If you are shopping for a new or used car and see that a car has a continuously variable transmission (CVT), is that a plus or a minus in your mind?
Read our latest article in the CARFAX Car Research Guide: Continuously Variable Transmissions, by Aaron Turpen. The article explains what CVTs are, how they work, and why automakers are increasingly offering CVTs in instead of regular automatic transmissions, especially in smaller vehicles.
A CVT is an automatic transmission that instead of using fixed gears uses two pulleys connected by a steel band, with the diameter of one of the pulleys continually adjusting as needed to provide an optimal gear “ratio” to transfer power to the car’s tires. As Aaron explains in his article:
"The majority of small cars on the market now employ a CVT and with automakers like Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota embracing it across their model lineups. Others are likely to follow as fuel efficiency gains and manufacturing costs for multi-gear transmissions begin to weigh in, especially as vehicles powered by four-cylinder gasoline engines, hybrid powertrains, etc. dominate the market."
The following video from Nissan, illustrating its Xtronic CVT, illustrates how these transmissions work.
According to a Washington Post article from May 27, 2014, more than 10 percent of all cars sold with automatic transmissions employ CVTs, and that percentage is growing.
Advantages of CVT
Because continuously variable transmissions are built with fewer parts compared to conventional transmissions, they are less expensive to manufacture. This savings is passed along to consumers in a car’s selling price. Acceleration stays in a “sweet spot” to minimize wasted power, thus improving a vehicle’s fuel efficiency.
Some folks in social media weigh in on the pros of CVT:
“Initially I was really hesitant about it because I am a Manual guy with two other manual cars including an STi. But after driving it on that trip I’ve grown really fond of it. Its super smooth, easy to drive, does a great job of picking the right ratio for most scenarios, far better than other automatic cars I’ve owned/driven. Gets amazing mileage. I give it thumbs up to the point that if I couldn’t have a manual or a DCT I would take a CVT over a regular automatic transmission now.” —Reddit User, Blindjustice
“CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) provides smooth and “stepless” ratio changes, unlike conventional transmission systems that use sets of fixed gears.” — Nissan Clover Leaf Motors, G+
“Love the CVT in my Outback. Took some getting used to the lack of shifting and the disconnect between engine sound and speed. Compared to my old Neon, the drivetrain is pretty peppy, especially off the line. I had to learn to moderate my lead foot. Now, after some months, I have bonded with the car and I love it.” —Reddit User, Fivetoedslothbear
Disadvantages of CVTs
Some of the criticism of CVTs can be attributed to earlier generations of the technology. As reviewers point out, the newer CVTs are more reliable. Some people find the steady acceleration, and lack of revv or gear changes to be “boring.” There are also questions about reliability as a vehicle’s adds a lot of miles to the odometer, since it’s costly to have to replace a transmission. Plus, some of the initial savings of buying a car with CVTs is lost with the requirements of transmission fluid changes at regular intervals.
Here are some negative comments from folks in social media:
“The sound of a CVT holding high revs gets some getting used to, it’s a lot slower (appx. 1 second slower 0-60 IIRC), It’s a lot more boring.” —Reddit User, aShowofHands
“I don’t like them because of reliability. The belt driven versions can need belts as early as 50k.” —Reddit User, Tattedbuddha
Comparing Hondas, “Guess which is faster……you got that right, the one without CVT transmission.” — Daryl Yaw, Twitter
What do you think?
Do you own a car with a CVT? Share your comments below.