New Car Reviews
The inner workings of the PDK-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe. That's Porsche-speak for double-clutch gearbox.
The New Automanual Transmissions: A dozen years of evolution
Sam Moses traces the evolution of the automated gearbox to its latest examples
By Sam Moses
Transmissions like the Porsche 911 PDK (Doppelkupplungsgetriebe) and the new Mitsubishi Ralliart's Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission are being called automated manual transmissions, although automated gearbox sounds neater. But we all need to understand what we're talking about here, because now even Wikipedia has stepped in.
I reviewed the cars that started it, the Porsche with TipTronic and NSX with SportShift. I raved about the Autostick in the 1995 Chrysler Eagle Vision TSi, amazed by its spirit as I drove the fantastic rolling roads in California between Eureka and Red Bluff; it was the first such automatic transmission in a sedan, enabling quick shifting by flicking the floorshift lever. "It's about time," I wrote, back then. "We have seen the future, and it works."
Writing for AutoWeek, I came up with the generic name, "automanual" transmission. It didn't stick. The engineers at Car and Driver more correctly called it the manumatic. Automanual was just a bit ahead of its time.
Three years later, Ferrari introduced the first manual gearbox that shifted automatically, in the F355 F1, derived from the Formula One car that Michael Schumacher drove. At the 1998 launch at Texas World Speedway, Ferrari North America brought the only F355 F1 in the country, and I drove it in two practice sessions for the Ferrari F355 Challenge series, as well as on the street. The shifts were slow and snatchy. Dissed Tom Papadopolous, the Ferrari Challenge driving champion and owner of a Ferrari, Porsche and Aston Martin shop, "It's for guys in the Hamptons who don't know how to drive a six-speed."
But that was then with electro-hydraulic shifting. Over a decade of development, we now have the twin-clutch system, thanks to Getrag, and Volkswagen. The gear changes in the VW GTI, Audi TT and Audi A3 are wondrous.
So if you read the terms semi-automatic transmission, automated manual transmission, automated gearbox or automanual, they mean the same thing: a magical manual transmission that doesn't have a clutch pedal.