Tiptronic transmissions

23:27 Thu 16 Nov 2006. Updated: 16:37 21 Nov 2006
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I’ve had a chance to drive a few of these recently, and I consider it a good thing that they exist.

“Tiptronic” (also known as “sportronic”) transmissions give you a kind of “clutchless manual” mode, where you can shift the gears manually but without a clutch pedal. Under the hood, the car’s computer systems give the (automatic) transmission strong hints about what gears to use. It doesn’t give you the same control as real manual, but it gives you more control than automatic. I definitely find them more fun to drive.

I still prefer driving a manual transmission, with a clutch, but not by that much.

I’ve driven the Mazda 3, the Mazda 3 hatchback, the Mazda 5, the Mazda 6, and the BMW 325 with Tiptronic transmissions, and find them unquestionably more fun than any automatic. I’ve driven all of these with Zipcar, and the fact of their availability makes me much more sympathetic to Tiptronic transmissions. Most critics of this kind of transmission point out that it doesn’t compare with true manual, and I agree—but in the U.S. it appears impossible to rent a car with manual transmission, and Zipcar certainly doesn’t have any that I know of. Given a choice between automatic and some bastardized, simplified form of manual, I’ll still take the latter every time. Without it, I’d find a lot of the Zipcar driving far less fun.

Not that Tiptronic transmission differs from semi-automatic: with the former, the engine has a torque converter just like automatics do; with the latter, the system is just like a typical manual car but a computer does all the clutch adjustment (eliminating the need for the clutch pedal). F1 cars and the Bugatti Veyron have semi-automatic clutchless systems, which tend to appear in rather more expensive cars than the Tiptronics…

2 Responses to “Tiptronic transmissions”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Thanks for the tips….very helpful to this new zipcar person, looking for a fun drive and not knowing one car from the other. The last vehicle I owned was a Dodge Durango – with a Hemi and I loved it. Road warrior – 60,000 miles one year. Then moved to the City, got rid of the car. Thanks again for your note!

  2. Graham Says:

    I remember you telling me about Zipcar – it sounds great.

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