Can 8-Speeds Be Too Many to Be Fun?
Yesterday, we reported on the new 8-speed automatic that will find its way into the Corvette Stingray. This is a victory for Corporate Average Fuel Economy advocates, and the one person out there buying a Corvette who cares what kind of MPG it returns. I’m here to tell you that there is a downside (if you didn't already know). I’ve spent time at the helm of many performance cars. Some of my favorite have been smaller cars with manuals like the Mazda Miata or Mini Roadster, but many more are German and American performance/luxury machines with paddle-shift automatic transmissions. When there are 6-gears involved, these transmissions as impressive and fun, but as the gears go up, the fun factor goes down. PHOTOS: See More of the 2014 Infiniti Q50
The added gears allows the car to achieve a higher top speed, but the added cogs also mean the engine can be at an optimal RPM for fuel economy. When piloting one of these vehicles, you might not perceive the downside, and if you put it into Sport mode, the computer will also find the optimal gear for enhanced smiles.
But switch an 8-speed automatic over to manual mode, and things get convoluted fast. If I were in a car with a 5 or 6-speed transmission and wanted to get from 30 mph to 60 mph, perhaps accelerating onto a highway, I would downshift two gears, getting the RPM up into the optimal power zone. If a car has 7, 8, or even 9 speeds, this might require three downshifts. In that time, I might have lost my window to pass.
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The solution is to create “sport manual” modes for these numerous-speed automatics. A single blip of the downshift will actually downshift two gears, turning an 8-speed automatic into an old four-speed. After all, those extra gears are for added fuel economy, and when you’re in manual mode, that is the last thing on your mind. C’mon automakers, try this with your next automatic-equipped performance vehicle and see how much better the drive experience is.