At Bespoke Driver Training we train dozens of chauffeurs and VIP protection drivers every year, so we operate a few auto’s simply because they are a useful tool of our trade. However, when I’m driving I prefer a manual ‘box, especially if my journey is across country. Not until the anti-car lobby push to amputate enthusiastic drivers’ left legs will I choose an auto’ in preference to a car with a manual transmission – there’s just too much satisfaction to be had stirring a gearbox, matching engine speed to driven wheel speed on each synchronised down-change.
Leaving a vehicle’s automatic gearbox to select gears automatically optimises fuel consumption and refinement. As you drive, modern auto’s adapt to your driving style and, indirectly, to road conditions, selecting the most suitable ‘map’ from the pre-programmed shift patterns. ‘Drive’ is great if you have to endure a daily commute through city traffic. However, there are occasions when selecting a gear manually using the integral override functionality offers more control. If you override an auto’, perhaps by selecting ‘M’ for Manual mode on the gear selector, the engine becomes more responsive to your right foot, as the gearbox will hold on to the selected gear until you manually select another.
Consider for a moment leap-frog overtaking within a line of vehicles on a two-way single-carriageway road. Your intention is to overtake a vehicle or two before rejoining the queue, awaiting another opportunity to pass another dawdler. If you were to remain in the fully automatic ‘Drive’ mode using kick-down to power past, upon lifting off the accelerator the gearbox may change up a gear. At a time when engine braking would be useful in assisting you to considerately blend back in to the queue without showing brake lights, engine compression falls with the engine revs and you need to brake to fit in to the gap. So, prior to overtaking pre-select the gear manually, thereby retaining the extra engine braking available at higher engine speeds. You’ll enjoy an instant response to the loud pedal too, as kick-down usually arrives after a momentary delay.
Stringing a series of bends together using acceleration sense in preference to the brakes is aided by selecting a gear manually. Once again the extra engine compression is useful. Easing and squeezing the accelerator between the bends rather than both the accelerator and brake pedals is more flowing, albeit the trade-off is in terms of increased fuel consumption. Particularly if the road is both twisting and undulating, retaining a lower gear in manual mode helps to stop the car from running away. The car remains more responsive to your right foot.
Prior to a long, steep descent overriding an auto’ can mean retaining more control over the car’s speed. This is in contrast to manually shifting down through the gears to slow a car that has already begun to run away. The brakes are for slowing and the gears are for going, remember! So, at the top of a hill consider manually selecting a gear so that during the descent the extra engine braking reduces run-on. The extra control is especially noticeable during a winding descent. When climbing lengthy slopes an automatic can occasionally become caught between gears. In order to maintain speed when the gradient is often changing, you’ll instinctively ease and squeeze the accelerator. An auto’ can then begin to ‘hunt’ for the best gear. In these circumstances selecting a gear manually can prevent unnecessary, irritating gearshifts.
Whilst automatic transmissions have become much more intuitive over recent years, my personal preference remains with manual transmissions. Is there treatment available for a gear-knob fetish?