Sorry, Manual Transmissions
I recently stumbled across this article from BMWBlog.com about car enthusiasts’ struggles to embrace modern automatic transmissions. It was something that even back in 2015 I found ironic. Seeing as most car enthusiasts crave superior performance, one would surmise that having faster shift times would be a no-brainer. I mean, there are no professional race cars with a third pedal.
In the early ‘00s, yea, the sequential gearboxes really only worked on the track. Driving one in stop-and-go conditions was… less than pleasant. But, those days are long gone. No more awkward roll back preceding a sudden jolt forward when the car engaged first gear. And that’s in large thanks to a company you’ve never heard of: ZF (Pronounced Zed-Eff).
BMW has been using ZF transmissions for years, and nowadays that same transmission can be found in pretty much every luxury brand but Mercedes. Audi’s Quattro system is built by ZF, using many of the same components in the ones under the hoods of BMWs. In my personal opinion, it’s the best transmission ever made.
We happen to have a special relationship with ZF, and because they are so widely used, the vast majority of vehicles we service have ZF transmissions. The eight-speed gearbox ZF is most famous for is almost without fault. It shifts as fast as you can blink, and does so with incredible smoothness. And because it can change through gears at lightning speed, it allows for more than the traditional five and six gears found in manual transmissions, which increases performance and fuel economy.
Where it really shines–and the reason it makes manual transmissions obsolete–is how it downshifts. In the days of old, if you hit that little “overdrive off” button on your shift lever to drop down a gear, the car would slow down alarmingly, because there was little communication between the engine and transmission. So, when the transmission was forced into a lower gear, the engine’s RPM would be raised by the sudden change in the transmission’s speed, creating a terrifying braking effect.
ZF solved that through innovations and magic, and the result is a transmission that can cycle through gears without any violent feedback. Which was the goal of nerds like myself who spent countless hours in empty parking lots perfecting shifting techniques that to this day have never proved worthwhile, except to brag about my mastery of an obsolete skill. If you are one of the holdouts still priding yourself on how smoothly you can heel-and-toe, I challenge you to see if you can even come close to what a ZF transmission can do.