It's many ratios bring improved refinement and lower fuel consumption.

There was a time when three speeds in an automatic transmission was the height of technical sophistication. And now here we are, in 2016, and General Motors is launching an automatic with no less than nine speeds.

The Hydra-Matic 9T50 debuts in the in the 2017 Chevrolet Malibu, paired with the 250 horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, turbo engine. It will soon be available in the 2017 Cruze Diesel and 2018 Equinox, as well. By the end of next year, the 9T50 will be fitted to a total of 10 vehicles across the GM range.

Chevrolet claims the new gearbox improves the Malibu’s fuel economy by three percent over the 2016 model with a six-speed automatic, achieving 33 miles per gallon on the highway.

Despite being stuffed with three extra gears and their associated bits, Chevrolet claims the 9T50 is more or less the same size as the old six-speed unit, thanks to clever packaging.

Gear ratios, clutches, and shift controls have all been fine-tuned to make the ‘box as refined as possible.

Dan Nicholson, vice president of global propulsion systems, said: “In addition to improved fuel efficiency, the 9T50 offers a strong overall balance of performance and refinement that customers will feel at all driving speeds. By the end of 2017 Chevrolet will offer four models with the new nine-speed.”

“Everything about the new nine-speed is designed to maximize benefits for the customer,” added marketing head Steve Majoros. “It helps offer greater fuel efficiency in the city and on the highway, all with the world-class refinement that makes the driver quiet and smooth.”

GM is not the only manufacturer to offer a nine-speed gearbox. Mercedes has its 9G-Tronic ‘box, as fitted to the CLS, while both Land Rover and Jeep use their own version of ZF’s design. But it is Ford that can currently claim to offer the most gears, the 2017 F-150 Raptor using an 10-speed unit.