It used to be that there were one or two choices for gearboxes, also known as transmissions, consumers could purchase in their cars. Today, transmissions are not so simple as they were, but the choices remain largely the same.

The Automatic

The TLX had this gear selector, but also had flappy paddles on the steering wheel.
The TLX had this gear selector, but also had flappy paddles on the steering wheel.

The automatic transmission has transformed since its inception in horseless carriages of 1904 (by the Sturtevant Brothers of Boston, Mass.). Where once there was one or two forward gears (and no backwards gears) there’s now eight or more forward gears (and no less than, nor no more than, one reverse).

While technology may have increased the number of gears, the true-blue automatic takes all control out of the driver’s hands. However, there aren’t that many manufacturers doing dead-basic automatic transmissions anymore.

The manumatic

'Manumatic' gear selection flappy paddles in the Mitsubishi Lancer GT.
‘Manumatic’ gear selection flappy paddles in the Mitsubishi Lancer GT.

What manufacturers are now doing, is allowing the driver to input the gear selection for the automatic transmission. The new “Manumatic” transmissions can either be left in fully automatic mode or can be used in a pseudo-manual mode.

I say ‘psuedo’ because the driver isn’t actually selecting the gears, they are merely telling the car’s computer (and transmission) which gears they want the car to go into, the car still shifts the gears.

Manumatic gears can be changed either with the selector lever, usually by popping the selector left or right of drive mode and pushing up or down depending on needs, or by using the flappy paddles (selectors usually on the steering wheel) common on many current models.

Many auto manufacturers are including more of these transmissions under other names, such as Sportronic, Shiftronic, Geartronic and more. And, while flappy paddles aren’t the same as a proper manual, they can still be pretty fun.

The Acura TLX The Auto Reporter reviewed a few weeks back had a brilliant manumatic transmission and was paired with a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), making gear shifts blindly fast. A dual clutch transmission has two clutches, rather than one in normal transmissions, and is technology first used in automotive racing.

The (proper) manual

This Mazda3 has a fully manual gearbox, requiring drivers to pay attention to driving.
This Mazda3 has a fully manual gearbox, requiring drivers to pay attention to driving.

The manual is when the entirety of gear selection is left up to the driver, and is what many car enthusiasts go to when looking for transmissions.

Manual transmissions force drivers to pay attention, not just to the revolutions per minute (RPMs) of the car’s engine, but to driving as a whole; it makes people think about what they’re doing when behind the wheel.

Many vehicles now have hill assist, so Cherry Street in downtown Seattle won’t seem nearly as frightening as it once did. And, unlike even brilliant DCTs, a manual gearbox will give the driver the a feeling like nothing else – of being one with the car, of being man and machine.

The staff of The Auto Reporter prefers full manual transmissions, though the Acura TLX had a system that’s hard to say ‘no’ to.

To select the gearbox that’s right for you, think of how you drive. Are you the kind of driver that enjoys letting the car control the engine or do you want to be the one to have the horsepower under your control?

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Deanna Isaacs the owner, editor-in-chief and lead journalist at The Auto Reporter. She graduated from the University of Washington's Communication department in 2014 with a BA in Journalism. She enjoys sports cars, working on her classic two-seaters and long drives where she can annoy the husband. You can reach Deanna Isaacs using the Contact Us form: https://www.theautoreporter.com/contact/.