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Manual Or Automatic?

Which Is Best - Manual Or Automatic? Obviously this will depend highly on your driving style and preference, but are there any advantages to either gearbox?

Nov 24, 2014

One of the main choices you will face when buying a new car is whether to have a manual or an automatic gearbox. While many sports car manufacturers no longer offer manual gearboxes, the majority of drivers still choose a manual when buying a new car. Indeed, 75 per cent of the 1.8 million new cars that were bought before 20 October this year had a manual gearbox.

However, with technology developing all the time, many people are now turning to automatic gearboxes which have become more popular in recent years. But what are the differences between the two types of transmission? What types of gearbox are available? And what are the pros and cons? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know.

The different types of gearbox that are available

In general terms, there are three types of gearbox that are available in new cars. These are:

Manual – Typically with five or six gears, manuals involve you choosing which gear you want to be in. You change the gear by hand at the same time as operating the clutch pedal with your left foot.

  • Semi-automatic – Here, your gearbox would have the choice of selecting ‘D’ for ‘Drive’ mode but you would also have the option of changing gears manually. This is usually performed by moving the gear lever towards ‘+’ and ‘-’ symbols or by operating up and down ‘paddles’ behind the steering wheel

  • Automatic – Here, your car selects the best gear based on your speed, level of acceleration and the engine revs. The car selects the right gear using a component called a torque converter instead of a clutch

Pros and cons of automatic and manual gearboxes

The majority of new cars come with manual gearboxes. Enthusiastic drivers often pick a manual gearbox as they believe that they offer greater driving pleasure and a greater involvement with the car.

Manual cars can also be easier to maintain. Manual transmissions tend to be less complex than automatics and fewer things tend to go wrong.

In addition, manual cars are often cheaper to buy and use less fuel. Power losses from the torque converter can mean a slight loss of power from an automatic, meaning it is less fuel efficient. However, with new electronic systems now monitoring your car and with more gears available, automatics are more fuel efficient than they have been in the past.

An automatic can be beneficial on long journeys or in stop-start traffic. In busy traffic an automatic means that you don’t have to shift in and out of gear all the time and on longer stretches of road it allows you to cruise easily. An automatic also helps you to concentrate on the road without having to worry about gear changes.

Types of automatic gearbox

Over recent years, technological advancements now mean that there are various different types of automatic gearbox available.

Traditional automatic

These cars use a torque convertor instead of a clutch. Gear changes take place without you having to lift off the accelerator and the car generally decides when to change gear.

Thanks to the hydraulic interface, modern automatics usually change gear smoothly. However, a traditional automatic gearbox will tend to change gear more slowly than a dual-clutch gearbox, and it’ll usually make your car less fuel efficient.

Dual clutch automatic

A dual-clutch automatic gearbox has two electronically-controlled clutches. The two clutches each control what are effectively separate three-speed gearboxes. When you select "D", first gear is selected in gearbox one and second gear is pre-selected in gearbox two.

As you accelerate, the gearbox lines up the next and previous gears on the clutch that isn’t in use, ready for when you slow down or continue to accelerate. When a gear change is needed, it simply switches from one clutch to the other.

Ford's PowerShift automatic transmission is an example of this type of technology. Pat Oldani, Ford's automatic transmission manager, said: “The double-clutch technology gives you the best of both worlds – the efficiency of a manual, combined with the effortless, two-pedal operation of a conventional automatic.”

Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)

Unlike most gearboxes, a continuously variable transmission uses two pairs of metal cones instead of cogs. One set of cones is attached to the engine and the other is attached to the wheels with a belt suspended between them.

This type of system is very efficient because the gearing can be adjusted almost infinitely. This means the engine can be kept at its most efficient speed while the car accelerates, and it also means that there are no gear changes, which makes progress seamless.

Nissan’s XTronic CVT system uses this technology. With a wide ratio spread and highly precise control, the CVT delivers outstanding acceleration and fuel economy.

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