CVT vs Automatic: Which Transmission is Right for You?

Automatic Transmission Gear Selector
It’s easy to tell the difference between an automatic transmission and a manual. A vehicle with a manual transmission has a third pedal and requires input from the driver to operate correctly. Automatics became so popular because they were seen as a luxury, a way to avoid the near-constant shifting while sitting in stop-and-go traffic.

In addition to automatics, we now also have continuously variable transmissions, or CVTs. Here the difference is a bit harder to see, as operating a CVT works pretty much the same as a traditional automatic. So to help explain the differences between these two types of transmissions, Germain Honda of College Hills has the in-depth comparison you’ll see below.

CVT Gear Shift

Differences Between CVT and Automatic Transmissions

Traditional Automatic Transmission – Automatic transmissions are extremely simple to operate, just select Park, Reverse, Neutral, or Drive. And while in drive, the transmission will choose the correct gear for you, based on factors like pedal position and road speed.

The number of gears in an automatic transmission can vary quite a bit. Older versions might have as few as three, while it’s not uncommon for a modern automatic to have 11 speeds. All of these gears help the vehicle to maximize both performance and fuel economy no matter what the road speed.

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) – Operating a CVT works exactly the same as a traditional automatic. But the way a CVT transfers power to the wheels is completely different.

A CVT doesn’t actually have gears at all. Instead, there are two cone-shaped pulleys connected by a belt or chain. One of these is connected to the engine and one to the wheels, and the position of the cones in relation to each other serves the same function as gears in a traditional transmission.

Honda Civic

Benefits of Driving a CVT or Automatic Transmission

There are benefits to both of these transmissions, which is why Honda still uses both. Below is a breakdown of some of the benefits, which one is right for you will depend largely on your driving style.



  • 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