Skip to main content

The continuously variable transmissions (CVT) is an impressive piece of technology that has been around for a long time in sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks. Instead of using gears like a standard automatic transmission, a CVT uses belts to expand and contract diaphragms on two drive pulleys, translating crankshaft power to the drive axle. Instead of having fixed-ratio planetary gears, a CVT has an infinite number. It’s a brilliant device but unfortunately has its downsides. Supercars, for instance, can’t use it because CVTs simply can’t handle the torque. Nevertheless, the CVT has found its way into several road-going cars. 

Chevrolet Malibu: underpowered, underperforming

Chevrolet Malibu on display in New York
Chevrolet Malibu on display in New York | Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Malibu sedan continues into 2022 with a maximum of 250 horsepower from a 2-liter inline-four. However, only the Malibu’s 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four can come with a CVT. With the help of its CVT, the Malibu reaches 60 mph in 7.8 seconds and tops out at 130 mph. Other than the transmission, the Malibu is a basic sedan lacking any grunt. It’s still a comfortable and efficient car.

Nissan Maxima: possibly the best car with a CVT

Nissan Maxima on display in Los Angeles
Nissan Maxima on display in Los Angeles | ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Surprisingly, the Nissan Maxima is one of the fastest CVT-equipped sedans in the current market. It derives 300 horsepower from its 3.5-liter V6, which allows the Maxima to reach 60 mph in a mere 5.7 seconds, topping out at 145 mph. Unlike the Chevrolet Malibu, the Nissan Maxima is only offered with a CVT. Its exterior is stylish, with panels akin to the Nissan GT-R and scattered chrome accents. Car and Driver cites the Maxima’s shortcomings as confined to its handling and trunk space.

Lexus LC500H: impressive horsepower with sluggish handling

One of the most beautiful cars on the market is the Lexus LC500h. It’s a hybrid coupe with a 354-hp 3.5-liter V6, and with the CVT, it reaches 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, just a hair slower than the Nissan Maxima. Top speed is where the Lexus shines, outgunning the Nissan to 155 mph. Although a stunning car to look at, the Lexus LC500h handles like a boat, which isn’t surprising considering its 4,476-pound curb weight.

Subaru WRX: struggles to impress despite the capable speed

Subaru WRX racing in Austria
Subaru WRX racing in Austria | Markus Tobisch/SEPA.Media /Getty Images

For all of its faults, the Subaru WRX offers a CVT and uses it to get to 60 mph in just 5.5 seconds, making it the quickest car on this list. Unfortunately, the vehicle provides little else. It has 268 horsepower from its turbocharged 2-liter flat-four but reportedly suffers from severe turbo lag and acceleration surges, according to Car and Driver. It matches the Maxima’s top speed at 144 mph, starts at $32,000, and isn’t very fuel-efficient.

Nissan Maxima isn’t a bad choice

The Nissan Maxima is the most well-rounded car on this list. It looks great, seats five, and is one of the faster cars. It also operates without the complications of a hybrid powertrain like the Lexus and has respectable horsepower, unlike the Chevrolet Malibu. If you’re in the market for a CVT and don’t want to sacrifice speed, the Nissan Maxima might be your best option.


CVT vs. Automatic Transmission: Is 1 Worse Than the Other?