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Which Cars Have CVTs?

what is a cvt jpg CVT | Cars.com illustration by Paul Dolan

A continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is a type of automatic transmission that uses a pair of pulleys connected by a belt or chain to transmit power from the engine to the rest of the drivetrain through an infinite variation of gear ratios. In practice, it functions like any other automatic — put it in Drive and go — but the electronically controlled CVT design allows the engine to continuously operate in the most efficient rpm range for the vehicle’s speed, power needs and road conditions. This can improve gas mileage, but some drivers also find CVT-equipped vehicles less fun to drive.

Related: What’s a CVT?

A CVT’s continuously variable ratios contrast with the system of fixed-gear step ratios in a conventional automatic, dual-clutch automatic or manual transmission. CVT technology dates back to the 19th century, but its first production use in the U.S. by a mainstream automaker was by Subaru in the late 1980s. Subaru remains a major user of CVTs, but Honda, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Toyota also use them widely across their lineups.

Variable Designs for Variable Transmissions

The basic principle of a CVT is to provide infinitely variable ratios between the speed of the power input source and the power output. There are many CVT designs depending on use cases, which range from motor scooters to farm combines.

The most common CVT design for conventional gasoline vehicles uses input and output cone-shaped pulleys connected by a belt or chain. Continuously variable radiuses between the belt position on the pulleys, as well as belt tension, are controlled electronically in conjunction with the engine’s electronics. As a rule, there are no fixed gears, although Toyota has created a CVT variation that includes a physical first gear (the automaker calls it a “launch” gear) to improve performance and feel when starting out from a stop, after which the CVT pulleys take over. This variation can be found in the Corolla, for example.

Another variation that’s used in many hybrids and plug-in hybrids provides infinitely variable ratios but is technically not a CVT at all. These complicated electronic transmissions, also known as “power-split devices,” have been dubbed “eCVTs.” Rather than belts and pulleys, they use electric motors and a physical planetary gear set in order to function as a CVT and blend power from the hybrid’s gasoline and electric motors. Some hybrid and PHEV systems, however, use conventional automatic transmissions.

2024 Cars With CVTs

Below are the vehicles, including hybrids, that offer CVTs or eCVTs for the 2024 model year. For vehicles with multiple engine options, some may not be mated to a CVT.

  • Acura: Integra
  • Buick: Encore GX
  • Chevrolet: Malibu, Trailblazer
  • Chrysler: Pacifica Hybrid
  • Ford: Escape, Maverick
  • Honda: Accord, Accord Hybrid, Civic, CR-V, CR-V Hybrid, HR-V
  • Hyundai: Elantra, Kona, Venue
  • Infiniti: QX50, QX55
  • Kia: Forte, Seltos, Soul
  • Lexus: ES 300h, LC 500h, LS 500h, NX 350h, NX 450h+, RX 350h, RX 450h+, TX 550h+, UX 250h
  • Lincoln: Corsair, Nautilus
  • Mitsubishi: Eclipse Cross, Mirage, Mirage G4, Outlander, Outlander Sport
  • Nissan: Altima, Kicks, Murano, Rogue, Sentra, Versa
  • Subaru: Ascent, Crosstrek, Forester, Impreza, Legacy, Outback, WRX
  • Toyota: Camry Hybrid, Corolla, Corolla Cross, Corolla Cross Hybrid, Corolla Hatchback, Corolla Hybrid, Crown, Grand Highlander Hybrid, Highlander Hybrid, Prius, Prius Prime, RAV4 Hybrid, RAV4 Prime, Sienna, Venza

Shop the 2024 Honda Accord Hybrid near you

New
2024 Honda Accord Hybrid Base
$34,092 MSRP $34,445
Used
2024 Honda Accord Hybrid Base
5,125 mi.
$32,995

CVT Pros and Cons

CVTs have specific advantages and trade-offs compared to other automatics.

Pros

The primary advantage of a CVT is better gas mileage thanks to the variable ratios that allow the engine to run in its most efficient rpm range for the load situation. Helping boost mileage, as well as cutting costs, is the fact that a CVT has fewer components than a comparable conventional automatic transmission, making it lighter and more compact.

Cons

The most common complaint about CVTs is known as the “rubber-band effect.” A CVT allows engine revs to rise to the optimal level while the vehicle speed catches up — a vague and nonlinear experience akin to pulling an object with a rubber band. The Toyota design’s physical first gear (which results in a small loss of CVT efficiency) is an effort to minimize that effect on initial acceleration.

Since a CVT allows engine rpm to rise sooner and stay higher longer, droning noise also can be an annoyance with these vehicles. Many automakers use extra sound insulation to minimize this issue.

Adding to the vague or disconnected feel is that the lack of fixed gear ratios means a lack of familiar upshifts on acceleration or a satisfying downshift when you punch the accelerator for a power surge. Many companies try to minimize that effect by simulating these shifts artificially with the CVT’s electronic controls, and some even add paddle shifters that allow drivers to “shift gears” with electronically preset ratios — though this also creates a small hit to maximum fuel efficiency.

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What About Electric Vehicles?

Almost all electric vehicles use a single-speed transmission because that’s all they need. While an internal combustion engine needs variable or multiple fixed-gear ratios to avoid stalling or lugging, as well as to keep its rpm in the optimal power and efficiency range, an EV’s electric motor produces its full torque consistently from zero rpm and requires just one forward gear (and no reverse, which is performed by spinning the motor backwards). EVs can even have more gears for specific performance goals — some production EVs have had a two-speed transmission, for example — but they don’t need them.

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Photo of Fred Meier
Former D.C. Bureau Chief Fred Meier, who lives every day with Washington gridlock, has an un-American love of small wagons and hatchbacks. Email Fred Meier

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