Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT): Are they any good? Know which brands make them right

Its widespread use is so common it’s hard to find a major car manufacturer that doesn’t offer them in one of their car models. I’m referring to the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that manufacturers increasingly favor to improve the fuel economy of their models.

Audi, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Jeep, Nissan, Subaru, Toyota, and more utilize CVTs as the standard automatic transmission on most vehicles. Some carmakers have been doing so for many years, so whether you like it or not, CVTs are here to stay. Moreover, these transmissions offer superior fuel efficiency and are perfect for city driving. But before we start, let’s take a closer look at what makes a CVT a CVT.

What is a CVT?

A Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is an automatic transmission that constantly and seamlessly shifts through an unlimited number of gear ratios to make the engine run more efficiently. They are also known as “single-speed” or “shiftless” transmissions.

Instead of a set number of fixed gears, a CVT automatic transmission changes gear ratios by varying the width between pulleys connected via a belt. This explains why the term ‘virtual ratios’ describes CVTs that offer manual shifting functions. In other words, the fixed gear ratios are replaced with a constantly varying speed setting to choose from, thus eliminating the ‘gear hunting’ and shift shock (the jerking sensation when the car changes gears) common in regular automatic transmissions.

Since it shifts seamlessly, some drivers find the experience of driving a car with a CVT somewhat disconcerting. The vehicle’s speed is increasing, but the noise from the engine is not in sync. But that’s precisely how CVTs are designed to work since it continuously adjusts the gear ratio to maintain the engine speed (rpm) at their optimum range.


CVT Transmission Pros

  • Outstanding fuel economy
  • Smooth driving sensation
  • Familiarity and easy to use
  • Most CVTs are reliable


CVT Transmission Cons

  • Different feeling. The “No-shift” feeling takes getting used to
  • Some CVTs have poor reliability


How long do CVTs last?

A CVT can last just as long as a traditional automatic transmission and is designed to last the vehicle’s entire life. A typical CVT has a life expectancy of at least 100,000 miles. Specific models, like the Toyota Prius, commonly last well over 300,000 miles. Like all vehicle components, some CVTs have a better life expectancy than others when properly maintained.

CVTs have become more reliable over the years as the design has been tweaked and perfected. With automakers investing more money into CVT technology, the lifespan is expected to grow over the next few years. The CVT will last longer by following the maintenance service recommendations in the owner’s manual.

Are CVTs reliable?

A continuously variable transmission is very reliable and usually lasts a long time. Many people believe that CVTs are more reliable than the standard automatic transmission, which is why they are becoming increasingly popular.

So, which CVT is good?

Many car manufacturers offer CVT transmissions, but who makes the best? Here are the CVTs from some of the top car manufacturers.

Toyota CVT

Toyota Direct Shift CVT features performance and fuel efficiency by combining the most efficient parts of a conventional transmission and CVT. It utilizes the first gear of a standard transmission, helping the vehicle accelerate more quickly. Once it reaches the speed where the CVT transmission is better, it changes to work like a CVT. Toyotas with direct shift CVT include the Corolla, Camry, Raize and Corolla Cross.

Benefits of the Direct Shift-CVT include:

  • Incredible shift speed
  • 6% fuel efficiency improvement
  • Improved belt efficiency
  • 15% increase in ratio spread
The Toyota Direct Shift-CVT

Honda CVT

Honda Control is a unique feature of Honda’s CVT. The car automatically detects “sporty” driving (i.e., down a winding road) and will maintain a higher engine speed. By maintaining a higher engine speed, the vehicle improves the smoothness of the ride amidst deceleration and acceleration. Some examples of Hondas with this CVT feature include the CityCivic, BR-V, and HR-V.

Benefits of the Honda CVT include:

  • Improved fuel economy
  • Smoother gear changes for a smoother ride
A Honda CVT

Subaru CVT

Subaru offers CVT for several models where it is paired with its boxer engine. The CVT provides a unique manual mode via steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Subaru models with the CVT include the OutbackForester, and Crosstrek/ XV.

Benefits of Subaru CVT include:

  • Reduced fuel consumption
  • Smooth operation
  • Automatic Mode instantly adjusts for your acceleration
  • Smoother acceleration
  • Offers manual mode
  • Works with Subaru Symmetrical All-wheel Drive
A Subaru CVT


Many manufacturers such as Subaru, Honda, Nissan, and Toyota rely heavily on continuously variable transmissions in their most popular models. If you are buying a new car, don’t let a CVT automatic concern you, as these have proven to be enjoyable to drive and reliable for many vehicle owners.

In general, CVTs offer smooth driving and excellent fuel efficiency gains. Just be sure to use the proper CVT fluid and always follow the car manufacturer’s recommended service interval, and the CVT will be reliable for years to come.

Source: Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT): Are they any good? Know which brands make them right

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