Is a CVT any good?
THE STARTER - Lord Seno (The Freeman) - December 10, 2018 - 12:00am

The decline of the sales of the stick shift transmission has been mainly attributed to the ease of operation of the automatic transmission. The manual transmission still has the upper hand as being more durable and more importantly, more fuel efficient. Not up until the introduction of the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).

Imagine the CVT like a scooter’s gear system. It’s made up of a pulley system, with cones at each pulley, all connected by a chain belt. These cones move closer together or farther apart to increase or decrease the diameter at which the belt operates. The ratio here is important, and is selected automatically based on factors read by the sensors through throttle position, vehicle speed and engine speed.  What all this means is that a CVT is computer controlled transmission that precisely matches ratios to find the perfect combination for speed, fuel efficiency or both.

The feel of a CVT can be odd. The rpm of the engine can fluctuate a lot while driving, especially when accelerating or going up a steep road. A friend actually told me his new car was hunting gears going up the hill, it felt like it was confused on what gear to use. That is the CVT finding the perfect combination for taking the incline.

Many cars nowadays are being sold with CVTs instead of traditional automatics, mainly because of their fuel efficiency. In fact, the newer cars  using CVT transmissions are nearly as efficient as manual transmission equipped cars.

Still, CVTs are having a tough time breaking into the market. Many drivers don’t like the odd feeling of driving a CVT.  The odd feeling makes the owner question the reliability of the transmission.  Additionally, CVTs are known to break in higher horsepower and torque engines.

Lastly, not all CVTs are well equipped to deal with heavy duty load and its reliability under extreme conditions has yet to be tested. A friend who used his CVT equipped mini SUV frequently, transversing the Trans Central Highway to work. at 80,000+ kms,  encountered CVT problems, mainly noise coming from the transmission.

In summary, there are a few advantages to getting a vehicle with a CVT: its ease of operation is matched with fuel efficiency.  A modern CVT gives a relatively smooth gear shifting, and is versatile enough for daily driving. It also has a few drawbacks that I’m sure the automotive engineers are working on. Yes the CVT is nowhere near as fun or engaging as manual transmission or a semi-automatic dual clutch gearbox.

Keep these points in mind when looking at your next car. Knowing the extent of your use will make or break the purchase of your CVT equipped car.

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