Difference between CVT and Automatic Transmission

Explore This Month's Best Car Deals on our most recent market review.

For a long time, we've been listening that there are two main types of car transmission: automatic & manual. Well, there is a new one and will stay for long: CVT or Continuous Variable Transmission. On this article, I will talk about CVT, and for doing so, I'll be comparing and showing the difference between CVT and Automatic Transmission.

Many people like it, many other hate it, but the fact is that it is already replacing the Automatic one, since a couple of years ago, for some of the most popular vehicles on the market like the Honda Civic and the Nissan Rogue.

List of Vehicles with CVT Transmission

2017 Toyota Corolla - CVT and Automatic Transmission

The 2017 Toyota Corolla comes with the CVT transmission.

Manufacturers with CVT Transmission Vehicles

As many other automotive innovations, CVT "comes" from Japanese manufacturers. If you want to see the full list of CVT supported vehicles, you can visit each manufacturer section in our site:

Good Things

First the first. It has many good things, but just to mention a few:

  • Engine Control: there is never a moment where you lose the motor control on your vehicle. Not a single one. When you hit the pedals, your engine will respond, no matter for how much time you do it and when you remove it, the engine will go down and so your speed.
  • Fuel Economy is fantastic: One of the things you will notice is that while your vehicle speeds from 40km/h to 100km/h. The engine revolutions go smoothly down. While the car is gaining speed, the CTV transmission moves the belts to adjust the conversion of revolutions from the engine to the wheels and then is when the CTV magic comes up (see video below)
  • Smooth drive & Security: Your car won't shake for gears change, the engine will be in full control of your displacement, and for sure it is more connected to the actual results of your car movement. This helps manufacturers to inject force, using the car computer, into the wheels for an improved driving control under particular circumstances sliding or loosing grip of specific tires.

Bad Things

As everything, there are bad things too.

  • Vibrates more than the automatic: Yes and sometimes you can feel that, especially when idle and the engine is cold and trying to reach the performance status.
  • Your Car is always connected to the transmission: An advantage I mentioned before, but for some, this may be a problem, especially people who like driving sportive or manual vehicles.
  • Acceleration from 0 to 100 is slower than Manual and Automatic Cars: Although designed for more "general purpose cases" like daily use, commute, highway driving and so, the "sporty behavior" is one of the things you will miss on a CVT transmission.

CVT is "Automatic" too

For sure! And whit this I mean: a CVT transmission behaves the same for the driving experience as an automatic one. You just set D on the gears and hit the pedal.

The actual experience is something that you should look for during the test drive. It feels like an eternal engine speeding up instead of doing the traditional "jump" of gears that we use to hear while driving an Automatic one.

Understanding CVT

Seeing is believing. This video from LearnEngineering.org is clear enough to get the idea of the internal mechanism. Without the intention of becoming engineers, watching this four minutes video will clear all your doubts of the actual internal difference of a CVT vehicle with the rest.

Understanding CVT!

How Automatic Transmission works

Although this article is mainly about showing CVT differences, it is worth to mention how actually the traditional Automatic variants work. If you see both internally, then the better will you get the difference, understand how these relate and the actual impact on the driving experience.

Automatic Transmission, How it works?

List of Vehicles with CVT Transmission

Not Convinced?

Then just go and give it a try. I'm not saying "I'm an absolute defender of CVT", but it is worth to give it a try. The following vehicles already come with a CVT transmission and you can schedule a test drive to actually experience how it is to be behind the wheels of it:

Japanese manufacturers huh? ;) Definitely the secret formula for Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi...

List of Vehicles with CVT Transmission

More on CVT? The More You know...

If you want to learn more, here are a couple of YouTube videos that are very descriptive in terms of how the driving experiences vary from one transmission to the other and a few things you should never do while driving a CVT vehicle:

Should You Buy a CVT Transmission Car (by Scotty Kilmer)

10 Things To Note About a CVT Transmission (by Engineer Explained)

About the author

Jorge Diaz is a passionate car lover, winter driver & Software Engineer. For the last 10 years, he has built Online Solutions used by more than 5,000 companies across the globe. He founded LeaseCosts in 2016 with the purpose of simplifying and helping Canadians to better understand the complex market of car leasing in Canada. You can connect with him at Leantrepreneurship.com.

Jorge is also the author of Car Leasing Done Right: A Canadian Guide for Understanding & Optimizing Vehicle Leasing Costs, released on Nov. 5th, 2021. It is available at Amazon.ca