Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - CARSGUIDE CONFIDENTIAL - Twit­ter @PaulWardGover

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

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