GET YOUR GEAR ON ... IF YOU CAN
THERE are too many gears in the world today. Six forward ratios are normal for manuals and automatics, seven is no stretch, eight is becoming commonplace and there are some new autos with nine.
And don’t forget the constantly variable transmissions that effectively have unlimited gears because their pulleys-and-bands design means they always select the right ratio for a job.
The gold rush for gears is all about economy, emissions and efficiency.
Even the sporty Porsche 911 is now built with seven speeds, in manual or selfshifter (known as PDK).
For older people who grew up with three-speed Torqueflites or three on-thetree manuals it might sound like a lot of choice and that’s even the verdict from the fivespeed generation of less than a decade ago. But if more gears are good, the computers that control them and the software that predicates the shifts are not so great.
We’re facing up to ever greater confusion when driving cars that are programmed to take the highest gear at all times. You can easily be rolling around the suburbs in a self-shifter that’s up in sixth, or in a manual car with an indicator urging you to a higher gear.
But what happens when you need an urgent response from the engine? Or you change your frugal driving for a bit of Sunday fun? Or even encounter a red light that disrupts the driving flow?
We’ve driven lots of cars that now stammer and stutter, pick the wrong gear or just give up and hold one that’s too high.
And there are some cars — like the Fiat 500X currently on my driveway — in which the gearbox is irrelevant. Touted as a nine-speed automatic, the Fiat box is not remotely interested in top until you’re well past the 110km/h freeway limit.
When Toyota introduced a six-speed automatic in the LandCruiser, it found the transmission, programmed for European autobahns, was locked out of sixth below 120km/h.
So the gear rush is good but we need the rest of the package to catch up. And fast.
Beyond reach: Fiat’s 500X won’t reach ninth on our roads