed launch gear incorporated into its CVT. What is that? Well, when the car is stopped and then you hit the throttle, it bypasses the CVT. It’s like an actual first gear of a manual transmission. The car accelerates hooked up directly to that gear until around 20 mph, and then the CVT takes over to start raising the gear ratio with its belt and pulleys.

You may be wondering what’s the advantage of that. Well, as the Toyota engineers explain, it lowers the stress on the CVT. The time when a CVT deals with the most load is right when you nail the throttle at a stop or low speed. The clutch sheaves are trying to grip the belt right when the engine’s full horsepower is suddenly unleashed. As you may have noticed, the CVT and belt of your UTV gets its hottest in slow going situations with a lot of throttle. Once you get moving faster, everything is spinning at a similar speed and there’s not as much load, friction and heat on the belt.

Because of the fixed launch gear, Toyota says they can actually make their CVT lighter. That would be a good thing for UTVs, too, but, of course, there would be some weight added for the extra gear they don’t have now. However, if this makes the CVTs of UTVs more durable and able to handle severe off-road abuse without breaking belts, then it may be worth the additional complexity.

I’m sure that Polaris, Can-Am and other UTV manufacturers have been aware of this new CVT gear system that Toyota developed, and perhaps they’re already working on something similar. Actually, I’ll go ahead and make the prediction that our UTVs will have that feature sometime in the near future.

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