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What is a CVT Transmission? Pros and Cons

Published Fri November 10, 2017

continuously variable transmission


If you’re shopping for a new vehicle, you may come across the term CVT Transmission. What does this term mean? And more pointedly, is it something you should buy—or something you should avoid?


Defining the Term


We’ll start with a basic definition. When you see CVT, what it denotes is a “continuously variable transmission—which works just a little differently from a conventional transmission. To a certain extent, a CVT works much like a standard automatic. You operate it more or less normally—sliding the shift lever from Park into Drive, then zooming off! From there, though, the CVT gets a little bit more complex.

You see, with ordinary automatics, there are a set number of gears—so, for instance, you may see a vehicle marked as a “6-speed automatic.” Each of these gears accommodates a certain speed range, so as you start driving faster the car may automatically shift from the first gear into the second, and maybe then on to the third.

With a continuously variable transmission, though, you do not have all these gears. Actually, you just have one. Unlike the individual gears in an ordinary automatic, this gear can handle all speeds. That’s why they call it variable.


Driving with a Continuous Variable Transmission


When you’re driving a vehicle like this, you won’t notice or “feel” gears shifting. You’ll just notice the car getting faster or slower. In that sense, it might make for a smoother ride. The unusual thing about this kind is that it essentially chooses the ideal speed for any given situation and holds it constant—even if you’re accelerating the car. Say, for instance, you try to speed up to pass another car. When you slam on the gas, the car will immediately zoom to a nice, brisk speed—but then it will hold steady at that speed, even as you continue to apply pressure to the gas pedal. So that feeling you get in an ordinary automatic, where you climb through the gears, just isn’t there. Needless to say, driving a vehicle like this is a unique experience, and it’s becoming more and more popular with some auto manufacturers.


The Pros and Cons of CVT


But is this the best kind of transmission for your next vehicle? Certainly, there are some advantages:


– This kind tends to get slightly better gas mileage, especially in city driving.
– The power delivered is simple and straightforward.
– The ride itself tends to be smooth; you never feel the gears shifting, because, well, they don’t!


As for the drawbacks, some drivers will say that a continuous variable transmission doesn’t allow for quite as much speed. Also, some drivers simply prefer the escalating gear shifts to the steady hum of this new technology. Ultimately, it’s up to you—but we do recommend that you drive a CVT transmission before you purchase one!

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