Car Tech

Shifting Gears in a CVT

Recently, a reader asked how a car equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) could have a "manual shift" mode. A fair question, considering that CVTs are notable for having no gears but rather a belt-and-pulley system. So what exactly are you shifting in a manual shift mode, if there are no gears to shift?

Despite having no physical gears to speak of, CVTs perform the same function as other transmissions – balancing speed with power. As such, the concept of gear ratios also applies to CVTs – they simply aren't limited to the ratios of actual physical gears. As such, CVTs boast better fuel economy than manual or automatic transmissions by being able to run the engine at its optimal revolutions per minute (rpm), regardless of vehicle speed.

However, this tendency toward peak efficiency can make the car feel slower from a dead stop, and is responsible for the stereotypical drone or "mooing" associated with CVTs. Thus, many manufacturers have their own tricks to simulate a traditional automatic transmission and improve the driving experience.

In the video below, Justin Pritchard walks through the Xtronic CVT in the 2018 Nissan Qashqai: