CVT Transmissions

Sep 2, 2004
I've always taken car magazine reviews with a grain of salt because the reviewers never seem to care about practicality, cost or anything except sporting pretensions. They always prefer the manual transmissions to automatics even when they are slower and less efficient than modern automatics. I guess its different when you write about cars as your job instead of using your car to get to your job.

But one thing is universal. They all hate the CVT transmission. I've never driven a car with one. My wife's Forester has the regular 5 speed auto. My 2015 Frontier is a good truck, but it has a 5 speed auto and the drivetrain doesn't seem any more refined than the 2002 Ranger it replaced. My old snowmobiles had them but that is going back 30-35 years and well, they were snowmobiles.

Why are automakers pushing CVTs? And why does everyone seem to hate them? My wife is looking at new Outbacks and CVT is the only transmission available.
My mother bought a Forester with the CVT, I've also used them in scooters, snow sleds, a few nissan cars/suvs and a Kobota atv thingy. In everything other than cars they work great. I have never driven one in a car that worked well. The ratios always feel either too high or too low, hills suck, and they tend to be lurchy in traffic. The Nissan CVTs have a fairly expensive service and history of failures as well, don't know about the Subie version though. I think they'd be fine if you're not a picky person just looking for transportation from A to B, but outside of that they do suck in my experience. I would not buy a car with one if any other trans was an option.

I drive stick, and prefer sporty cars that I can auto-x every once in a while, but also have time driving big trucks and trailers and that sort of thing. My favorite transmission is the VW DSG, they work great the VW they are attached to though can be hit or miss...
I think the main reason most auto aficionados dislike CVTs is that, much like an auto, there is a disconnect between driver and car. Manual transmissions give the driver more control. Also CVTs have no shift points which can feel odd if not used to it.
The main benefit of a CVT is that it has the ability to hold the engine at a certain RPM, rather than reving up and down, theoretically resulting in better fuel economy. Everything is about fuel economy and lower emissions these days.
Early CVTs did have issues, yes, but theyre much better now. The most important thing is to have it serviced regularly. Many people neglect the trans. until its too late.
I had an 08 Altima with a CVT. Had over 60k when we sold it without any issues. I also service my transmissions every 30k.
My wife bought the 2005 Ford Freestyle with the CVT when it first came out and she is sad that she won't be able to buy another when it's time to replace it. Not that it needs replacing anytime soon, but cars do age. Not long after the Freestyle came out Ford changed the name to the Taurus X (to cash in on the revival of the Taurus line). Same car, though. It dates to the short time Ford owned Volvo and was built on the S80 / XC90 frame.

Sweetheart loves CVT because of the smooth acceleration and lack of clunky shifting she feels in an automatic. It is not an aggressive accelerator, at least in the Ford, and some would call it gutless. But it will get you in and out of traffic smoothly and carry you down the highway and in city traffic just fine. Our Ford is AWD so it handles the county roads we live on just fine and never gets stuck in snow and ice. It has the stiffness and stability of a Volvo. When I get the chance to drive it, I enjoy it very much.

So in my estimation, the CVT can be a great system, but the vehicle it drives is as important as the transmission itself.

I have a '16 Outback with the CVT, and I really like it, runs smooth. I am very, very happy with my Outback.
As has been said, like automatic transmissions, CVTs disconnect you from the direct mechanics of the car. With a manual transmission, you tell the car what to do and it does it immediately. With an automatic, you can sort of tell the car what to do if you slam on the gas pedal, or shift into a low mode that allows some control of the gears. In a CVT, the car chooses the ratio for you, and has infinite ratios to choose from rather than a set 4 to 8 ratios in a manual or automatic.

The reason it can be frustrating is that the transmission does not respond immediately, but eventually to your input, and it does so gradually. There are some CVT's that have ghost steps programmed into them to mock a traditional automatic, but they lose some of the efficiency of a CVT.

I have always preferred manual transmissions over any other option. I like to have complete control of the car I'm driving, and unless I have a manual transmission, that is never the case. That is no longer popular, however, and it is now much less efficient (wasn't that way for years until recently), so the number of manual transmission options available in the US is minimal. In all other countries, manual transmissions are far more popular for some reason. I think it is because Americans are typically more lazy than anyone else, so they like the easy road with as little thinking required as possible.

Having said all that, I actually drive a car with a CVT - a Ford C-Max hybrid. Given the trade-offs in efficiency that were the reason I bought the car in the first place, I'm fine with the CVT and have almost forgotten about it when I'm driving. The nice thing about this car is that it has above average power and dynamics, so it doesn't feel incapable on the road. That, I feel, makes up for much of the slushiness you experience with a CVT.

If I truly had my choice, I would always choose a manual transmission, but CVTs, even though they make driving a completely numb experience, do a very good job of creating efficiency, which I admire almost equally as a stimulating driving experience.
We just bought a 2016 outback a few weeks ago and the new cvt's are so much better than they were a few years ago.
We just bought a 2016 outback a few weeks ago and the new cvt's are so much better than they were a few years ago.
Congrats! Me too. I got mine on 3/4. What color did you get? I bought the Twilight Blue Metallic.
I have a 2010 Subaru Outback with CVT transmission failed. it has 120,000 miles, and i was quoted almost 6k to get the transmission replaced.
I drive a standard Impreza which I love. My wife just got a 2016 Forrester CVT and, as much as I like mine, hers is suuuuuuper smooth!
My whole life I've driven manual transmission and had never owned an automatic car until my recent purchase, a 2016 WRX.

I was a bit reluctant at first and had no previous experience with CVT. The main reason for getting an automatic/CVT transmission is that my wife doesn't drive stick and both of us need to be able to drive the vehicle. In short, I like it. Do I miss my MT? Often times I do, but living in California where traffic is constant stop-n-go, it makes me appreciate automatic even more.

I just can't comment on how reliable it is yet since I haven't owned it long enough.
It's considered the "State Car" of Vermont :D

Yeah, my son has an Impreza (technically lives in CT but bought it here), my wife has a Forester, my mom an old Legacy. I'm the outlier because I need a truck and Subaru doesn't make one. Heck, I'd buy a Baja if they still made it for the really light duty trucking I need (lawn mowers, trash, small load of dirt or gravel a couple times a year).
I have the WRX and the wife has the Crostrek with CVT. It only bothers me when shifting from reverse to drive. Just seems to lag a little then before it engages. Other than that, pretty invisible. Love the Subies, though.
I have the WRX and the wife has the Crostrek with CVT. It only bothers me when shifting from reverse to drive. Just seems to lag a little then before it engages. Other than that, pretty invisible. Love the Subies, though.

Yeah that's a good point. I've noticed that lag too. Really the only annoyance for me.
Cool, we have the BF Subaru contingent!! :D

It's called, "New England."


I've hated the CVT cars I've driven to date, but have not yet driven one of the newer ones. Y'all have given me food for thought.

[I'm predisposed to manual transmissions myself, but am open to not hating CVTs. ;))

~ P.
I've owned 4 cars with CVT transmissions (Nissan Juke, 2 Muranos, and a Pathfinder) and they have all been great! There is certainly less of a sports car feel compared to manuals but in terms of fuel economy CVT is hard to beat. In small cars they trend to drone but in my Pathfinder it's quiet. I average 23mpg combined which is quite good for a 5,000 pound awd automobile. If you want a sports car then get a manual but for everyday driving I'll take the cvt .