You’ve seen the acronym countless times – CVT. But, do you know what it means? Better yet, do you know why it matters? If the answer to both these questions is NO, you’ve come to the right place.
What is a CVT?
A continuously variable transmission is a type of automatic transmission that can change through a range of gear ratios more efficiently than a conventual automatic transmission. In technical terms, the CVT replaces gears with two pulleys connected by either a metal belt or chain. One pulley is connected to the engine while the other links to the drive wheels.
As each pulley moves, the belt is forced to ride higher on the pulley, making the pulley’s diameter larger. A larger diameter changes the number of times the shaft has to spin up for each revolution of the engine. When the vehicle picks up speed, the pulleys change the diameter again in order to adjust the engines speed to account for the vehicle’s growing speed.
If that didn’t make any sense to you, don’t worry. Try thinking of it this way – in the past, three or four gears were thought to be enough for a vehicle transmission. These days, though, cars can have anywhere from eight to ten gears, and that is why manufacturers needed to develop a more seamless way to move between them all; hence, the CVT.
How Does a CVT Work?
Conventional automatic transmissions use a set of gears that each have a given number of speeds. Continuously variable transmissions shifts between gears in order to provide the best speed for specific driving scenarios.
Lower gears are for the early stages of your trip; middle gears are for acceleration and passing other vehicles; higher gears are for highway driving and cruise control scenarios.
How Do I Drive a Car with CVT?
Driving a vehicle that has a continuously variable transmission is essentially the same as driving a vehicle that has an automatic transmission. There is an accelerator pedal and a brake pedal, just like any other vehicle. When you drive a car with a CVT however, you will never feel the transmission shift like you do with some automatic vehicles.
The CVT increases speed and decreases when necessary. Heads up, though. When you first step on the acceleration, it will sound like the engine is racing. This is just the CVT adjusting the engine speed to provide the right amount of speed for you to start moving.
What are the Benefits of a CVT?
Your engine needs a certain amount of power for certain situations. For example, your engine will work one way when accelerating up a hill. Your engine will work a different way when it is pulling something behind it – like a trailer. A CVT shifts through the different engine ratios until it finds the perfect speed for the drive.
A CVT means you enjoy a better fuel economy because your engine is working optimally for the situation it is in. It also makes for a smoother driving experience. Finally, a CVT helps deliver more usable power than a conventional transmission, all while maintaining the highest level of efficiency.
Benefits for the Driver
- Stronger acceleration from a standing start
- Rapid & seamless acceleration during merging and passing
- Smooth and quiet at cruising speed
- Always in the right gear
- Huge improvement in the fuel economy
Nissan has since developed its own CVT technology and in 2006 we overhauled our entire powertrain lineup resulting in more than half of Nissan vehicles adopting continuously variable transmissions.
Current Nissan Vehicles with a CVT