Why CVTs are actually superior for daily driving?


There are a number of people that hate CVTs. They define it as soulless and un-engaging whereas automatic transmissions with gears (torque converters) are still considered as more engaging despite being slower or sometimes jerkier. On the other hand, there are people like that love the idea of a CVT because of its unique characteristics.

Modern day transmissions (Automatic, Dual Clutch and Manual) are all fundamentally the same. In theory the single clutch manual transmission and the single clutch automatic transmission are fairly similar in design although the means of engaging both of them differ vastly. Whereas the major leap in gear performance that transmissions get is with Dual clutch systems. It is comprised of two clutches that work in tandem to keep the vehicle at max torque and drop the latency associated with single clutch and manual transmissions in between gear changes. Dual clutch systems are not just heavy but are also immensely complicated, leading to huge bills in repairs. That’s why they are mostly reserved for high performance vehicles.

This neatly brings us into the CVTs. It is a radically different system of vehicle transmission as it uses pulleys instead of big gears to generate torque. This leads to the gearbox having infinite gear ratios, which can vastly improve efficiency depending on your driving style. The key to remaining in peak power is to have maximum torque both from the wheels and the gearbox. So in a traditional transmission with a fixed gear ratio, it will hit the pre-set ratio after acceleration is achieved and then drop in power. CVTs eliminates this because any gear can be adjusted to have a higher or lower ratio, effectively nullifying the ratio system and allowing the vehicle to remain in peak torque throughout the power band. So in practice, a CVT can hold a gear during intense acceleration sessions or drop down a few cogs to be as efficient as possible.

So, why the hate against CVT?

This are a fee reasons as to why some may prefer traditional torque converters vs CVT and I’m going to state a few of them:

  1. Reliability: Because a CVT essentially has more moving parts, it is more prone to wear and tear over time. Torque converter based CVT’s are more prone to this although most of the issues has been fixed with e-CVT’s.
  2. Not designed for high torque applications: CVT’s are primarily designed with daily driving in mind and not drag racing. Under intense torque scenario, the CVT belt can sometimes slip, causing it to lose power and increase wear on the system.
  3. Feel of the gearshifts: Motoring purists swear by the mechanical feel of changing gears in a manual transmission. CVT’s due to their non-intrusive gearing has no feel whatsoever and so it takes away from the driving experience. Traditional dual clutch system also lack this but in their defence DCT’s shift at lightning speeds.

CVTs probably have more advantages than disadvantages as compared to manual transmissions. But even the best CVT cars in India can’t simply compete with the traditional gearing systems because of the torque limitations. So until this issue can be resolved, CVT’s will always crater to a niche market, rather than being a popular choice.

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