Cvt Vs. Automatic Transmission

by Hunkar Ozyasar

Technically, both classic automatic transmissions and CVTs are automated transmission systems. Neither type of gearing solution uses a clutch pedal, and the vehicle's on-board sensors make all gearing-related decisions. However, important differences exist between these systems.

Automatic Tansmission

A classical automatic transmission has a fixed number of "forward speeds," or gear ratios. Much like in a manual car, an automatic vehicle engages first gear for launch and moves up through the gears as speeds climb. However, in an automatic, the vehicle's sensors and computers manage this process.


Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) does away with a fixed number of gears. Instead, two adjustable pulleys can infinitely adjust the gear ratio in extremely small increments. A CVT-equipped vehicle can start moving at an engine speed of 3,000 revolutions per minute (rpm), for instance, and maintain this engine speed at all times---even at highway speeds.


The lack of fixed gear ratios in CVTs allows engine speeds to vary much less. Such systems are also smoother, as no gear changes occur. CVT-equipped vehicles can be more fuel efficient, as the engine can maintain the ideal rev range at all times. However, CVTs are complex systems and cannot handle as much torque as conventional auto boxes.

About the Author

Hunkar Ozyasar is the former high-yield bond strategist for Deutsche Bank. He has been quoted in publications including "Financial Times" and the "Wall Street Journal." His book, "When Time Management Fails," is published in 12 countries while Ozyasar’s finance articles are featured on Nikkei, Japan’s premier financial news service. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Kellogg Graduate School.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera shifter image by Brett Bouwer from