CVT – Work Of The Devil

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of CVT – continuously variable transmission – gearboxes. Normal automatics are fine and the good old fashioned stick shift does me nicely; but CVT? No thanks. A car with CVT has the mark of evil upon it. Unfortunately, there are some new cars around that persist with the idea.

I only partly the car manufacturers of course; they are constantly under attack from the dark side. At any given time some Brussels Suits will pop their heads over the parapet and squeak demands for more economy and efficiency from auto engines before ducking back down again and nipping off for a sumptuous three-hour lunch.

A CVT ‘box is one that can change seamlessly through an infinite number of effective gear ratios between minimum and maximum. It’s not a new idea and can come in various guises. Manufacturers have tried it before as anyone who still remembers the Daf range from the middle of the last Century will tell you.

CVT may be efficient and it may be cheaper to manufacture but that doesn’t guarantee a good drive. The theory is that CVT is the ideal gearbox – your car is always in just the right gear for all of the circumstances all of the time yet the ‘feel’ of the thing just seems wrong.

It’s hard to put into words; for me there’s always that sense of a tightly wound elastic band. The system is supposed to keep the engine in its power/efficient sweet spot but the downside is the disconnected feeling when accelerating. You can’t relate the sound of the engine to a sensation of speed. CVT ‘boxes can feel sluggish as if something is slipping. Every hate-filled moment testing some otherwise excellent cars has simply reinforced my opinion that CVT sucks all the pleasure out of driving. They are ideal for people who don’t like driving and who can’t be doing with changing gears.

Among new vehicles with automatic transmissions, more than ten percent now have CVTs, and that percentage is growing each year and it’s not just niche models. Nissan, Subaru, Lexus and others all have the option. It is said that fuel efficiency gains are as good as those achieved by the new eight and nine-speed automatics which is why some companies are revisiting them.

What’s not mentioned is cost. The simple fact is that CVT costs less and is thus more profitable. What is also not mentioned – and to be fair may not be the case now – CV transmissions had a habit of breaking in earlier cars, usually just after the warranty had expired.

The unfortunate fact of life is that regardless of grumbling gits like me, buyers are likely to see this work of the devil being increasingly available. Car makers know that there is some considerable resistance to this technology and will no doubt work on artificial ways to bring back that sense of proper driving – that we are in the ratio we want to be at any given time. Ones thing’s for sure – there will come a time when we won’t have a choice.

Geoff Maxted