Does the Toyota RAV4 Have a CVT? (Here’s What You Should Know)

Over the past few years, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) has grown in popularity. It’s being included in many new vehicle models, leaving Toyota enthusiasts wondering what’s happening with the latest lineup. Does the Toyota RAV4 have a CVT?

There’s no reason to be left in the dark, which is why I answer your questions. I show you what models have a CVT and I explain how reliable it is.

cvt transmission

Does the RAV4 Have a CVT?

Some Toyota RAV4 models contain a CVT, but not all of them.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Prime contain an electronically controlled CVT (ECVT), while the gasoline-only RAV4 doesn’t have a CVT.

Every trim of the Hybrid/Prime lineup contains this ECVT with sequential shift mode.

Gasoline-only RAV4s include a Direct Shift 8-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission sequential shift mode.


How Does It Work?

The CVT is a form of an automatic transmission, although it doesn’t contain traditional gears. Drivers don’t need to shift between the gears manually or use a clutch pedal. CVTs are also known as shiftless or single-speed transmissions.

The typical CVT has an infinite gear ratio because of the two cone-shaped pulley design. There’s a belt or chain that runs between the two pulleys, similar to what is seen on a bicycle.

The first cone connects to the output shaft of the engine. The second cone directs the power to the drive wheels and driveshaft. As the pulleys move further apart or closer, the gear ratios change in relation.

(Car and Driver)

cvt transmission

However, the RAV4’s “ECVT” is a bit different. Instead of relying on a pulley system, the RAV4’s ECVT consists of two electric motors that drive the gears. This is more reliable that a traditional CVT.

To learn more about what makes Toyota’s ECVT different than a traditional CVT, check out this video:

Alternatives to the CVT

CVTs are becoming much more common in today’s vehicles, but some people still prefer traditional automatic transmissions. Luckily, an automatic transmission is still available on the RAV4, but you’ll need to stick with a gasoline-only RAV4.

An automatic transmission has a specified number of gears, ranging from four to ten on most vehicles today. The Toyota RAV4 includes an 8-speed automatic transmission.

While there are many similarities between the CVT vs. automatic transmission, the continuously variable transmission differs from traditional automatics in several ways.

  • No fixed number of preset gears
  • Contains an unlimited number of gear ratios
  • Seamless changes with no hard shift points

So, which one is better? Would you fare better with a CVT or automatic transmission?

The automatic transmission provides better driver engagement and a more noticeable response. Plus, the feel of the transmission is more traditional, making it the one most people enjoy driving. Additionally, the repair costs tend to be lower and it’s easier to service.

Still, there are several things that the CVT does better. For one, fuel economy is usually better with a CVT. This type of transmission is lighter and often more compact. The acceleration also tends to be smoother, with no noticeable transition between gears.

(Car and Driver)

Is It Reliable?

Automotive publications continue to rank the Toyota ECVT as reliable. With proper maintenance, it’s expected to last 120,000 miles or more without an issue. Plus, the NHTSA doesn’t have current complaints about the most recent models to hit the road.

While the CVT is considered reliable, there are still a few problems to look for.

  • Overheating due to overloaded transmission lines
  • Control module error
  • Slipping problems
  • Clunking noises

With that said, many of these problems can also occur with regular automatic transmissions. There’s nothing more to worry about with the CVT than there is with the AT.

You can also take steps to protect the well-being of the CVT. Here are a few tips for you.

  • Avoid aggressive driving
  • Don’t manipulate gear ratios
  • Maintain the CVT according to manufacturer recommendations
  • Use proper CVT fluid

Again, these are the similar tips to what you would follow with an automatic transmission.


Frequently Asked Questions

No. The Hybrid and the Prime contain an electronically controlled CVT (ECVT). Gasoline powered RAV4 has a direct shift 8-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission with sequential shift mode.

The CVT transmission has no fixed number of preset gears and has a seamless change with no hard shifts. The automatic transmission however, provides more driver engagement with more noticeable response and tends to have lower repair costs.

With proper maintenance you can expect the Toyota ECVT transmission to last about 120,000 miles.


If you haven’t had the chance to try out a Toyota CVT, you can test drive a Hybrid or Prime at your local dealership. Both of these have a CVT, so you can experience the differences between this newer type versus an automatic transmission.

Whether you choose a gas-powered or hybrid RAV4, I believe you’ll be in love with the new lineup either way. These SUVs are built to last and the transmissions are high-tech, ready for a long life.

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  1. Matt O'Brien says:

    Hi, thanks for the info. One important thing to note and possibly consider correcting: the RAV4 hybrid and prime have an Ecvt which is a much different (and more reliable) trans than the belt/pulley type of cvt described in this article. The RAV4 ecvt uses 2 electric motors to transfer power independently from the ICE and/or high voltage battery to the wheels and also regen back to the HVB when coasting / braking. A really beautiful design, and far more bulletproof than a standard cvt.

    1. Jonathan Buckley says:

      Hi Matt,

      I agree. I did not realize how important the distinction was when I wrote the article. I will incorporate more information within the next few days.

      Thank you for your input.

  2. 120,000 miles for a cvt transmission is a joke, after 50 years of driving multiple domestic and foreign cars- 300,00 miles plus on a standard automatic transmission is the norm