TTAC Commentator Karl_Donina writes:
Hi, Sajeev. I want to know why it’s so fashionable for automakers to provide obnoxiously labyrinthine automatic shifter gates. It seems to have started with Jaguar’s innocuous J-shaped gates of the ’80s, but these days it seems to have become passé to provide a simple, easy-to-use linear gate — push button or hold lever to one side to move in a straight line out of park and through the gears, or back the other direction. Now every shift, whether from 1 to 2 or N to R or whatever, requires inconsistent and annoying fore-aft and transverse movements. The gates on Subarus I’ve driven lately are ridiculous, as is the one in the Yaris I rented last week. And there are many more. Thanks for whatever enlightenment you can provide.
Indeed, the Jaguar “J-Gate” shifter is a curiosity that adds to the brand’s charm. Luckily, those gear “detents” also serve a purpose. According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Detent), a detent is a “device used to mechanically resist or arrest the rotation of a wheel, axle or spindle.”
In this case, detents save the expensive transmission/transaxle in your car. And the detents make holding a specific gear quite easy, if all ratios are covered on the shift pattern. Imagine if the Lexus IS-F had a zig-zag pattern covering all eight gears…how cool would that be?
But all automatic shift levers have detents, and the last of the “linear” detent shifters use button-actuated lockouts to keep someone from accidently shifting into neutral, reverse or a lower gear. And I suspect the deletion of that button saved the automakers (collectively) millions of dollars. Hence the detents became automotive gospel.
Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:
Revisionist History Alert: the Etch-A-Sketch detents are a necessity with today’s plastic-craptastic interiors and glass-jaw transmissions. Take my first car, a 1965 Ford Galaxie 500: it had RoboCop-amounts of metal in the shifter, connected to the unquestionably durable Ford C6 autobox.
When I moved the shifter one detent, I felt that sweet action in my finger bones. It was cool, plus it took dedication to put the transmission in the wrong gear at the wrong time. While these metal parts burned me in the summer and caused wintertime shivering, it worked. And I never had to hear that awful racket from today’s plastic shifter detents.
Even if the good old days weren’t exactly good, it never hurts to look at our new designs with a critical eye from yesteryear. So there it is.
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