CVT vs Automatic: Which Transmission is Right for You?

Automatic Transmission Gear Selector
For many years, there were essentially only two types of transmissions, manual and automatic. With a manual transmission, the driver would physically select every gear change. These transmissions are still favored for performance machines, which is why sports cars like the Civic Type R are still only offered with a manual. Automatic transmissions would handle shifting the gears for you, something that made them much more popular for daily stop-and-go commuting.

As technology advanced, automatic transmissions have improved drastically, but now new types of transmissions have emerged, and the differences aren’t always clear. The CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmission, is one of these new types of transmissions, and much like a traditional automatic transmission, no driver input is required to select gears. So what’s the difference? Germain Honda of Surprise has put together this guide to help explain it.

Automatic Transmission Gear Selector

Differences Between CVT and Automatic Transmissions

Traditional Automatic Transmission – While there might be a sport mode, or the option to manually select gears (up to a point), the basic principle of an automatic transmission is that you select Drive or Reverse and the transmission takes care of the actual gear changes for you as needed.

These transmissions used to be fairly simple, with as few as three gears. But technological improvements have made as many as 10 or 11 gears common. This improves responsiveness and fuel economy. There are also the aforementioned sport and manual modes, which can add a bit of driving excitement, but they aren’t required to operate the vehicle.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) – From the driver’s seat, a CVT may look the same as a traditional automatic, with Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive. But the workings of a CVT are actually completely different. In fact, a CVT doesn’t actually have any gears at all.

Two cone-shaped pulleys transfer power from the engine to the wheels, adjusting their position relative to one another as needed to deliver more or less torque as the situation dictates.

Honda Civic

Benefits of Driving a CVT or Automatic Transmission

These are a few of the main benefits inherent to these two different types of transmissions. Depending on how you drive or what you want out of a vehicle, one might suit you better than the other.



  • Greater driver engagement and response through the use of individual gears
  • Greater serviceability and lower repair costs compared to CVTs
  • Genuine relationship between engine sound and speed traveled



  • Superior fuel economy compared to traditional automatics
  • Smaller size and lighter weight
  • Smooth acceleration with no “shift-shock”
  • Fewer components and lower cost to manufacture
Honda Accord

Honda Models Available with CVT or eCVT

  • Civic Sedan
  • Civic Coupe
  • Civic Hatchback
  • Accord
  • Fit
  • HR-V
  • CR-V
  • Insight
  • Accord Hybrid
  • Clarity Plug-In Hybrid