What You Need to Know About CVT
These days it’s hard to walk onto a car lot without hearing about CVT transmissions. But for many of us, those three letters are just gibberish. So what exactly does CVT mean, and what’s so great about it?
CVT stands for Continuously Variable Transmission, but that probably isn’t making the proverbial light bulb switch on. The easiest way to understand a CVT is to think back to the last time you rode a bike with gears. When you shift the gears on a bicycle, the chain moves up or down on the cassette (the cone shaped contraption attached to the rear wheel), and changes the ratio at which the bike is propelled forwards. As the chain moves to a cog that is smaller in diameter, the bike travels further for each rotation of the pedals. As the chain moves up the cassette onto a cog with a large diameter, the bike moves slower, but it is easier to pedal.
A CVT operates in a similar way, but in place of a cassette with individual cogs, there are two smooth cones at each end. One cone set is driven by the engine; the second cone set ultimately drives the wheels. The two cone sets are connected by a chain belt. Each set of cones is capable of lateral movement. As one cone set moves closer together, the other set moves apart. This keeps perfect tension on the chain belt, but changes the drive ratio. Since there are no individual cogs to shift into, a CVT offers virtual infinite gear ratios.
In real life, this means smooth driving. The transmission will seamlessly find the right drive ratio to maximize fuel economy or power. Many small cars and hybrids are utilizing this technology to achieve impressive MPG figures. However, if you’re a driving enthusiast, you may find that a CVT is not as engaging as a manual or dual clutch transmission. For casual drivers, however, a CVT may be a great choice.