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An automatic choice?

April 18, 2008

In America more than 90 per cent of the cars sold come with automatic gearboxes, while in the European Union, although the number is not so high, automatics do outnumber cars with manual gearboxes. In India, the scenario is quite the opposite. Ninety-nine per cent of the cars sold here come with manual gearboxes! This despite the fact that automatics offer so much more convenience and comfort.

This is because historically India has had cars with automatic transmissions that featured outdated technology.

Passatís direct shift gearbox delivers sportier and efficient results
Passatís gearbox
But all that is rapidly changing. Automatic boxes have evolved over the years and at times now, offer even better fuel efficiency than manual gearboxes on the same cars. This has been made possible by advanced electronics as well as the use of a higher number of gears compared to their manual gearbox counterparts.

Technologies have also advanced and there are a number of automatic gearbox technologies now available in India, ranging from the simple CVTs (Continuously Variable Transmission) to the 7-Gtronic, S-tronic, multitronic, DSG (Direct Shift Gearbox), tiptronic, etc. They are all automatic gearboxes from different manufacturers and broadly incorporate either CVT technologies or plain and simple, advanced automatic technologies.

The Honda City comes with a CVT and so do all the Audi multitronic cars. CVTs are efficient gearboxes, the primary problem was torque transfer in the olden days. However, with the use of new materials and better designs, these problems have been overcome. So, the Honda City CVT is actually quite a good gearbox but requires a change in driving style to get the best out of.

Among the conventional automatics, Volkswagen Group uses DSG. It’s a twin-shaft, double-clutch gearbox whose electronic controller pre-selects the next gear on another shaft and just engages it when the shift actually happens. It’s a quick method of changing gears and the loss in drive is minimised to a fraction of the time it takes on other gearboxes, both manual and automatic. The result is a sportier and more efficient performance. The DSG is available in India on the Skoda Laura, the Volkswagen Passat and on the Audi TT as the S-tronic, where it gets an additional cog. The other advantage of this gearbox is that it is a six-speed automatic, compared to the conventional five-speed manuals, and also have a manual mode, which can be operated either through paddle-shifts on the steering wheel (like on the Passat and TT) but also by slotting the gear lever in the manual mode and then flicking it up or down.

Manual modes are also available on the Honda Civic, which again, has a paddleshift. For the first time, an automatic has seen some demand on an Indian car. Not to be left behind, more and more vehicles are going automatic and you will soon see the Mahindra Scorpio automatic as well as the Nano automatic.

I am all for automatics in the high density traffic situations where a relief from constantly changing gears is most welcome. And if you drive them right, the loss in fuel efficiency will be minimal and theoretically, we should be looking at higher fuel efficiency.

Yogendra Pratap is Editor, Auto Bild, India

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