Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Manual vs. Automatic Transmission

I was a long-time devotee of the manual transmission, considering automatics to be less responsive and wasteful on fuel. Here in the UK, manual is the norm so maybe I'm biased. I drove a few automatics during my 3 year stay in California and I have to admit that they work really well with cruise control.

However, I have been forced to reconsider my position. Enter the TipTronic gearbox. My car, an MCC Smart ForTwo ( http://www.thesmart.co.uk ) uses this sytem and it is just the best of both worlds. Fully automatic with 'kickdown' on the accelerator pedal, but also with a gear stick that simply and intuitively overrides the automatic system. I get around 60 miles per UK gallon (which is a bit bigger than an American gallon) and I can beat most other cars from a standing start at the traffic lights (despite only having a 3 cylinder 750cc engine).

--TPL

Tim Long
Sunday, August 22, 2004

That is a goofy looking golf cart.

Crackhead
Sunday, August 22, 2004

<snicker>

Anon
Sunday, August 22, 2004

Next time I want to lose all sense of masculinity, I'll consider purchasing this vehicle.

Fabio
Sunday, August 22, 2004

If it's not a Hewland, it's not a "manual".

Dog rings rule.

Mitch & Murray (from Downtown)
Sunday, August 22, 2004

What's with the "futuristic" butt fugly cars?!?
(and I agree Fabio's comment!)

Almost Anonymous
Monday, August 23, 2004

I gotta agree with Fabio on this one:  I used to think that the VW Beetle was the stereotypical gay car, but, wow, the ForTwo now holds that position.

Not that gay people bother me, it's just that you might as well wear flaming pink if you're going to drive that car.  (I was going to say pink or plaid, but if you're wearing plaid as a sign of orientation you're probably driving a pickup truck.)

Damn.

anon on this one
Monday, August 23, 2004

I don't know - I think it's kind of cute.  I think I might get one for my 19-month old to scoot around the house.

Yet another anon
Monday, August 23, 2004

Funny thing about "tipronics" is that they're actually a "manual" control on an automatic transmission. So it's the best of both worlds when you don't want the fuel economy of an actual manual transmission.

The only tipronic that operates a transmission that's in an actual "manual" car (electronics that manage an actual clutch and gearbox), are the high end ferrari's paddle shifting etc.

But even the cheapo tiptronics let you think that you have control without learning how to use a clutch. :)

Arron Bates
Monday, August 23, 2004

Sorry... forgot to add that that the loss in fuel economy is the energy required to run the automatic transmissions. Low end (read: not ferrari) tipronics are this.

So as sweet as this little golf cart is on fuel sipping, it'd be even better if it were manual.

Arron Bates
Monday, August 23, 2004

Yes, go ahead and laugh at the Smart - there's still nothing better for city driving.  Get this - because it's only as long as most cars are wide, you can just park nose to the kerb instead of wasting time trying to squeeze into a space sideways.  Try that in your US-style gas-guzzling pickup...

Iago
Monday, August 23, 2004

Manual Transmission is great. So much fun, auto's are for lazy people.

I drove a dodge stratus when I was in the US. It had a 3 litre engine but because it was like most american cars (i.e. heavy, unresponsive and automatic) I could easily beat it off the mark in your average european car.

I can see why folks might laugh at the smart for-two, however if you have ever been looking for a parking space, going round and round streets hoping for someone to leave and then you see one of these things park in that space that is too small for any other car... you begin to see why someone would want one.

nakedCode
Monday, August 23, 2004

I considered getting a smartCar but they're:

a. So damned camp.
b. Overpriced.

Come on - it's got 600cc engine and plastic suspension, yet it's priced above half the mini's on the market.

Mr Jack
Monday, August 23, 2004

In Germany a Smart starts just below 9000 Euros (~ USD 11.000 at the moment). It's a bit pricey for a car for two people and (almost) no luggage, but you can see a lot of them on the streets. It's the ultimate city car. It may be un-manly, but who needs a car to support his self-confidence ;-)

Hanul
Monday, August 23, 2004

Your sense of masculinity is tied up in the car you drive?

That is so insecure!

I remember a great advert for a big 9 seater MPV. 

On one side was a picture of a 2 seater sports convertable with the caption 'Makes a man look verile'

On the other side was the MPV stuffed with kids and the caption 'Proves it.'

Ged Byrne
Monday, August 23, 2004

I don't really recognise Joel's argument about manual vs. automatic.

My Lexus has a 3 litre engine, with automatic gearbox, and is very responsive in the scenario he describes. Sometimes it is almost too reactive, in that it kicks down a gear or two immediately and you're pressed into your seat by the acceleration.

I would never go back to a manual now, the automatic does such a good job. The only exception would be if I gave in to my "boy-inside" and bought a new Ferrari. Then I obviously wouldn't want an automatic (it probably isn't available anyway).

Nemesis
Monday, August 23, 2004

When you're driving, there is nothing to do but look at the scenery and shift gears. Automatic transmissions do not solve the problem of how to do something useful while driving. It's just one more thing to break and an added expense in a new car. It tells you something about the unlimited laziness of Americans.
And by the way, I think we all should program in assembly language.

Dr. Real PC
Monday, August 23, 2004

Then there are the CVTs, which even today leave manual drivers stomping pedals and jamming a 19th century lever around while conventional automatic drivers passively endure buck-and-heave instead of smoothly pulling on out ahead.  One can only imagine where this technology will be in another 5 years.

Jon Dinlea
Monday, August 23, 2004

It always seemed illogical and somewhat dangerous to me that there should be three pedals when generally people have two feet. Do the drivers here with automatics practice left-foot braking?

Don't Flame Me!
Monday, August 23, 2004

I live 8 miles out of town up a twisty mountain road.  I wouldn't dream of driving an automatic.  If I drove an automatic, I'd probably have to replace my brake pads every year.  With the manual I choose the gear and let the engine drag keep the speed down.

Jonathan Briggs
Monday, August 23, 2004

The Smart car is Swiss but it's actually made by Mercedes. Might explain its higher price

As for manual vs. automatic...

Manual everytime. You can't really *drive* an automatic... you can't get the car set up for corners and get it properly balanced.. slow down for the corner, car stays in top gear.. want to start feeding the power on as you go round,, suddenly a kickdown and an unsubtle surge whch then throws the car off balance.. The only way I can drive an automatic is to treat it like a manual (and it never quite works)

However, driving in the States has never been enjoyable. An automatic is probably fine for driving round. For some reason in the States the smaller roads are often of poor quality.. potholes, lack of lining... and haven't they ever heard of cat's eyes? I drive a sportsbike in the UK but I can't imagine owning one in the States.

I once drove round the Crater Lake area in Oregon... the roads there weren't bad but after an hour of driving the auto like a manual it started to smell real sorry for itself!

gwyn
Monday, August 23, 2004

I've always driven an automatic, but was interested in manual. I was always afraid though that I'd never get used to it, like I never got used to my Microsoft Natural keyboard (and returned it within a month).

A really dangerous thing to do on the highway. Maybe I have less control over the thing, but it doesn't bother me much. I live in NYC and would spend half my life in stoplight traffic anyway. The rest is open road where I'd typically be "pointing and going."

*shrug* What can I tell you, I'm one of those ignorant automatic drivers that just wants to get there and enjoy the scenery.

America does have cat's eyes, not everywhere, but they're gaining popularity.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, August 23, 2004

"...and would spend half my life in stoplight traffic anyway. The rest is open road where I'd typically be "pointing and going."

That's probably the main difference between US & UK roads.  With the exception of new motorways and old Roman ones, ours don't tend to be that straight.  Plus we have a less traffic lights and more roundabouts.  Not fun in an auto.

a cynic writes...
Monday, August 23, 2004

I'm a big fan of manual transmissions and all, but Jonathan, if you had an automatic, couldn't you just downshift it to take advantage of engine braking on the hill?

John C.
Monday, August 23, 2004

I test drove an automatic Subaru and did not like it as well as the manual.  Yes, I can manually shift it down to 2nd or 3rd, but then when I need a higher gear I had to shift it back to D.  I decided that the manual was more fun if I had to shift anyway.

Jonathan Briggs
Monday, August 23, 2004

>Funny thing about "tipronics" is that they're actually a "manual" control on an automatic transmission. So it's the best of both worlds when you don't want the fuel economy of an actual manual transmission.

Well, every automatic transmission I seen and read about has the ability to be used in a manual way. In the late 50’s, and early 60’s the Plymouth's actually had a push buttons, on the dash (to the left of the driver!!), and no shift lever.

So, since about day one, automatics can be shifted.

The big difference today is that the auto trans now have as many (or more) gears then the standards. Before, when you compared a 3 speed auto to a 5 speed manual shift..who do you think is going to win?

The problem is now autos have better users interfaces (like buttons on the steering wheel), or like the slk I drive. It has a slap stick: That means in the drive position, you can squeeze the shifter to the left..and you go down a gear, you squeeze the shift lever to the right, and you go up a gear. And, if in a corner, you can hold it when you come down, and it will REMAIN in the gear you choose. (you don’t get that shift mid-corner)

The other big change is that older automatics tend to “coast” when you left the throttle (that meant the auto did not engine brake very well at all). Once again, the newer autos are far better in this regards. I driven the Porsche trip-tonic (this was a number of years ago..it was loner while my brothers car was in the shop). The shifting was cool, but the transmission was VERY sloppy, and it often hunted and delayed when you asked it to shift. I have to assume that newer models don’t do this anymore (my slk does not).

However, as mentioned, newer auto shift systems are not sloppy, shift better, and in most cases do a FAR better job then a human can do. (and, as mentioned, for at least 40+ years..you always could select the gear you want anyway….it just now they really are good in this regards).


>It always seemed illogical and somewhat dangerous to me that there should be three pedals when generally people have two feet. Do the drivers here with automatics practice left-foot braking?
Yes, as mater fact, most advanced automatic drivers use both feet. The reduction in braking time is sever car lengths as compared to a manual trans. (this is the time for the right foot to lift from the throttle..and go for the brakes…this is an ENORMOUS time penalty here).

>Manual everytime. You can't really *drive* an automatic... you can't get the car set up for corners and get it properly balanced.. slow down for the corner, car stays in top gear.. want to start feeding the power on as you go round,, suddenly a kickdown and an unsubtle surge which then throws the car off balance.. The only way I can drive an automatic is to treat it like a manual (and it never quite works)

That assumes you don’t’ have a automatic that lets you select a gear and stay there. Fact is,  you can actually do a BETTER job of balancing the car because you have a foot on the gas, and the break pedal at the same time. You can start to feed power even BEFORE you are completely off the brake pedal…the transition from breaking to power is thus more smooth (you can get more car balance this way).  (my bother while on the track has often mentioned how his left foot will make a soft “stab” at the brake to “seat” or “load” the front suspension a bit through a high speed corner. With a automatic, you don’t have to bring your left foot off the clutch to tap the brakes to do this. There is a GOOD number of advantages to having one foot on the gas..and the other on the breaks at all times.

And, to be fair, it often depends on the vehicle. If had a “AMG” slk, then I would have gone with the 6 speed manual…since it just more “cool” sport wise.

Manual trans do give you somewhat more control…but the difference these days is dismounted to a very small difference now…and that was not the case even just a few years ago…


Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. Kallal
Monday, August 23, 2004

Cat's eye... is that a.k.a. reflective-disc-on-a-stick?

I don't see any real reason for automatic transmissions. I've only owned manual vehicles from the time I started driving. I suppose they do get annoying if you consistently find yourself in heavy traffic.

I suspect an added benefit that is overlooked with manual... awareness. Having to actually shift the gears and such keeps you more aware of the fact you are driving. From what I've noticed, there's an increasing trend of forgetting that valuable tidbit of information.

To me it seems automatic transmissions are just another thing that is more likely to go wrong. Sure, you have to service a manual, but at nowhere near the frequency or cost.

I am not Jack anymore because I can't keep coming up with suitable facets of Jack to be
Monday, August 23, 2004

Auto vs. Manual:  I can't say I'm in either camp.  I see the benefits of both and have driven both.  Long trips or city driving, auto is nice to have.  Manual is fun when you want a more sporty feel.

Back to the Smart:  I like the look, which apparently is a personal taste.  Most people in NA will think it's way too small to be safe and possibly so with all those people who don't recognise anything smaller than an SUV.  But with the gas prices going up as they are smaller engines and cars are going to become more and more common.  Like in Europe.  At least here in Vancouver the scooter population is increasing by quite a bit because no one can really afford a car or the gas and scooters are a great alternative.  Or at least I think so, I ride a 650cc scooter though so more like a motorcycle instead of one of those 50cc buzzers (which you can ride with just a car licence here.)

I've already seen one of the new Smarts on the road here which are configured with a 800cc (I think) Diesel.  About 600 KM on a tank (tank= 20-22 liters) you can't beat that milage.  It'll be a great car for booting around town and for students, or at least the students who can afford the car.  Otherwise a Toyota Echo is basically the only other cheap fuel sipper available other than a diesel VW Golf.  The Golf will be quite a bit more costly though, maybe even as much as the Smart.

On thing I have hear from a friend is that the cars are speed limited.  Mainly because of the size of the wheels.  They won't do more than 120 Km/h.  Not that you'd want to go much faster with this small footprint car I would think.

zekaric
Monday, August 23, 2004

I would love something in between a Segway and a traditional auto. I live in the same town in which I drive -- a short 6-7 minute drive. Unfortunately, I can't ride my bike or walk due to the length (unless I enjoyed getting all sweaty in the summer and frozen in the winter) so I am forced to drive my car. This little guy would be great for running around town but I could keep my car for longer trips (two+ hours) where comfort mattered.

Captain McFly
Monday, August 23, 2004

> unless I enjoyed getting all sweaty in the summer and frozen in the winter

Biking in summer is cooler than walking: there's a stronger breeze. And in winter, if you're dressed for winter, you're more likely to get all sweaty than to freeze; I usually bike with my ski jacket unzipped.

Christopher Wells
Monday, August 23, 2004

"Cat's eye... is that a.k.a. reflective-disc-on-a-stick?"

Nope. it's a little plastic (or similar) device with two small reflective discs (about 15mm dia.) which sits in a small trough with something springy underneath.

They are placed usually in the middle of the road at frequent intervals and sometimes at the side of the road. When you run over them the springy bit compresses meaning you just hear / feel a small rumble and then they ping right up again.

Normally the ones in the centre of the road are white, those on the side of the carriageway are coloured; red and then green where there's a junction.

A very clever invention by a chap who failed to patent it and ultimately died penniless.

But for some reason they don't seem to have adopted them in the States. Or at least not with great penetration, so driving there in the dark (and with rain) becomes really quite difficult assuming you want to drive with any speed.

gwyn
Monday, August 23, 2004

Albert,

I didn't day that the buttons and things didn't give you control over the gears, because you're right, they do. But sitting under the car is an automatic transmission, that simply stays in gear until you tell it to change. So it's chewing petrol the same as an automatic as it running standard automatic hardware.

The only way(and trust me, this is the only way) you get manual gearbox (clutch, gears, etc) and it's efficiencies is in a manual car, or the buttons on truly expensive ferrari's that electronically push and pull the clutch for you.

Arron Bates
Monday, August 23, 2004

The Smart car rocks. Big fan of the older mini's, and this is just a modern extreme.

But if you going that minimalist, may as well get a bike. much more awesome. Two wheels are fare more fun than four could ever be.

Arron Bates
Monday, August 23, 2004

The fact that all of the hybrid cars are automatic, with not a hint of even the possibility of stick shift, leads me to think that (finally) automatic transmission technology has come to the point where it is more efficient than standards.  (Because a hybrid engineer has efficiency foremost in his mind.)  I've always been suspicious of the notion that my imprecise brain and body were more efficient (more tuned in to the most efficient shift points of an engine) than a well-designed automatic transmission that can be calibrated to some nth degree.

Regards,

Chas Emerick

Snowtide Informatics : http://www.snowtide.com
PDFTextStream: High Performance PDF Text Extraction Java Library

Chas Emerick
Monday, August 23, 2004

>> I've always been suspicious of the notion that my imprecise brain and body were more efficient (more tuned in to the most efficient shift points of an engine) than a well-designed automatic transmission that can be calibrated to some nth degree.

You are obviously a PM or PHB, as no experienced, knowledgeable developer would ever think it was easy to develop for all of the cases needed in such an endeavour.

anon-y-mous cow-ard
Monday, August 23, 2004

It always seemed illogical and somewhat dangerous to me that there should be three pedals when generally people have two feet. Do the drivers here with automatics practice left-foot braking?

Don't Flame Me!
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

There is no real fuel economy in manual :) Especially for thouse of us who chose manual over automatic to burn fuel faster in "controlled way" :)

WildTiger
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"Plus we have a less traffic lights and more roundabouts.  Not fun in an auto."

You are joking? Roundabouts are far nicer in an auto - rather than needing to switch gears while turning you can keep both hands on the wheel and it'll smoothly switch to the gears you need as you accelerate (or break).

Mr Jack
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

"The only way(and trust me, this is the only way) you get manual gearbox (clutch, gears, etc) and it's efficiencies is in a manual car, or the buttons on truly expensive ferrari's that electronically push and pull the clutch for you."

As mentioned in a nother thread, at least the Audi DSG gearbox is awesome. What it has inside is basically two main axis', with two glutches. When it shifts (it's automatic but you can use the buttons or the stick to control it manually at will), it selects the new gear in another axis with another glutch, and only after that releases the old gear and closes the new one. In other words, there is barely any gap between the gears. It's really cool to drive: just floor the gas, and the car will fly. I would buy one of those if only I could afford it :-)

And CVT transmission is pretty cool, too - I think at least Audi and Nissan have those in normal cars today. It can keep the engine running at optimal speed all through the acceleration, which no manual (or other type of automatic) gearbox can do.

Antti Kurenniemi
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Mr Jack - not in my experience, so perhaps (a) I've either got better muscle memory than I thought (b) had too much practice at roundabouts (depressingly likely I'm afraid) or (c) the automatics I've driven were crappy after all. 

I just find that they never seem to have the accelaration when I feel I need it. Which isn't to say that an outside observer might disagree.

a cynic writes...
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

It is possible that my opinion on Automatic vs. Manual comes (at least in part) from the higher price and quality of the Automatics I've driven and if I drove a similar powerful manual I'd change my mind.

When I first switched I found the car frequently didn't behave quite as I wanted it to, however with some experience I soon found it behaved as I wanted almost all the time (it has an 'intelligent' gear box that 'learns' how you drive so that may factor in as well).

I'm inclined to conclude that people who describe automatics as slow and unresponsive have either: driven crappy automatics or  never given them a chance.

Mr Jack
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

That'd be it then - an N reg Ford Galaxy probably doesn't count as "...higher price and quality...".

a cynic writes...
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

> we have a less traffic lights and more roundabouts.  Not fun in an auto

Pretty good fun in a Citroen CX GTi Turbo 2 though. Put the gas on just a little too much, the turbo kicks in, and you imitate a 747.


Tuesday, August 24, 2004

In response to the poster who asserts there's no real fuel economy to be had with a manual transmission, I'd say that really depends on how you drive.

I know many drivers who leave their vehicle in gear ALL the time. On the other hand, there are numerous opportunities to pop the transmission out of gear and idle the engine. Of particular note is when approaching a stop sign or red traffic light. There is one particular segment of my daily commute where after one stop, once I accelerate to 30 MPH, I take the car out of gear and coast to the next stop sign. Of course, this means I keep my hand on the shifter and my foot poised over the clutch (or actually the clutch fully depressed many times).

On the other hand, most of the fuel I save during the week I burn up on the weekend. But that's a VERY worthwhile trade off.

Jeff Watkins
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

while there are certainly times when i'd wished i was driving automatic (bumper to bumper gridlock is one), i enjoy my manual transmission simple because its a lot more fun to drive.

(plus, maybe some car thieves will pass it by 'cause they won't know how to drive it)

ps. i want a smartcar.  i think its an urban canadian thing - that's why there're so many civic hatches here (even though they've been discontinued since 2000)...

Kenny
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

>The only way(and trust me, this is the only way) you get manual gearbox (clutch, gears, etc) and it's efficiencies is in a manual car, or the buttons on truly expensive ferrari's that electronically push and pull the clutch for you.

Actually, for AT LEAST 15 years now, the average transmission in a American car has had a clutch lock up, and this DOES NOT slip.

In fact, for some “low” cost performance cars (like the Buick GNX turbo), the engineers simply re-programmed the computer chip to LOCK UP the clutch when you hit 4000 RPM and you have the throttle matted. (the Buick GNX was out in what lmid to late 1980’s. (this likely means you are burning up a lot of rubber at this point…how nice of the engineers to lock in the clutch for you!)

This “cool” transmission lock up feature was simply the result of “software” and the standard GM transmission that had a lock up clutch…the engineers said…hey I got a good use for that clutch!

So, you see, at hiway speeds, virtually all transmissions (at least in mid size cars…American made) has had the ability to lock up a clutch for YEARS AND YEARS. (at least 15 years….with the standard auto trans from GM).

So, at hi-way speeds, or in the case of performance, the engineers have control when they want to lock up the transmission and get rid of slip.

So, yes, you are correct the only way to get standard efficiencies is to have a lock up clutch of some type, but you are dead 100% wrong that you need a high end Ferrari to get such a lock up ability.

Just because the Ferrari used hydraulics and clutches to get a direct drive, it don’t mean that a standard auto trans can’t lock up and have 0% slippage either.

Fact is, MOST auto trans can lock the drive with no slippage, and have able to do so for about 15 years.


Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
kallal@msn.com
http://www.attcanada.net/~kallal.msn

Albert D. Kallal
Tuesday, August 24, 2004

It always seemed illogical and somewhat dangerous to me that there should be three pedals when generally people have two feet. Do the drivers here with automatics practice left-foot braking?

Don't Flame Me!
Wednesday, August 25, 2004

In response to Jeff Watkins:

In a car with fuel injection (pretty much every car less than 10 years old has fuel injection), you can save gas by motorbraking. E.g. when you approach a red light, maybe shift down a gear, and let the engine do the braking. Now, the fuel injection system will completely cut off the fuel supply to the engine. Compare this zero-gas use to the gas needed for keeping the engine running in idle.

To spare the clutch, I don't do motorbraking that often, though. But some times it is appropriate for the situation and you can do "light" motorbraking. Like when you're driving down a hill. If you need to keep the current speed, and you just stepped on the clutch and let the engine idle, the car would accelerate down the hill. This means you have to use the breakes (using the brakes is a bad thing for fuel economics). Keeping the car in an appropriate low-ish gear OTOH, makes the car keep its speed down the hill, while using the potential energy from you elevated position at the top of the hill, to keep the engine running instead of using gas.

Dr. Maybe
Thursday, August 26, 2004

Yep, that's Fugly alright!  I drive 230 miles a week with 220 miles of it at 71mph on an expressway with Semi's that can have 2 trailers attached.  I couldn't imagine being on the road with them in that little pice of shit.

Greg Kellerman
Thursday, August 26, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home