If you said two you’d be wrong. Customers and dealers still consider two, but there’s actually five. Of course, manual transmission is still ‘generally’ available, but whilst a typical salesperson will say the other is automatic, there are actually four different kinds of auto available. So what are they and what’s the difference? And if you want to be technically correct there are 2 types of manual transmissions – 5 speeds and 6 speeds, but that’s being a bit petty.
I’m Bob Aldons, editor, and founder of www.thecarguy.com.au. My website and writing takes a different tack to the typical car journo or magazine – I’m writing my articles from a car dealer and more importantly a consumer perspective. I don’t think that car buyers are really too interested in 0-100 kilometres times, not at all about a standing ¼ mile time or how the vehicle rolls at 150klm/hour going around a 12.5% gradient curve.
What they are interested in is the suitability of the vehicle to carry their family, safety, fuel economy, servicing costs and affordability amongst other things. So strap on your seat belts as I take you through the available transmission options available.
Manual transmission – arguably the most intricate to use, difficult to learn to use and reducing in the number of vehicles it’s available in. Manufacturers generally make it available in their base, price sensitive model. They need a manual to keep the entry price of their brand down. In the latest Mazda CX-5 the base model Maxx starts at $28690 (plus government charges) and that’s the only manual transmission available in the 4 model 12 variant range. So over 90% of Mazda CX-5 will be sold with asix-speedd automatic transmission. More and more learner drivers are going straight to automatic transmission rather than manual. A manual transmission needs more physical and cognitive ability and needs more attention than an automatic.
Manufacturers insist that a manual transmission needs more attention from drivers and any form of automatic requires less. Its way too easy to use an auto transmission as well as your smartphone, whereas it’s almost impossible to use said phone, change gear and indicate turning attention in a manual. Most of the high end supercars aren’t available with three pedals – Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, Porsche and more are leaving manual transmissions in the parts racks – no complicated gearshift changes from them.
You can buy a manual in some performance vehicles, but even they are getting fewer and fewer. Driving a manual is satisfying, but you’ll do better laps times on your track day with a performance orientated automatic.
Basic Automatic Transmission
The conventional automatic transmission remains quite popular and is the go-to transmission in most family cars. A basic auto has a thing called a torque converter. This component is a ‘fluid coupling between the crankshaft and the gearbox input shaft’ and allows you to come to a full stop, leaving the car in gear before letting you accelerate and move off again. It lets you put your foot on the brake to suspend forward movement and remove it to go forward, gaining speed with the accelerator. With torque convertor transmissions, the gearbox allows the driver to inch forward (particularly good in heavy stop start traffic) without the consequence of slipping the clutch on a manual.
In off-road situations, this transmission is useful in that it lets you to go at a snail’s pace on heavy terrain where a manual gearbox would find it difficult. Off-roaders take note – sophisticated auto transmissions are so much better than a manual gearbox in these situations.
There’s no doubt that an automatic transmission with a torque converter also uses more energy than a manual transmission. Autos are thirstier than manuals so if you’re very conscious about your fuel spend, and can drive a manual, depending on your use, manual may be better. Whilst you’ll get significant mileage from your manual, an auto transmission needs to be serviced more often. Failure to service the auto will result in a pretty hefty repair bill. My tip – service it according to manufacturer guidelines.
DUAL CLUTCH OR DSG TRANSMISSION
“In simple terms, a DSG is two separate manual gearboxes (and clutches), contained within one housing, and working as one unit. It was designed by Borg Warner and is licensed to the Volkswagen Group, with support by IAV GmbH. By using two independent clutches, a DSG can achieve faster shift times and eliminates the torque converter of a conventional epicyclical automatic transmission” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-shift_gearbox
There’s no doubt that Dual-clutch transmissions are complex. Again, if you want to get a hefty repair bill, just don’t service it. You may recall the issue with Volkswagen a few years ago regards their dual clutch transmission. VW was blamed for numerous accidents, even a fatality, which led in part to a recall on a lot of the vehicles fitted with Dual Clutch transmissions. Despite critical comment from the media and in particular the motoring journalists, Volkswagen weren’t to blame for the failure. As quoted earlier, Borg Warner designed and manufacture red the transmission for Volkswagen and ultimately it was Borg Warner who footed the world wide bill for repair. The fault, a problem with the mechatronics (brain) of the transmission, was determined to be incursion of water onto the copper points inside the mechatronics resulting in corrosion. The recall was to replace the mechatronics and subsequently there hasn’t been, to my knowledge, any further issues.
Dual Clutch or DSG Transmissions are brilliant in performance driving – they shift gears quicker than a person can driving a manual, they anticipate whether you’re going u the gears or going downStop-startrt traffic on the other hand, the sort of traffic you’d experience on the way to work during peak hour is not the happiest place for Dual Clutch transmissions. You may experience a bit of a bump up or down in the transmission shift – not serious, but annoying. The computer is trying to work out what it needs to do, so stop start traffic annoys it.
(Editor – don’t they have that sort of traffic in Europe where this comes from?)
A lot of commentators slam Volkswagen and Ford. I can’t really comment on the Ford Power shift issue, but from a Volkswagen viewpoint, as I said earlier, the problems seem to have materially gone away.
And here’s where the salespeople selling these transmissions get it so wrong. Even in my time as a Volkswagen dealer, we advertised these as DSG Auto. Simply because consumers didn’t understand what a DSG transmissions was. In our vernacular, 2 pedals = auto, 3 pedals = manual. It looks like an auto (inside) drives like an auto outside therefore it must be an auto.
When explained to customers that it really was a clutch less manual, they’d roll their eyes and say – it’s an auto isn’t it?
In a dual clutch transmissions, it’s either stop or go, there’s really no in between. Dual clutch transmissions are really like manuals – you wouldn’t slip the clutch in a maul to move forward at a snail’s pace – well you shouldn’t do that it a Dual clutch. Stop or Go. If you persist in this, then there will be premature wear in the clutches and that’s a pretty hefty bill to repair.
If you want to buy a dual clutch vehicle to tow a heavy boat, caravan or trailer – well just don’t. In VW speak; they want you to buy an Amarok or a Touareg which both have conventional auto boxes not dual clutch. If you’ve got a dual clutch transmission, best to get some up to date information on the dos and don’ts. And last piece of advice, get them serviced on time (refer to your owner’s manual) and don’t listen to friends, independent workshops or ‘other experts’ who say you don’t need to service these on time with the correct Volkswagen oil. If they do, then ask them if they’re prepared to guarantee it
CVT Transmission – Continuously Variable
At the media launch of the new Mazda CX-5, one journalist asked about the space saver in that vehicle. Space Savers and CVT transmissions get a bad rap from car journalists. I drive cars with Space Savers and even no spare at all. If a tyre fails, I’d call roadside assist and get them to pop on the space saver or tow me to a tyre dealer – next day I’d have it fixed. End of story.
Same applies to CVT transmissions. Motoring journalists poo poo them but they’re becoming more and more prevalent. I’ve driven any number of vehicles with CVT’s and they’re very acceptable for urban driving and fantastic on the highway for longer trips. CVT’s provide better fuel economy than a normal auto. End of argument.
Some people aren’t into CVT’s because they feel like ‘a golf buggy’ to drive. And it probably does. Smooth acceleration, no real Ker thumps’ as the ‘gears’ change. The ONLY thing negative about CVT transmissions is the cost of service. The fluid used is about the same price as gold – $180 per litre and you’ll probably need 5 or 6 litres for the typical CVT auto. It’s like a timing belt – if you don’t replace it and it fails, it’s going to cost you a lot of money to repair.
This is more particular for a used vehicle. If your intended purchase has done more than say, 70,000k’s and it has a CVT transmission, best allow for a service – and perhaps negotiate the price of that service into your price. I’m sure that the person selling the car doesn’t know that it needs a service but after reading this you do.
About to buy a new car? This article will probably have given you some timely information. However, it’s important to know what transmission is in the car you want to buy, but it’s more important to drive the car and make an informed decision on how it feels to drive. Whether it’s a Dual Clutch, a CVT, a ‘normal’ auto or a manual, buy what feels best to you.
If you’d like a hand with your new car purchase, contact me at [email protected] or directly on 0418 748 498
Whatever you do – drive carefully. Don’t become one of the 189,000 people killed on out roads since 1925.