Manual vs Auto vs CVT vs SMG vs Steptronic vs ??

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Jared_B, Jul 17, 2002.

  1. Jared_B

    Jared_B Supporting Actor

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    After reading Brian Kleinke's Audi post, I think it's about time to dedicate a thread to this discussion.
    I think the type of transmission all depends on the car and it's intended usage. I would be looking for a car my wife could drive, and a car that would be comfortable in heavy traffic (1+ hour commute each way). Obviously, each person will differ in their needs and the type of driving they see each day.

    I'll try to list universal pros and cons of each type. I'll try not to sway it based on my driving style, but to only provide facts about each type of transmission.

    [*]Manual
    Description: You shift gears with a hand-operated lever, and disengage the engine using a clutch pedal.
    Pros: Offers excellent control of the vehicle, allowing engine braking and great launches. Direct connection from engine to transmission is very efficient - wastes little power as heat. Simpler in design, and can be easier to work on. Better fuel economy, cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain. Many find it "fun" to use due to the more tactile connection between the driver and the engine/transmission. Better efficiency means better performance from smaller engines. Oh, and the push start option!
    Cons: Requires a fair amount of skill to extract max performance. Can be very tiring in heavy stop-and-go traffic. Can be harder to learn for beginners than most other types of transmissions. Requires a great deal of attention to operation. Difficult to use hands for other tasks while driving, i.e. eating, drinking, talking on phone, etc. Some may consider this a pro.[*]Automatic
    Description: Gears are shifted automatically by vehicles computer depending on conditions. Torque converter is used to provide slip between engine and transmission, making starts and shifts smoother.
    Pros: Smooth in operation and easy to learn. Heavy traffic poses no problem. Convenient. Easy to use hands for other tasks while driving, i.e. eating, drinking, talking on phone, etc. Some may consider this a con as it can lead to distractions. Better implementation of cruise control function on cars so equipped.
    Cons: Torque converter design is relatively inefficient. Wastes a lot of power in the form of heat/friction. Does not allow any real control of the gear selection. More expensive to work on, design is more complicated. Generally worse fuel economy, sometimes much worse (note: Some autos have equivalent fuel economoy and manual can have poor fuel economy if it is drivven very aggressively). Loss of fuel efficiency is caused both by the torque converter and the typical use of fewer gears than a Manual. Much more expensive to buy and more expensive to maintain. Many find it "boring" to use. More suitable than a manual when doing things like launching or retrieving a boat where you need to move very slowly and still have some pulling power.[*]Auto-Manual Tiptronic, Steptronic, something-tronic
    Description: An automatic transmission that has been programmed to allow faster, firmer shifts. Shifts can be controlled manually using buttons, paddles, levers, etc.
    Pros: Allows much more control than a regular automatic does. Performance is improved, as shifting is faster.
    Cons: Still doesn’t allow the control of a manual transmission.[*]SMG "Sequential Manual earbox"
    Description: The guts of a manual transmission mated to a hydraulic shifting/clutching mechanism that is controlled by computer. Driver can also shift using steering-wheel mounted paddles.
    Pros: All the efficiency of a manual, with the convenience of not having a clutch pedal. Shifts are executed in as little as 0.08 seconds, which is faster that most people could ever shift. Computer does rev-matching and clutch-modulated launches. Performance is greater than most people can accomplish using a manual. Drivers can focus more on driving and less of making perfect shifts every time. Technology has been race-proven for many years.
    Cons: During hard launches, sometimes a driver using a manual can better modulate the clutch, resulting in faster acceleration times than the SMG vehicle. System is complex and expensive.[*] CVT "Coninuously Variable transmission"
    Description: A transmission that directs power from the engine using belts and pulleys, ala a snowmobile transmission.
    Pros: Since the transmission does not use gears, it can more easily maximize an engine’s power and torque peaks to obtain the best performance/mileage. Tests have shown that CVT equipped cars are just as fast as their manual transmission counterparts (in a straight line).
    Cons: System is more complex and costly. Technology is not new, but it’s application in cars is. CVTs have a limited torque rating right now, and can’t be used in very powerful vehicles. May not be the best choice for racers, and it doesn’t allow engine braking and precise gear selection.[/list] Now, on to my opinion. My wife and I recently test-drove the Infiniti G35, so I'll use that as an example. The car would be the only car for the two of us, and needs to be practical.
    If it were available on every car, my choice would always be the SMG. BMW has done a fantastic job with their version. My second choice would be a Steptronic style transmission, especially since I have to put up with so much traffic. Some people might say that putting an automatic in a sports sedan defeats the purpose, but I totally disagree. Sure the manual will be a little faster, but the majority of the time the manual driver will not get a perfect launch or shifts. For everyday driving, even spirited driving, the auto-manual will be just as fast. I think the only place you will see a difference is on the track.
    Now, if you simply want the manual for the sheer joy of shifting, I have no argument. While our one and only car will probably have some type of self-shifting transmission, any second car that I get for myself will have a manual (or SMG if available) because I enjoy shifting.



    Edit: Added (I think) everyone's comments into the post.
     
  2. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Nice post.
    I would add a few pros and cons to the basic auto and manual.
    Additional Manual Pros: Better fuel economy, cheaper to buy and cheaper to maintain. Many find it "fun" to use due to the more tactile connection between the driver and the engine/transmission.
    Additional Manual Cons: Requires a great deal of attention to operation. Difficult to use hands for other tasks while driving, i.e. eating, drinking, talking on phone, etc. Some may consider this a pro.
    And I'd say the opposite is true for Automatic:
    Additional Auto Pros: Easy to use hands for other tasks while driving, i.e. eating, drinking, talking on phone, etc. Some may consider this a con as it can lead to distractions. Better implementation of cruise control function on cars so equipped.
    Additional Auto Cons: Generally worse fuel economy, sometimes much worse (note: Some autos have equivalent fuel economoy and manual can have poor fuel economy if it is drivven very aggressively). Loss of fuel efficiency is caused both by the torque converter and the typical use of fewer gears than a Manual. Much more expsneive to buy and more expensive to maintain. Many find it "boring" to use.
     
  3. Charles J P

    Charles J P Cinematographer

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    The bummer of the situation, which Jared touched on, is that these transmissions arent all available in each car. Wouldnt it be great if they were.
    Manual - available on "traditional" "sports cars", economy cars, and foriegn sports sedans. I can think of only a single "near luxury" (as they say) American car with a manual and that is the new Cadillac. I wanted a manual, but had a limited budget, so I got a Mazda Protege 5, which I consider an economy car.
    Auto-manual - popular in mid level european cars such as VW and up. I think Dodge had a "manumatic" in the Stratus a few years ago, adopted from Mercedes technology.
    SMG - the least likely for the common man to ever come accross. Available in $35-$40K and up cars to the best of my knowledge.
    CVT - again, Jared touched on this, but there is a torque maximum that these transmissions can take which is somewhere around 130-150 lb/ft IIRC.
    So, in MOST situations you end up with a compromise any way. My protege 5 for example... I really like it but,
    Pros - handles awesome, decent gas mileage, nice transmission, sporty look, pretty high quality interior for being a compact car.
    Cons - needs about 30-40 more horsepower, I wanted something a bit larger, but the next larger wagon I could find with a manual was $6-8K more.
    A lot of my friends asked why I didnt get an american car. I said show me an american midsize wagon with decent build quality and a manual transmission. The only thing even close would be a ford focus, which really isnt a midsize either, so I bought foriegn, and I bought a compact.
    In past OAR vs. Pan and scan debates I have compared the problem with P&S movies to manual transmissions. The majority has spoken. If you want a special feature, your going to have to pay for it.
     
  4. Philip Hamm

    Philip Hamm Lead Actor

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    Charles, excellent post.

    It seems there is one car company that seems to break with your well stated general rules of "which car gets which tranny" and that is VW. AFAIK all VWs are available with a 5 (or sometimes 6) speed. I recently test drove a VR6 Jetta wagon with a 5 speed and it was sweet, I'll tell you. Notably, Mazda seems to make their 626 V6 and other models available also with a manual if you look for it. Must be the "zoom zoom" thing. Subaru does as well. But your general rules are spot on.
     
  5. Jared_B

    Jared_B Supporting Actor

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    You guys are spot on - we need more options!

    SMG - Toyota has a "SMT" available now on their MR2. It's not as sophisticated as the BMW system, but it offers the same benefits. Also, BMW will be making a 5 speed version of their SMG available on most of their 3-Series line in the near future. I believe Mercedes is dabbling with the technology as well. It will take time for the technology to seep down to the lower priced cars, just like automatics did 40 years ago.

    CVT - The technology is promising, and growing. The torque limitation will surely be solved in a few short years.

    I think both of these types of transmissions show great potential, and I think in 10-15 years, most cars will be so equipped. They both are very fuel efficient, which will have to be the trend in the future.
     
  6. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer

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  7. Dave Poehlman

    Dave Poehlman Producer

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    I love manual. And when I found my '98 Nissan Altima SE (with the price tag mixed up with a lesser Altima on the lot--BONUS!) had a manual trans, I fell in love... I'll be driving that car into the ground.
    I prefer manual for all of the reasons listed above.
    as for the cons:
     
  8. Kevin P

    Kevin P Screenwriter

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    More Manual Pros: Better efficiency means better performance from smaller engines. I can't stand 4-bangers with automatics. More fun! More control on snow and ice (e.g. starting in 2nd gear or letting the clutch out slowly to avoid slipping).

    More Automatic Pros: More suitable than a manual when doing things like launching or retrieving a boat where you need to move very slowly and still have some pulling power. Try to do with with a manual and you'll burn the clutch. Better interaction with traction control systems (many will force an upshift in slippery conditions). People with limited use of their left leg or right arm can drive it.

    I've never tried a auto-manual (tiptronic/autostick), SMT or CVT, though the SMT sounds intriguing. Maybe in 10 years when it gets cheaper and available on more models.

    KJP
     
  9. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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    I am an owner of a 2002 MR2 Spyder with the SMT. It's a $700 option which is cheaper than the BMW's but it is doesn't have all the fancy electronic modes as the BMW and there is no "auto-shift" mode which I've heard bad things about on the bimmer.org boards anyway)
    If you check the magazine times, the SMT MR2 is a bit slower than the 5spd, but I think that is because it is not really possible to launch the car (i.e. dropping the clutch at 4000rpm) unlike a 5spd manual. The BMW's SMG has that ability but have heard it was left out of the US versions of the M3 with the SMG. Other than than that, the shifts, in my experience are smooth with some experience and the downshifts are sweet and simple. It does require some getting used to and it's not completely carefree, just like a 5spd, sometimes it might not want to go into reverse when the engine/tranny is cold. I have not experienced this cause I've only had the car since early June and it's summertime.
    But the Sequential is great, it doesn't let you do anything stupid and it gets the same fuel economy as the manual and only weights a slight 20lbs more than the 5spd. (2240lbs)
    In 2003, the MR2 is rumored to come with a 6spd SMT and foglights. At only 138HP and about 27mpg highway, the thing is a tiny go-kart and is quick enough for me while remaining inexpensive to own and operate and since it's not my only car, I don't care about the 1.9cf of storage space [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Jay
     
  10. Dave Poehlman

    Dave Poehlman Producer

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    Oh I forgot another manual pros:
    You can push start it when the battery is dead or the starter is gone (drove a Dodge Omni for quite a while without a starter [​IMG]).
     
  11. CharlesD

    CharlesD Screenwriter

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    SMTs will start showing up on cheaper/non-sporty vehicles sooner than people think. The technology has been around for a while and the echanics of thesystem do not have to be much more complicated than a traditional manual.
    Benefits in a non-sporty application include: gas mileage of a manual with ease of use of an automatic (there is no reason that a SMT could not be used in a full auto mode); less maintenance than a regular manual, the SMT won't ride the clutch or grind the gears like some manual drivers do [​IMG]
    Economy of scale: a SMTs could be used across a variety of applications, the same basic unit could be used in several different cars with only minor programming differences.
    As Jay pointed out the extra cost of a SMT doesn't have to be exorbitant. I would not be surprised to see SMTs as options on many European and Japanese mid-range cars (sporty or otherwise) within the next 5 years.
     
  12. Tim Markley

    Tim Markley Screenwriter

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    Excellent post Jared! Good job of summarizing all of the options without any bias. I've heard from a few different sources that Audi is planning on completely replacing their tiptronic with CVT in the future. I'll be watching them closely to see how things develop. I'm also very interested in seeing SMG available on more of the BMW models in the future. Hopefully by that time it'll be a little cheaper. $2300 is a little steep for me.

    BTW, I would definitely encourage anyone who's not familiar with the Audi CVT to go out and test drive an A4 3.0 CVT with the Sport package. It's really a great car and a great alternative for someone who doesn't want a manual transmission. Unfortunately you can't get Quattro with the CVT yet but it will be available in a couple of years.
     
  13. Charles J P

    Charles J P Cinematographer

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    Good point about the Ford/Mazda thing. I always get in arguments with people at work about american vs japanese cars. I ask who they are concerned about, the CEOs or the line workers. If its the line workers, buy a Honda made in Ohio or a Toyota made in Kentucky over a Ford made in Mexico. I you are concerned about which CEO gets richer, I am scared of you.

    Also, its not that I like to shift so much that is the reason I got a manual, but I will never buy a car with a transmission that has a torque converter. Whether that means traditional stick with clutch, SMG/SMT, or some new technology.
     
  14. Jay H

    Jay H Producer

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  15. David Susilo

    David Susilo Screenwriter

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    Scott Merryfield,

    Although you are not completely wrong about Mazda, you are not completely right either.

    Some Mazdas are built in Japan. You can see it from the VIN. If it ends with the letter J, then it's from Japan.

    My 1992 Protege has a J designation, and so does my 1999. My 2000, however, does not have that designation and it does perform very differently although both 1999 and 2000 supposedly have the same engine (1.8L DOHC, 4-speed AT)

    This information is also backed by manager at Mazda Canada and several car technicians both Mazda authorized and non.
     
  16. Charles J P

    Charles J P Cinematographer

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    Also Philip, RE: your comment about VW being good about offering various transmissions with various models... this is true, but my trade-off statement still stands. A manual, 1.8t Jetta with alloy wheels and a sunroof is $23-$24K, and thats a compact car.
     
  17. Alex Spindler

    Alex Spindler Producer

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    Excellent post, and a great subject. You did a great job on keeping it fairly unbiased.

    I have a manual for many reasons (drive in snow, more control), but the primary reason is that it 'involves' me in driving in a way that an automatic can never do. Driving an automatic feels so sterile. I drove a rented Mustang and couldn't wait to get back to my 91 Honda Accord 4-speed.

    I was always wondering what my first stubborn unacceptance of technology would be, and it clearly is the standard transmission. For the time being, all my future car purchases will be ruled by it.

    *Edit: Also, and chance of reediting the original post to include the contributions of everyone else? That would make a great one page summary.*
     
  18. Scott L

    Scott L Producer

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    I remember hearing something that the first cars were actually automatics, then manuals came later.

    David Susilo- So which performs better, the US made or Jap made Mazda?
     
  19. Andrej Dolenc

    Andrej Dolenc Stunt Coordinator

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    There are some maintenance costs associated with manual transmitions, be they shift-it-yourself or computer-controlled SMG type trannies - the clutch. The clutch disc material will wear out and need to be replaced periodically. Automatic trannies basically run until they fall apart.

    I agree with the shifting a manual becoming second nature after a while. You don't think about it, your hand & foot move almost of their own accord, shift is done before you know it.

    My car is a shift-it-yourself, wouldn't have it any other way.

    Andrej
     
  20. Jared_B

    Jared_B Supporting Actor

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    Great idea, Alex - I'll try to incorporate everyone's additions into the first post very soon.
     

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