One of the reasons I think there’s so much automatic hate among many car enthusiasts is that for so very long, automatics were abysmal, fun-killing three- and four-speed units. Now they’re fast-shifting, with fancy paddles, and offer lots of gears. But where does the insanity end?
I ask this because General Motors’ global product chief Mark Reuss said the new 10-speed automatic from the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 will find its way into eight models in the next two years, according to Automotive News. And front-wheel drive cars will get a nine-speed gearbox. And Ford has a patent on an 11-speed gearbox as well.
Ten speeds! Nine speeds! Eleven speeds! That’s a lot of speeds! My gosh.
The current luxury car standard for conventional torque converter-based automatics is the ZF8 eight-speed gearbox. It’s used in a wide array of cars for good reason. And GM’s own Chevrolet Corvette and Z06 also come with an in-house eight-speed, though I don’t think it’s fast or foolproof as the ZF. The German supplier also makes a nine-speed gearbox for Fiat Chrysler, Acura and others.
So we’re firmly in the era of lots of speeds, thanks to fuel economy requirements. When does enough become enough, though? Eleven speeds? Twelve? Fifteen? Thirty?
My issue with these high-number gearboxes is it takes a while to row down through the gears sequentially—going from eight to four on the highway is a bit longer than six to four. I can’t say that as a driver, I’ve had a significantly better experience with an eight-speed over a six-speed.
Same with manual gearboxes. These new seven-speed manuals in the Porsche 911 and Corvette Stingray are solid, but you’ll mostly only use seventh on the highway, if ever. It’s a fuel economy thing, seemingly more for certification than actual real-world use.
The other option is infinite gears, which you get in CVTs, but those have yet to really catch on. And for good reason. They range from inappropriate (Subaru WRX) to abysmally horrible (any Nissan) to tolerable at best (the new Honda Civic.)
What’s the best number for a gearbox?