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CVT transmissions - how do they drive and your opinion on them

Hi all,

I know this has probably come up before but I wanted to get some info on CVT transmissions.

I’ve been reading about how they work, and it’s kinda fascinating to me. I haven’t had a chance to drive a vehicle with one (and kinda doubt I would enjoy CVT vs your standard tranny), so I was wondering if anyone who HAS driven a CVT trans car can describe how they drive, how the constant RPM up/down feels/works?

Also, what is everyone’s general opinion on these new transmissions? Like them, hate them? Will they be a lot more expensive to fix/maintain, or will they be more maintainance free?

Thanks for your opinions and info,


It feels more like you’re in a plane than a car. The CVT equipped vehicle I drove was a Nissan Maxmima SL 07’ fully loaded. So it’s obviously a very NICE CVT car. The smoothness is incredible, and the power delivery is wonderful. The RPM thing is a little weird at first but you hardly notice it after a few minutes.

In the case of the Maxmima, with its 255hp V6, the acceleration litterally felt like being in a plane taking off on a runway. With no gearshifting and no fluctuation of torque output (since a regular transmission forces an engine to move all the way into and out of the power band before shifting, but a CVT pegs the engine right in the sweet spot and holds it), floring the Maxmima had the same sensation as when the pilot finishes spooling the turbines and releases the brakes. ZOOM!

I’m sure any CVT equipped vehicle will experience the same smoothness and airplane like feel. You just won’t get the same seat-sucking acceleration with a lower performance car.

All in all, I love it. I’m going to make my first new new car a CVT (if I ever have enough money in my lifetime to buy a new new car.)


Wow, I’m a bit surprised you liked it that much. Now I’ll definitely have to try to test drive one.

How do you think they will fare as far as maintainance goes?


I’ve had the opportunity to drive a 2006 Civic Hybrid with the CVT transmission. It takes a few minutes to get used to not having shifts, but it runs really smooth. Being a hybrid, they have programmed the trans to operate at maximum efficency, but if you floor it, it will hit pretty close to redline and the acceleration is pretty quick. If I had the choice between a regular automatic and a CVT, I’d choose the CVT.

Since they are a new technology, they are most likely expensive to fix, but as for maintainence, its a lot like a regular transmission; the fluid has to be changed.

I think CVT’s will become more popular as more and more cars become computerized and it gets cheaper to manufacture them. CVT’s also need a boost in the heavy duty market. The current CVT’s aren’t strong enough to replace a transmission on a truck.

Some CVTs are programmed to “shift” so it feels much like a standard transmission.

I had a Dodge Caliber as a rental for a week last winter, and it took me an hour to figure why the transmission felt different. It “shifted” much like a standard automatic, but at other times it would act like a CVT, and the engine revs would be near-constant as the vehicle speed increased.

It was a bit weird at first, but after the first day I was used to it and didn’t really pay attention any more. The rest of the vehicle was so horrible it took my attention from the transmission.

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I have a 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid. It has a CVT, and it is an absolute joy to drive. I was skeptical at first, since I’ve been a die hard about buying only manual transmission cars for years, as I typically hate Automatic Transmissions. In short, here are my pro’s and con’s regarding the CVT:

It accelerates smoothly ALL the time.
It’s pretty quiet.
Since there are no gears, there’s a noticeable lack of shift shudder.

You can’t “peel out” with a CVT.
There’s a split second delay before the CVT kicks in when you step on the gas.
If you “put it to the floor”, the acceleration is gradual, much like a boat or a plane.

The things I love about my 2007 Honda Civic Hybrid (it’s my second Civic… my brother is driving my 2000 Civic LX with 180,000 miles, and it has only been in the shop once for a broken window motor) are:

45-50 mpg!
It feels more like an Accord than a Civic.
The CVT makes for some really smooth sailing, um, I mean driving.
The Voice controlled Nav system makes me feel like an old fat Michael Knight.
The Alpine stereo/Nav sounds great.
Did I mention it gets 45-50 mpg?

I’ve never driven one, but from a purely reliability-oriented standpoint i’d be inclined to wait until they’ve been on the market for at least 10 years. The industry has been experimenting with CVT designs for as long as I can remember and then some, and the long term reliability has yet to be determined.

I’m not a risk taker by nature. I like empirical data.

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I learned to drive on a auto transmission, and have also driven manuals, but aging shoulder precludes that these days. Now I mostly drive a 2007 Prius with Continuously Variable Transmission. The MPG is great, but I notice going up hills that I have the old habit of lifting my foot off the gas pedal, as I did on auto trans, to allow a gear shift. I know I do not need to do this with the Prius, but am I harming it in any way? Or simply wasting a bit of forward momentum and therefore gas?

no harm, just wasting momentum, ie, fuel.

Closes friends and neighbors have one in their Honda, and they both (hubby and wife) don’t like the way it feels at all. I’ve yet to talk to anybody who has one doesn’t dislike them.

Our daughter owns a 2011 2.5i Outback, with CVT. Has had zero issues and the vehicle is at 107K miles or so. I purchased the vehicle new and used it for about 65K miles before turning it over to her. I cannot tell the difference between the CVT and our 2003 Outback automatic trans, in terms of performance. I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase another Subaru with CVT.

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@the_same_mountainbik I feel the same as you. A belt that can potentially stretch under wear or even break would cause me concern, especially in a 6-8 speed transmission which isn’t some cheap fix. Then again, if it’s fully covered under warranty and I didn’t keep my vehicle beyond the extended warranty period, I couldn’t care less.

( I have the old habit of lifting my foot off the gas pedal, as I did on auto trans, to allow a gear shift. )

If using cruise control the transmission (automatic) will shift with out any help so why would you lift the pedal anyway.

Perhaps, but I prefer cars that I can drive reliably way, way, way beyond the warranty period. And I do.


Mine is a 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid CVT. My wife’s daily driver.
It did take a while to get used to but now we don’t notice . ( we had to remind ourselves that, on this hybrid, the electric motor propels the car and to forget about what the engine is doing )
in fact . .
While riding in my Expedition, she asked why it was doing this ‘‘jerky thing’’ ?
It was the . .now unfamiliar . . shift points she was referring to !
I , too, am a ‘‘toe shifter’’ and lift on the pedal when I want it to up-shift sooner to get the rpms down sooner.
So, on the CVT
when you ‘‘toe shift’’ . . you will see the rpms drop as you want since the CVT senses that this is cruising speed .
On my CVT it has what is termed a ‘‘low’’ setting. The L on the shifter is not your typical first gear only type low , but an engine braking type setting.
this is what we use constantly around town to adjust best to traffic speed differences without using brakes.
We are so used to that low setting that it seems insane , in the D setting, that the car just keeps rolling so un-restrained when lifting off the pedal , barely slowing as though you’d soon hit the car in front !

I had a 1958 Chevrolet Impala Turboglide. CVT.

?? Wasn’t that a 3 speed?

No, there was a torque converter so that the effective drive ratio varied continuously. But, yes, there were 3 gears hiding inside. You never felt a shift.

All regular automatic transmissions have torque converters. This was no different, it’s not a CVT.

Melott, I can understand the confusion, but that isn’t what a torque converter is. All automatic transmissions have a torque converter.

In order for you to keep a vehicle stopped with the engine running, it’s necessary to have a “loose” enough connection between the engine output and the transmission input for the engine to operate without moving the car forward. To accomplish this, a device shaped like a hollowed-out bagel with vanes inside, filled with fluid, is placed between the engine output shaft and the tranny input shaft. The front part drags the fluid as it spins. When it’s sitting at a stop, the generated turbulence in the fluid is simply dissipated by the transmission cooling system as heat energy. When you press the gas and the vanes start spinning faster, the fluid transfers the front part’s energy and begins to drag the aft portion of the bagel forward, providing input to the transmission and thus pulling the car forward. At a predestined speed, the two halves are locked together with a TC clutch.

A Continuously Variable Transmission is a different transmission design. It consists of cones connected with a belt. The two cones allow the ration to vary continuously based upon what’s the most efficient as determined by the engine demand. It never shifts. There are no gears.

I hope this helps to explain what a CVT is, and how a torque converter is always required by an automatic transmission regardless of whether it uses gears or a CVT. It’s always necessary to enable to engine to run at a stop sign without moving the car forward. I’m sure others will add some detail, as I tried to simplify and may have done so to too great a degree.