Buying a car used to be a straightforward process. Want a small car? Go buy a Civic or a Corolla. Want a big car? Buy any SUV. Need something to haul all your home improvement needs? Go buy any truck. Now buying a car is an even more complicated process. Do you want a small, small-medium, medium-large, large, or extra-large car? If you need more ground clearance, do you want a sub-compact crossover, compact crossover, midsize crossover, full-size SUV, etc?
If you’re shopping from a transmission perspective, that has also become more complicated. Do I go with a manual or an automatic? If automatic, do I go with a traditional automatic with a torque converter, a continuously variable transmision (CVT), or a dual clutch transmission (DCT)? If those two last options confuse you a bit, we’ll try to help clear up the confusion right here and now.
Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT)
This is the newest type of transmission available to the general public. It has been around for decades but typically only limited to supercars and other very expensive models. Eventually it trickled down to a lot of Volkswagen models and now other companies, like Hyundai, are putting it into their mainstream models.
The DCT is basically a robotized-manual transmission. It uses two clutches (hence the name) to engage odd and even gears. When it’s time to change gears, actuators, driven by various means, engage and disengage different set of gears very quickly. Usually in the hundreths or tenths of a second. This results in the feel of a manual without all of the effort, slowness, and mistakes of hand rowing your own gears.
Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
You’ll find this option in many cars nowadays because it’s a highly efficient drivetrain. It functions via a belt rotating between two conical pulleys. The changing of the pulley diameters gives the ability to have infinitely many gear ratios, thus the “continuously variable” name.
Driving a CVT through normal everyday commuting is actually a comfortable experience. You don’t feel any “shift-shock” as there’s actually no shifting needed at all. As you move up or down in the speedometer the transmission will vary itself according to how the engineers’ programming, to provide the best blend of efficiency and performance.
Despite the continuous nature of a CVT, you’ll still find “shifting” features in this transmission to give you the feeling of predefined gears. So in case you want to overtake someone on the highway, you can still get the feeling of downshifting to another gear to access more power.
A Driving Comparison
To put these transmissions to the test, we reviewed two crossovers to see what it felt like on the road. The 2017 Hyundai Tucson is available with a seven speed DCT, while the 2017 Nissan Rogue comes equipped with a CVT. As you can see from the video below we have a clear preference between the two.
The DCT provides a more engaging driving experience, while the CVT provides better efficiency at the expense of driving fun. But depending on your needs this doesn’t mean one is superior than the other. If you’re looking for a commuting tool that offers the best mileage for your dollar, CVT is the way to go. If you want to have more enjoyment while overtaking others and in the twisties, the DCT is the automatic transmission for you.