And not just for the Prius
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) has a bad rep. Ever since Dutch automaker DAF first put it in an automobile, CVT's have been used almost exclusively in economy cars, such as the Toyota Prius, for instance. Nissan, Honda, and Subaru are fans, too.
As fan clubs go, that's not an especially glamorous one. And because a CVT maintains constant revs, it sounds weird. These days, manufacturers add stepped "ratios" to CVTs, simply so they sound more normal, and less off-putting to consumers.
But there are surprising advantages to CVTs, as Engineering Explained explains. You see, just about every modern supercar uses a dual-clutch gearbox, which admittedly produces lightning-fast gear changes. But changing up a gear always produces a drop in revs, away from the point at which maximum power - and therefore acceleration - is produced. You then lose time getting back up to maximum power and acceleration.
By holding the revs, a CVT is able to maintain maximum power and acceleration as speed increases, which makes the car considerably quicker. Formula 1 team Williams realized as much back in 1993, when it tested a car with a CVT gearbox, which you can see in the footage below. The noise it produced was bizarre, but it was reputedly several seconds quicker per lap. We never found out how much quicker, as the FIA specifically banned the technology.
So here's the question: would you buy a CVT-equipped supercar and put up with the strange soundtrack if it meant you could lap a track much faster than with any other sort of transmission?