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Anthony Fongaro

Please Stop Using CVT Transmissions!

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A friend of mine has a 2016 Subaru Legacy 3.6R. It’s a very safe car, has a good interior, and a rather weak engine. Oh, it also has a CVT or continuously variable transmission. When I talked with him while he took me for a spin, he told me he doesn’t mind the CVT and it is smooth for his Lyft passengers. While being a passenger in his car, the CVT did act like a conventional transmission, although it did dip in the rev range lower than usual. Then he floored it. Drone. It stayed at 3,000 RPM for at least five minutes. It was extremely annoying, but not surprising. Let me explain how a CVT works, and how I think manufacturers need to stop using them.

Nerd moment approaching. You will learn many facts and you are welcome. As a surprise, a CVT is an automatic transmission. Manufacturers use this to improve fuel economy. What isn’t surprising is how they work. Instead of using traditional gears, a CVT uses a combination of pullies that are connected by a belt and “steps” . Steps are artificial gears which are preset and made so buyers feel like they’re getting a convenient transmission. Some CVTs, especially in hybrids, tend to not have steps to maximize fuel economy. They are more less compared to traditional transmissions, even 10-speed automatics, but manufacturers think they are worth it. Are they?

I do have to point out the positives, no matter how much I dislike this transmission. They can be smooth. Since there is no actual shifting, when a CVT wants to behave, acceleration can feel less jerky compared to a traditional transmission. CVTs have infinite ratios, so they can find the right…ratio…to assist not only with seamless power. They do help with fuel economy which is part of the reason why most Toyota hybrids have forgone the traditional automatic transmission in favor of the CVT. 

Positive points over, let’s shift to what I hate about the CVT. First, You won’t find a CVT in a powerful car over 300 HP. They just can’t handle all that power!  Like I said in the first paragraph, they can drone and be almost obnoxiously loud. I once drove a Honda Accord Hybrid in Colorado, and it decided to stick to 4,000 RPM at 60 mph. For 2 hours. Needless to say, the average sounding sound system was necessary to drown out the noise. My biggest issue with any CVT is that it robs the driver of spirited and fun driving. I have never driven a CVT, gotten out of the car, and said “Wow, this was really fun. I’m glad that this engine and transmission combination exist.”

Now, which companies are the biggest culprits? Japanese companies. Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, and Honda all use CVTs in mostly all their vehicles, and in all of their hybrids. A few other companies such as Audi will use a CVT in their cheaper models, but most of their cars use dual-clutch automatics or traditional automatics. A disappointment of a vehicle created with a CVT is the Infiniti QX50. It is a handsome looking vehicle with a unique turbocharged engine and…a CVT. Basically, it’s ruined because of the CVT. 

I understand why manufacturers use CVTs    due to how smooth it can be along with the increase in MPG , but they just seem to ruin the cars. I don’t understand why they can’t use dual-clutch automated manual or 8-10 speed automatics? These transmissions are getting better all the time. Manufacturers, stop with the CVTs! They are not necessary! Just use regular transmissions! They can return similar MPG, drive smooth, and won’t stick to 4,000 RPM for 2 hours while in Colorado.  I can safely say that I hate the CVT, and I think that I’m not the only one. 

Have you driven a vehicle with a CVT and either liked or disliked it? Did you decide not to buy a vehicle with a CVT or were you sold on the two benefits it has? Let us know in the comments below and follow us on social media.
 


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Maybe CVTs are cheaper to build and maintain than a 8-speed or 10-speed traditional automatic.  That does NOT mean the CVT is a good idea.

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Drove a 2016/17 Jeep Compass (old body style) with a CVT from NC to Arizona. I would not wish that POS on my worst enemy. Apparently makers and sellers of CVTs believe that people are never going to have to suddenly accelerate to pass slower moving vehicles. 

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9 minutes ago, riviera74 said:

Maybe CVTs are cheaper to build and maintain than a 8-speed or 10-speed traditional automatic.  That does NOT mean the CVT is a good idea.

I believe they are considerably cheaper to R&D and then something with 8-10 ratios. 

Ford and GM plopped out CVT's in the past year or two as well. I don't remember what GM put it in, maybe the Cruze? I believe Ford is putting it in the new Escape with the base engine.. 

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Of the non-luxury or premium brands I think only Mazda, Toyota (e-CVT hybrid aside which is quite different) and the Korean brands don't have them so far?  Drove 2019/2020 Subarus recently and the CVT's were actually pretty responsive.

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, frogger said:

Of the non-luxury or premium brands I think only Mazda, Toyota (e-CVT hybrid aside which is quite different) and the Korean brands don't have them so far?  Drove 2019/2020 Subarus recently and the CVT's were actually pretty responsive.

 

 

 

The entry model Kia Soul comes with a CVT now. Not sure about the rest of the Kia lineup. 

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4 hours ago, frogger said:

Of the non-luxury or premium brands I think only Mazda, Toyota (e-CVT hybrid aside which is quite different) and the Korean brands don't have them so far?  Drove 2019/2020 Subarus recently and the CVT's were actually pretty responsive.

 

 

 

The Kia Soul and the Kia Forte have CVTs.  C-HR and Corolla use CVTs. 

And @ccap41, it's the Malibu that got the CVT.

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4 hours ago, Drew Dowdell said:

The Kia Soul and the Kia Forte have CVTs.  C-HR and Corolla use CVTs. 

And @ccap41, it's the Malibu that got the CVT.

Yep, it's the base model 1.5L I4 Malibu that has the CVT, had one with National not too long ago, higher end models have the new 9 spd AT. I hate CVT's, but it wasn't as slow to ramp up like a Jeep Compass I had to rent one time it was horrible! It seems like the CVT helps the small 4 banger turbos ramp up easier without as much turbo lag. It's a cost cutting thing too, when they go out they just swap them out over the cost to rebuild or trying to repair one.

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I was reading an auto forum article on CVT swap outs by dealers when they fail.  The prices were all over the map!  The most reasonable one I heard was when talking to a service advisor at a Nissan dealership when driving along I-5 in Washington state and pawing cars.  He said that, on a Sentra, for example, the R&R for that CVT was about $3,200.  Other quotes people offered in this forum article were much higher and the people posting were justifiably furious.

Also, I thought CVTs were simple, based on the simplistic diagram you see.  The transmission case is fairly lengthy and the cut-away shows a lot more parts than I previously thought.

When you go from a CVT back to a step gear automatic transmission, it makes you appreciate the geared automatic that much more.  In Europe, they are called DSGs (something to do with the dual clutch that's inside them) and, after a decade, they shift smoothly ... at last.  In small cars, they tend to have 6 and sometimes 7 speeds/gears.

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DSGs used to be fairly common in Audis and other VW cars a few years back.  I wonder if VW Group still uses DSGs rather than CVTs.

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Posted (edited)
24 minutes ago, riviera74 said:

DSGs used to be fairly common in Audis and other VW cars a few years back.  I wonder if VW Group still uses DSGs rather than CVTs.

I think the only VW that used the DSG was the GTI/Golf R. It still does, I believe. 

Oh, the GLI does as well. 

Edited by ccap41

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, riviera74 said:

DSGs used to be fairly common in Audis and other VW cars a few years back.  I wonder if VW Group still uses DSGs rather than CVTs.

As rentals, I had both a small Volkswagen and a small Citroen, and both had the letters DSG etched onto the console mounted transmission lever.  The shift quality was very good.  When I first rented an automatic car (a Smart for two to save money) in the early 2000s, the shift quality was horrible.  Still, in Europe, I'd gladly take a crappy automatic to a stick shift, given the way they drive in places such as Italy.

Edited by trinacriabob

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A DSG is a different animal than an automatic.  It would be more accurate to describe it as an "Automatically shifting manual transmission".  They're good for sports cars, but they have their faults in situations like stop and go traffic where they can get grabby and jittery. 

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33 minutes ago, Drew Dowdell said:

A DSG is a different animal than an automatic.  It would be more accurate to describe it as an "Automatically shifting manual transmission".  They're good for sports cars, but they have their faults in situations like stop and go traffic where they can get grabby and jittery. 

Hence, the dual clutches.  I was surprised at how nicely they shifted. I only had an issue with the VW once, where it gave me a strange message.  I'll have to review these cars and post the photos.

Are DSGs fairly reliable?  Hopefully, they're better than CVTs. The American Ford Focus apparently used technology like the DSG and its transmission was not something I would want, given a few rentals.

Incidentally, I just noticed that Hyundai has also gone the CVT route.  Their Accent, for one, has shelved the 6 speed automatic for their CVT which they call IVT (Intelliseam Variable Transmission).

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1 minute ago, trinacriabob said:

Hence, the dual clutches.  I was surprised at how nicely they shifted. I only had an issue with the VW once, where it gave me a strange message.  I'll have to review these cars and post the photos.

Are DSGs fairly reliable?  Hopefully, they're better than CVTs. The American Ford Focus apparently used technology like the DSG and its transmission was not something I would want, given a few rentals.

Incidentally, I just noticed that Hyundai has also gone the CVT route.  Their Accent, for one, has shelved the 6 speed automatic for their CVT which they call IVT (Intelliseam Variable Transmission).

As with all things, DSGs have good models and bad models.  The Focus you mentioned was recalled and had an extended warranty on it. 

CVTs tend to last longer on vehicles with less torque, that's why you see them in little cars like the Venue and Kicks and not big vehicles like Explorer or trucks.  I think the Nissan Pathfinder is the largest production vehicle with a CVT. 

Some CVTs are reliable, some aren't. 

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Anything "automatic" (CVT, DSG, etc.) is mind numbing. Give me a manual gearbox so I can participate in driving.

David

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2 hours ago, ddustan said:

Anything "automatic" (CVT, DSG, etc.) is mind numbing. Give me a manual gearbox so I can participate in driving.

David

That is the Southern European mentality as well.  However, with their stop and go traffic in big cities, they are now starting to like cars that shift automatically.

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2 hours ago, ddustan said:

Anything "automatic" (CVT, DSG, etc.) is mind numbing. Give me a manual gearbox so I can participate in driving.

David

I actually don't mind either, but it really depends on the car. I wouldn't want a manual in a CT6 and I wouldn't want an automatic in a Miata. 

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4 hours ago, ddustan said:

Anything "automatic" (CVT, DSG, etc.) is mind numbing. Give me a manual gearbox so I can participate in driving.

David

Your choices of vehicles is diminishing by the year. 

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