Sunday, November 10, 2013

Car thoughts: transmissions and the harcores

I admit it; deep down inside of this computer geek is a motor head.  I love cars and have since I was a kid.  I learned to drive around age 11 since I lived on a farm.  It was an old green 1977 Chevy pickup truck with a 4speed manual and  a very bad clutch.  So basically I started driving on a manual transmission and also drove tractors and other utility type vehicles which of course were all manual transmissions.

Fast forward to today and oddly enough the car I own is not a manual transmission but a 'lowly' automatic transmission.  BLASPHEMY cries abound from all of the 'hardcore' mini cooper motorers; however I disagree.   Let's take a look at why I think the auto vs manual transmission argument is a totally different ballgame as of the last 2 years.

The cars that I have driven and owned have been a grab bag of transmission types; 1983 Chrysler Lebaron (auto), 1983 Pontiac Firebird (auto, V8), 1991 Eagle Talon Tsi (manual), 2003 Honda Accord (auto), 2006 Honda Civic Si (manual), 2013 Mini Cooper S Coupe (auto).

So I have had the pleasure and displeasure of driving various cars of different years and of course auto technology.  The automatic transmissions from the 80s and 90s were pretty tame; most of them were pure automatic and did not offer steptronic/manual shifting options.  The ECU programming of the shift points were hit or miss and as they aged they began to feel loose when driving spiritedly. Manaul transmissions for the most part really seem to be the same then and as now.  It all really depends on the maker and how they build it; tech hasn't really changed the game much.

Fast forward to the current time; automatic transmission technology has gotten pretty good and comparable to manuals.  My Mini Cooper S Coupe auto has faster paper 0-60 time than a manual.  The VW GTI has an amazing DSG auto transmission that can smoke a manual variant.  Also, take a look at a few of the supercars out there including Porsche and McLaren, they are using DSG automatic transmissions in their cars.

My point is this: automatic transmissions combined w/DSG and steptronic paddles can be just as good as a manual if not better.

HOWEVER, i also believe that in order to really take advantage of an automatic transmission w/manual modes; one has to know or understand how a manual transmission works w/downshifting, engine braking, peak shift points, power band/torque points.

I drive my automatic car like a manual.  When I get in to my Cooper Coupe, I first hit the Sport button, then shift her into M and downshift into M1 and then dictate the shift points.  I can take each gear (6spd automatic) up to it's redline before shifting and can hold revs.

The only downfall is that I cannot launch.  However newer and more expensive cars do have Launch control, a mode you put the car in and it will limit your RPMs to the ideal range to get most traction and then pop clutch.

So the bottom line..

Stop making fun of the automatic transmission drivers and looking down upon us.  I've evolved w/the tech and times to an auto and get the best of both worlds.  Manual shifting but automatic ease in traffic.