So here we are in a time when slowly manual transmission cars are dying out and customers and manufacturers are both shifting to automatic gearboxes. Is this a world we want our children to grow up in? As a true car enthusiast will say, manual cars are more engaging and who even drives an automatic car? And why the torture? But traffic is increasing. Cars are being reprimanded of free spaces to stretch their legs, every country doesn’t have an Autobahn and hence automatics have started to make sense for the daily driver. Automatic cars save you the agony of shifting from 1st to 2nd gear every 30 seconds, making commuting in traffic easier. Of course, automatic gearboxes are faster at changing gears and blah blah, but would you rather drive a Supra with a manual gearbox or an automatic one?
With the rise in automatic transmissions, no one type is in the market, AMTs, CVTs, DSGs, torque converters, etc are different types of transmissions that the modern-day driver can choose from. We all miss those days when we saw Niki Lauda going berserk with the manual gearbox in his Ferrari and as F1 fans, we used to do the same with our daily driver, but with the proliferation of automatic transmissions, how do we get the same feel? Automobile manufacturers have come with paddle shifters to make automatic cars more engaging for the driver. A few years back one could enjoy the use of paddle shifters or flappy paddle gearbox only in expensive cars but in today’s age, even mid-range 4-wheelers come with a flappy paddle gearbox. What are paddle shifters though? Paddle shifters are levers attached to the steering wheel or column that allow drivers to manually shift the gears of an automatic transmission with their fingers. Nowadays, many automatic cars come with a manual mode, wherein the driver can change gears by moving the shift lever forward and backwards in that specific mode. This allows the drivers to mimic the feel of a manual transmission but without the cumbersome job of using the clutch pedal to shift gears now and then.
Ferrari was the first brand to incorporate the idea of paddle shifters in its cars and the Ferrari F355 was the first road car to come with it. Formula 1 also switched to paddle shifters in 1991 as it was very easy to shift gears from the steering wheel than reaching out for the gear lever. Paddle shifters let the driver control when the transmission changes gears instead of waiting for the transmission to decide and when in the right hands this churns out a better performance from the car. Paddle shifters are found behind the steering wheel at the 9 and 3 positions. Usually, they are denoted by “+” and “-” signs on the paddles, with the “+” paddle on the right side denoting upshift of gear and the “-” paddle is situated on the left side denoting downshift of gear. Even though the manual mode allows the driver to get control of the car via the paddle shifters, automatic transmissions still have built-in safeguards that prevent the over-revving of the engine which would cause harm to the engine.
What is the point in using paddle shifters? There are times when an automatic transmission isn’t always the best option and having the control of a manual may be of a greater benefit. In such situations, the use of flappy paddles lets you anticipate the road the way an automatic transmission can’t. Automatic transmission relies on sensors that change the gears according to the information gathered by them but with a paddle shifter, you can beforehand anticipate what gear you want in any situation, and with a tap on the paddle, you can put the car in the desired rev band and extract maximum performance out of the car. Paddle shifters are way faster than manual gearboxes and way less cumbersome. On downhill slopes, you can drop gear with the paddles and brake using engine braking without touching the brakes. As advanced as automatic transmissions are, they aren’t efficient at reading slippery roads in unruly weather, so the advantage of having that manual control can’t be overstated.
Fun, performance and control are the basic flavors of flappy paddle gearboxes. Paddle shifters are ready to be engaged anytime the transmission is set to Drive. If you use the paddle shifter, your transmission will hold the gear for a few seconds and will revert back to automatic if no further inputs are given. Flappy paddles are very good at giving the driver more control of their car and looking at where the automotive industry is going, flappy paddles will be the only way to gain manual control of the car. We are seeing paddle shifters making their way to mid-range cars and probably they will even feature on budget cars in the near future. But, manual transmissions will always hold a special place in our hearts.