Continuously Variable Transmissions (CVTs) – How do they work? |

We’ve already talked about various types of transmissions found on cars when we debated over the age-old dispute manual versus automatic gearboxes setups some time ago.

But a “new” competitor (if we can call it that way) is slowly but surely becoming increasingly popular with carmakers from around the world: the Continuously Variable Transmission, or CVT, for short.

Even though the first prototype was devised by Leonardo da Vinci in 1490, the system is just now becoming efficient enough to be employed on cars. Curious to see how CVTs work, what are their advantages and disadvantages and why we’ll see more and more of them on upcoming cars?

Then hit the jump and find out!

Continuously Variable Transmissions do just what their name suggests: they vary the ratio between one shaft coming from the engine and another going to the drive wheels, usually through a metal belt or chain, which slides from various points to other ones.

This is just the most basic explanation, as the multiple types of CVTs, their inner workings and the software used to regulate the process are quite complex, and are best left to the professionals. What’s important for you is that this new type of transmission is replacing older automatic gearboxes left and right.

Why is this paradigm shift happening? Well CVTs have quite a few advantages over automatic and even manual gearboxes. First and foremost, the varying nature of this setup eliminates the jolts experienced by the car, and subsequently the driver/passengers, from changing gears. This means a nice and fluid acceleration, and optimization for both performance (CVTs usually out-accelerate regular automatics) and efficiency (CVTs are some of the most efficient transmissions to date).

Sadly, there are some disadvantages to such a technology. The biggest one is how much it changes the regular driving procedures and experience, which is engraved in most of us. The fluid acceleration and lack of jolts make the CVT-equipped car seem a bit too docile for its sake, even though the 0 to 62 mph times are improved.

This is why carmakers are even offering optional transmission software which marks out specific sections in the CVT as gears, allowing for the impression that you have a regular automatic gearbox, complete with bursts for the “genuine” experience. Also, CVTs are being rigged to slowly start moving the car when the driver depresses the brake, similar to how conventional automatic gearboxes do.

Like with any new technology gaining ground, such transmissions have a long road ahead until we’ll see them in all new cars, as there is still a limit to the power they can wrangle, and the feel they can deliver. This is why CVTs are usually found in city cars or even hybrids like the Honda Insight. But with vehicles like the Mitsubishi Lancer X or Audi using it on higher output models, times are changing.

Overall, Continuously Variable Transmissions seem like the next big thing for the auto industry, but there is a lot of maturing that not even its 500+ year old origin has achieved, yet. Still, look for such setups in new cars more and more in the future.

This has been a part of our RPMGO Answers feature, which tackles various automotive debates or questions, and tries to find a simple explanation or to reveal all sides of the discussion.

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Photo source: Nissan

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Post tags : continuously variable transmission, cvt, rpmgo answers