A key advantage of a continuously variable automatic transmission for a manufacturer is that it should cost less to produce than a conventional multispeed automatic because it uses fewer parts. For a driver, a CVT eliminates the gear shifts of a conventional automatic and the accompanying rise and fall of engine speed. Instead, the engine speed changes in linear fashion to an optimum level depending on how far down the accelerator pedal is. Pulleys and a belt inside the CVT seamlessly change the gear ratios without any “shift shock” or delay. It operates similar to a lamp with a dimmer switch instead of a three-way bulb (or in the case of a transmission, four, five or more speeds).
Most hybrids use CVTs, and Mitsubishi, Nissan and Subaru are among companies that use them on non-hybrid models, claiming it improves fuel economy. However, vehicles with conventional transmissions may achieve similar economy through engine technology or other factors. For example, the four-cylinder Nissan Altima with a CVT has EPA ratings of 23/32 mpg city/highway. The Honda Accord, with a conventional five-speed automatic, rates 23/34 mpg, and the Hyundai Sonata with a six-speed automatic earns ratings of 22/35 mpg.
More manufacturers are offering CVTs, but others continue to develop conventional automatics and add forward gears to improve economy, so neither type appears to have a clear advantage. You can learn more about CVTs here.
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