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What's the point of "manual" automatic trannys?

A lengthy thread in the maintenance/repairs section makes me wonder what the point is of automatic trannys that have paddle shifting imitating manual tranny control?

Driving an automatic, if I need to downshift, like going down a very steep long decline, I just downshift as needed then shift back to drive when appropriate. Example, driving down Tioga Pass on the east side of Yosemite in the Sierras.

In normal driving, whether in city traffic or highway driving, it is simple to modify shift points by paying attention to the sound and feel of the engine and either goosing acceleration a mite or momentarily easing off the gas for a second until the desired shift occurs. Been driving that way for forty years. That’s what I was taught by my mom who drove manuals for many years. And she was taught by a professional test and race driver on the Packard proving grounds.

So since it is easy to actually shift an automatic into a different gear at need and also easy to manipulate shift points via gas pedal, what is the real positive use of paddle shifters?

…still reading, still learning…

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They are just for fun but the fun wears out quickly though. That’s my personal assessment.

It came in handy during a recent trip across the Rocky Mountains. Selecting the right gear to go uphill as well as gearing down to save the brakes was fun.

However, during normal driving we never use it.

Paddllie shifters are for the younger generation hot rodders who never learnd to drive a stick shiift.

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I either want a manual transmission or a fully automatic transmission. I don’t want something in between. When I was in high school, my parents had a 1952 Dodge with “Gyromatic”. One had to use the clutch to select reverse, neutral, low range or driving range. When in driving range, one accelerated to about 15 mph, released the accelerator, and the transmission dropped into high. When one slowed below 10 mph, the car went back into low. As long as the transmission was in driving range, the clutch did not need to be depressed at a stop sign. I guess the transmission did eliminate some shifting and clutching, but it didn’t seem worth the effort. There have been other efforts at combining the automatic with the manual through the years, Packard had an electrically operated clutch, Hudson had its “Drivemaster”, Rambler had its "E-stick"and the Cord had some system which allowed the driver to preselect the next gear, but none of these were successful. My prediction is that this “paddle shifter” will be gone before long.

Personally, I don’t see the point of an automatic with manual controls. I’m sure the transmission knows when to shift better than I do, so I’m happy to leave shifting to the computer.

On the other hand, an automatic manual (a manual transmission that has been automated) is a different animal. On one hand, people don’t like them because there is often a lag when they shift, like the one used in the Smart ForTwo. I like them because, at least on a theoretical level, they automate shifting without making the transmission a complicated mechanism that is as prone to failure as a typical automatic transmission.

If I’m not mistaken, VW experimented with automating part of the shifting in different ways on the original Beetle. One woman I knew back from high school got a classic Beetle that required manual (stick) shifting, but the clutch was automated, so pressing the gas pedal automatically engaged the clutch, so the car only had two pedals: brake and gas. I think VW called this a semi-automatic.

…or was it pressure on the gear nob that disengaged the clutch? I can’t remember.

I think paddle shifters are useful. When I’m going down a long hill, I like being able to change gears without taking a hand off the steering wheel, especially when I’m changing gears multiple times as the slope of the hill changes. When I’m trying to accelerate heavily to pass or merge, I like being able to get in the desired gear ahead of time (especially before a curve) and then go to whatever gears I choose, which really isn’t something you can do with the accelerator pedal as you claim.

I agree, automatics with manual controls are pretty useless. The automatic knows how to shift better than I do. If you want to select your shift points manually, get a manual transmission.

Today’s equivalent is a CVT that mimics an ordinary automatic, with pseudo shift points. Another wast of energy and money. In this case, I don’t think this is defeatable, although I could be wrong.


I have one of these in my 2013 Mustang. Not paddle shifters (I’d like some tho) but an automatic with a manual function. I switched from a manual because driving in traffic where I live is tedious but I still like to autocross and do track days.

The auto is a 6 speed with either Drive or Sport as a gear selection (plus Park, Reverse and Neutral). The only way to select a lower gear is to set it in Sport. Sport is the manual mode controlled by up and down shift buttons on the shifter handle itself. Up shifts are manual only and down shifts can be automatic IF you don’t shift manually first. It won’t let you lug a gear so it auto-downshifts. The rev limiter won’t let you over-rev the car but it won’t automatically up-shift.

In normal traffic I use it for downhills and low-traction starts in 2nd gear but I don’t normally use manual mode.

Autocrossing and track days are completely the opposite. I always manual shift the car because it isn’t smart enough to do it correctly. Autocrosses are run in 1st and 2nd only and on the tracks I’ve run, the car never exceeds 4th gear 4th is good to 145 mph, which I never see on-track, so far!

I agree. It has always been possible to readily downshift an automatic if desired. I downshift mine often. The new setups just allow a driver to pretend he/she is driving a sports car.

The argument could be made that these “paddle” setups emulate the systems on high end supercars, and I suppose that’s true, but the bottom line is that they’re doing it to allow the driver to pretend to be driving a high end supercar. The hope is that will sell cars.


For real car racers it is faster to use the paddle shifter than to use a clutch and stick.

For most others, when their car enthusiast friends tell them they drive a manual car, they can say “Oh, but my automatic has paddle shifters” (don’t ask me how I know!).

I have used the manual shift on my Hyundai’s as mentioned above for keeping it in low gear in extended downhill rides. It is not necessary to have, but since I already paid for it I might as well use it.

Hurst offered a gated shift that GM made optional on some models

The car has to pretty expensive to have an automated clutch that operates quickly enough to make the paddle shifters effective. If you drive a Ferrari, you will notice the difference. If you drive an under $20,000 car, not so much. It is interesting to note that when the Cadillac CTS-V set the sedan lap record at the Nurburgring, its best times were in fully automatic mode, not with the paddle shifters. It is fun to feel more in control of the car, though.

Toyota MR2s had a paddle shifter that had the paddles behind the steering wheel and easily controlled without taking your hands off the wheel but also had a floor shifter that operated like shifting a motorcycle. The transmission would downshift when slowing to a stop but required driver input to upshift.

Either way has to be a step above the Three On The Tree non synchronized manuals that I learned how to drive on.

My parents had two cars when I got my driver’s license: 1) a 1952 Dodge with the "lift and clunk* Gyromatic and a 1954 Buick with the non synchronized low 3 on tree manual transmission. I took my driver’s test in the Buick. During the test, I came up to a traffic signal that changed from red to green just as I approached the signal. I quickly double clutched from third to first without any gear clash. The examiner was really impressed. When he made some comment about how few people knew how to double clutch, I responded by saying that synchronized transmissions were for wimps. I’ll bet I could still double clutch a 3 speed manual into low.

I learned to double-clutch driving army trucks. It’s nice to know how, but I don’t look forward to ever having to do it again in today’s traffic.

I just use it when I’m pulling the trailer so that I can shift and make sure I’m not bogging down the transmission. I dunno though, you’ve always been able to select low and usually second gear on an automatic-just had to use the shift lever to change gears.

Until my current 2014 Camry, all the cars I’ve driven had specific positions to put the gear lever into for P, D or OD or 1, 2, 3, N, R. Now I have P, R, N, D, and then S-D. That S-D gate is where I must move the lever and then toggle the lever to get into the chosen gear. It has taken some getting used to.

Personally, except in rare cases such as a long steep incline, I just let the automatic do its thing. If in heavy traffic the engine starts to lug or seem to strain for a shift point, that’s when fractional change in pressure on the gas, either to ease off or goose it, easily lets the tranny accept a shift point it has been “seeking”. It’s all subtle and fractional differences in speed for a brief second.

I goes beyond that. When you’re inches from your competitors rounding a hairpin turn in a formula one car in excess of 100mph, you don’t want to take one hand off the wheel to shift. :grin: