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Which Cars Have CVTs for 2022?

what is a cvt jpg CVT | illustration by Paul Dolan

A continuously variable transmission, or CVT, is a type of automatic transmission that can continuously “transmit” power from a vehicle’s engine to the rest of the drivetrain through an infinite variation of gear ratios. A CVT allows the engine to perpetually operate in its most efficient rpm range for the car’s speed and road conditions. This differs from the system of fixed gear ratios in conventional automatic, dual-clutch automatic or manual transmissions. In broad terms, CVTs are more fuel-efficient but lighter on fun, though they can vary widely with the driving experience.

Related: Which Cars Have CVTs for 2021?

CVT technology dates to before the turn of the last century, but its first production use by a mainstream automaker in the U.S. was in the Subaru Justy subcompact in the late 1980s. These days, Subaru is all-in on CVTs, while Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi also use them widely across their lineups. But some other automakers are using them more, particularly with lighter vehicles and hybrids.

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How a CVT Works

The most common CVT design for conventional gasoline vehicles uses a pair of cone-shaped pulleys with continuously variable radiuses that are connected by a belt or chain and controlled through a microprocessor and sensors. Lumped into the same bag as these CVTs is a different type of variable transmission, often called an eCVT, that is used in many hybrids and plug-in hybrids. These more complicated transmissions (also called “power-split devices”) use electric motors and a physical gear set to function as a CVT, but also to blend power from the vehicle’s gasoline and battery-electric systems.

2022 Cars With CVTs

Below are the vehicles that offer CVTs or eCVTs for the 2022 model year as standard or available. Note that for vehicles with multiple engine options, not all might come with a CVT.

  • Buick: Encore GX
  • Chevrolet: Malibu, Trailblazer, Spark
  • Chrysler: Pacifica Hybrid (plug-in hybrid)
  • Ford: Escape Hybrid, Escape Plug-in Hybrid, Maverick (hybrid)
  • Honda: Accord, Accord Hybrid, Civic, CR-V, CR-V Hybrid, HR-V, Insight
  • Hyundai: Accent, Elantra, Kona, Venue
  • Infiniti: QX50, QX55
  • Kia: Forte, Rio, Seltos, Soul
  • Lexus: ES 300h, LC 500h, LS 500h, NX 350h, NX 450h Plus (PHEV), RX 450h, RX 450hL, UX 200, UX 250h
  • Lincoln: Corsair Grand Touring (PHEV)
  • Mitsubishi: Eclipse Cross, Mirage, Mirage G4, Outlander, Outlander Sport
  • Nissan: Altima, Kicks, Maxima, Murano, Rogue, Rogue Sport, Sentra, Versa
  • Subaru: Ascent, Crosstrek, Crosstrek Hybrid (PHEV), Forester, Impreza, Legacy, Outback, WRX
  • Toyota: Avalon Hybrid, C-HR, Camry Hybrid, Corolla, Corolla Hybrid, Corolla Cross, Highlander Hybrid, Prius, Prius Prime (PHEV), RAV4 Hybrid, RAV4 Prime (PHEV), Sienna, Venza

CVT Pros and Cons

In practice, CVTs operate like any automatic transmission: put it in Drive and go. But they offer some clear advantages and equally clear trade-offs versus traditional automatics; how you handicap them depends on your priorities. CVTs also vary in performance, with some doing a much better job of masking inherent drawbacks.

The primary CVT advantage is fuel efficiency. The variable ratios allow the engine to be kept in the optimal rpm range for the circumstances and load. Another pro is that with fewer components than a conventional automatic, a CVT can be more compact and lighter for the same use case.

The primary CVT con is what’s known as the “rubber-band effect” — a disconnected, nonlinear driving experience. The CVT allows engine revs to rise to the optimal level while the vehicle speed catches up, and the effect can be like pulling an object with a rubber band. A related drawback is that cars with CVTs can have a noisy drone under acceleration as engine rpms rise sooner and stay higher longer.

The vague feel and drone can be compounded by the absence of the upshifts or downshifts you would feel with a conventional fixed-gear automatic. To minimize these effects and mimic the more engaging feel and sounds associated with traditional geared automatics, most current CVTs compromise a little on maximum efficiency with one or more electronically simulated upshifts and downshifts, generally in response to how hard you are pressing your right foot.

A related complaint about CVTs involves a sluggish feel when accelerating from a stop, which is also the weakest point for CVT efficiency. Some automakers use various strategies to try to minimize this, including artificial shift steps, with some even offering paddle “shifter” control. Toyota has gone a step further by adding a physical 1st gear, dubbed a “launch gear,” to the CVT for its 2.0-liter gasoline Corolla and Corolla Cross models. After starting off with the gear, the CVT transitions to its continuously variable belt and pulleys, which then include simulated shift steps. This well-executed design pairs CVT efficiency with near-conventional transmission feel.

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What About Electric Cars?

The motors in almost all current battery-electric vehicles use a single-speed transmission. The relatively narrow rpm range of an internal combustion engine — too slow and it lugs or stalls, too fast and it is damaged — requires multiple or continuously variable gear ratios to maintain efficient rpms for the power needed. But an electric motor produces consistent torque from zero to high rpms and requires just a single gear. Reverse is accomplished by simply spinning the electric motor backwards. While an EV needs only one gear — which also saves weight and cost — it could have more for performance. The original Tesla Roadster had a two-speed transmission, as does the current Porsche Taycan for its rear motor.

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