By on July 22, 2013

TTAC Commentator jco writes:


I have a quick but also possibly interesting question: in new VWs with DSG, the LCD info on the dash will tell you exactly what gear number you are in. Obviously with this particular transmission it’s necessary to do this. but why can’t other cars with conventional transmissions, either automatic or manual, have this small but useful feature? have other cars featured this?

Given the sudden multiplication of available gears in upcoming transmissions which have been a hot topic on TTAC recently, maybe it should be mandatory in a future sedan with an 8 speed transmission.

Also, FYI, my phone autocorrected your name to Sanjeev.

Sajeev answers:

ZOMG SON: could the people behind the smart phone be out to get me?  They want TTAC to fire me so they can hire Sanjeev instead???  Oh, the humanity!

My petulant insecurities aside, let’s go old school TTAC on this answer.  Our friend Mr. Bob Elton wrote a fantastic piece about deleting unnecessary crap from a vehicle. What he wrote almost eight years ago is still true today. Probably even more so, considering technology’s scope creep into the dashboards of vehicles increasingly cheaper than a BMW 7-series.

I don’t see a need for your request…even if one of my childhood design musings was this exact feature added to my 1983 Continental Valentino: a Roman Numeral display for the gear changes of the four-speed automatic. I thought it would look pretty sweet next to the digital speedometer on that black plexiglass Star Wars dash, especially since you could make the speedo jump by 6MPH increments thanks to its malaise-grade American V8 torque curve.

But perhaps I’ve grown up a little.  Or I’ve gleaned enough from my MBA coursework to believe that no R&D money should be spent making this indicator.  That said, it wouldn’t be that damn hard: the information is already collected by the computer, which is already wired to screen(s) on the dashboard.  It’ll take a little more GUI programming to display this information, and little else.

How much would that cost?  And is it worth it compared to…anything else? Think about what else you’d want on your next ride instead of this.


Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice. 

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42 Comments on “Piston Slap: Scope Creep!...”

  • avatar

    Might I add that many newer 6, 7, 8 and even 9 speed automatics often have trouble determining what gear they are in and relaying that info to the driver would, at best, be guessing. In a standard stick transmission if the driver doesn’t know what gear he’s in he probably has bigger issues that need his attention

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      Once in a blue moon, I’ll get “confused” as to which gear I left the tranny in. Reaching down for the gear lever to the position I “think” it’s in, and grasping at air is pretty unnerving! But not as much as for my passengers when I take my eyes off the road and say “what the F—??”

      • 0 avatar

        Spare a thought for driving instructors and their students. It isn’t much fun pulling onto a 60mph road in third gear.

        • 0 avatar
          Freddy M

          Good point. But I suspect like most of the auto industry, almost all driving instructors these days use auto transmissions to teach, as virtually all of their clientele will eventually drive the family slushbox anyway.

          That said, I remember seeing my car’s life flash before my eyes as I was teaching my nephew to drive stick, and when going from 3rd to 4th, he somehow managed to slot it into 2nd. The engine screamed wildly as the car bucked forward, and fortunately he had the presence of mind to slam on the clutch pedal. Of course, that has very little to do with a lack of Gear Indicator, and more to do with his lack of experience.

          • 0 avatar

            Similar thing happened to me test driving a car. I was on the hwy shifting from 5 to 6, but accidentally put it into 4. Fortunately, the engine had no problem revving, so I just accellerated hard, and no one seemed the wiser.

          • 0 avatar

            In the United States driving instruction is done on automatics.

            But in Europe, and I suspect the rest of the world, driving instruction is done exclusively on manuals.

  • avatar

    See Panther fan, this is why we can’t have nice things. Worthless SYNC system, and a Playskool instrument cluster. That’s a hell of a combination. (Did the Panther ever have SYNC? If so, that’s especially sad. Just that disparity on the same showroom floor looks pretty bad.

    I’m not a fan of loading cars down with extra features, but there’s an exception in this case. There is money to be saved in eliminating mechanical indicators, and going all-glass. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. With CAN bus, this should have happened 10 years ago. The Focus gets a tiny LCD screen with a speedo and fuel readout. The Lincoln gets everything, I mean EVERYTHING. Configurable data, and themes. “Perhaps I would like grandfather clock font, or malaise era dial today? Nah, I’m feeling like a little Grand Turismo is in order for my commute.” Sounds like an easy, and free way to add content.

    Like you said, it wouldn’t be that hard if all it takes is programming. Pull one guy off the infotainment squad. Get it done, and spread across your offerings. At least the dash won’t be usurped by technology in a few years. The fact that consumers are so hung up on what the stupid radio does that it influences their purchasing decision fills me with despair.

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    I will admit that once in a blue moon I thought the same thing that jco was thinking. “wouldn’t it be neat for the dash to show my current gear?” Why I’ve even entertained the notion of buying one of those aftermarket knobs that digitally show the Gear number on the top. Then I slap myself out of it. Not that it’s a stupid idea per se, but because as Sajeev commented, it’s really useless info.

    On a DSG or other Manu-matic, I can see the need for knowing what gear you’re in as flappy paddles wouldn’t necessarily indicate that. But with a proper manual transmission, I rarely ever forget which gear I’m in. And for any basic auto transmission… what real benefit would it serve to know what gear the slushbox is in?

  • avatar

    I think it’s a pretty common feature on exotics…but of course, most exotics have flappy paddle gearboxes, too.

  • avatar

    Both of my Mazda 3’s, previous gen and current gen, have this. I actually didn’t realize that it wasn’t common until now. Maybe it’s because they have automatics with “manual” mode?

    • 0 avatar

      Same here. 2005 A4, manually shiftable tiptronic transmission. I mostly use the feature to limit the transmission to 4th or 5th gear in city streets, so it doesn’t jump up when I hit it to hear the sound of the V6 on more time.

    • 0 avatar

      My CX-7 has it too. Mine always shows the gear, but the ’10 and later show “D” unless you are in manual mode. I like seeing it all the time, although having that info doesn’t actually do anything useful.

  • avatar

    It’s strangely common on sport motorcycles these days. It strikes me as completely unneccesary – a motorcycle has three gears. The too low, too high, or just right. The procedure is always click up, click down, or stay the course.

    I’ve noticed some recent cars ditching the temperature guage in favor of a light – it starts blue for cool, turns off for normal, turns red for approaching overheating, and flashes red for “turn it off now!” It seems no less functional than a needle.

    I agree on the all-glass. Most heavy aircraft did this years ago. Give me a screen that can be updated with custom displays as I see fit. All the Pantherphiles could put a big ugly 70’s ribbon on there, and a flashing check engine light to complete the retro feel!

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Heh! The temperature gauge you saw existed on my dad’s 1963 Chevrolet. He complained about it because the ’57 it replaced had a true temperature gauge.

      Nothing new here.

      • 0 avatar

        Our family’s early 70s Mopar wagon had a similar idea. A “cold” light was on at start, that would go out for normal operation, and red for “HOT”…The hot indicator came on with A/C in heavy traffic, much like every Mopar from that era.

  • avatar

    I’d like to preface my comment with the following: Please keep in mind that every car I have ever owned has been a manual, even my 1999 Jeep Cherokee Sport. I learned how to drive on a stick, my manual credentials are in perfect order.

    In March I would have said that this is a foolish feature. Then I purchased the ST.

    I don’t know if its the fact that the shifter is to far to the right, or if the gates are spaced too closely, but there are times when simply looking at the selector will not give you a clue as to what gear you are in despite having the “map” printed right on top of the stick. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but in a car that can be driven in 5th gear at 30mph, its easy to forget what gear you are in.

    Sounds stupid, but it’s true. Interestingly, the car has both an upshift and a downshift indicator and it’s not just a green arrow. It’s a green arrow and the number of the gear it wants you to shift to. If Ford went through all that trouble perhaps they should have also indicated in that center display the gear you are in.


    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps a better up/downshift indicator would be an arrow for single gear change & a double arrow for a 2-gear change. Then, you know it isn’t just a regular shift, and it doesn’t matter much if you know which gear you are in–just go through the corresponding motion.

      • 0 avatar

        There was a German company that had a gearshift gear position indicator built into the shift knob. It was called the IndyCator and it worked by learning the position of the gear selector and displaying the gear on the top of the knob.

  • avatar

    The 2000 A8L I used to have, had this feature. When you’d switch the shifter over into the +/- shift-yourself mode, the gear number would be indicated on the screen between the dials.

  • avatar
    Chris FOM

    My current 335 with the standard auto has this when you engage the paddle shifters. The LCD readout that normally shows the position of the transmission level (PRNDDS) instead changes to an M with the number of the gear next to it.

  • avatar

    F Series XLT w/Sync on up (as you go up the expensive trim ladder) all have the gear indicator displayed on the TFT on the cluster.

    As for me, I bought a STX with the old ass LCD that Ford has been making for 10 years because I want my info screen to work as I drive my truck into the jaws of the crusher, 25 years from now.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      something like this ? My Escape has a similar display. As someone said above; if I can’t tell if I’m stopped, going backwards, or going forwards, I’ve got bigger issues;)

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, it says which gear number you’re in.

        The only time I wish I had a readout for which gear I’m in is an indicator for manual transmissions telling me that I’m in reverse. I cannot tell you how many times I fret I’ll smash into the car in front of me so I reselect the reverse gear just in case I missed it.

  • avatar

    My 2007 Altima 2.5S with the CVT had this. It only worked in manual shift mode, and used the same indicator on the instrument panel as the shift position indicator did (PRNDL).

  • avatar

    The 80’s/90’s GM “upshift” light thinks this is unnecessary in a standard.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    An indicator on a manual? Seriously? Doesn’t look like anyone has ever driven a VW Beetle. I defy anyone to determine what gear a VW Beetle is in (or at least distinguish between 1st and 3rd or 2nd and 4th) by looking at the position of the gear lever. Lots of other early shift linkages for rear-engined or front-wheel drive cars were hardly any better.

    While driving the new Chrysler automatic in a 300, I did find it useful to know whether I was in neutral, drive or reverse, since you actuate the transmission by moving a spring-loaded lever, which returns to the same position regardless of which of those gears you have selected.

    I would imagine there is value in knowing what forward gear is engaged in any “automatic” transmission that can be actuated manually, whether its a DSG or SMG-type or a torque convertor type.

  • avatar

    I’ve been driving manual forever. it’s not so much that I don’t know what gear I’m in. most of my cars I’d have been able to even tell what RPM the motor is spinning at just by sound without a tach. but it’s there. having this kind o indicator would be a meaningful reference for me on the dash.

    a car I could really have seen this fit is the S2000. very minimal style LCD cluster, but a small indicator somewhere on it.

    plus, watching rally car footage, there’s usually a big digital number for the gear right in the middle of the dash. is it 100% necessary? not really. but I still think it would be a neat thing to have..

  • avatar

    My 2011 GTI has an upshift indicator which will effectively tell you which gear you are in.

    Thing that kills me here though is that nobody else commented that since their manual-tranny (automanual or manual-manual) has both a speedo and a tach, there is your gear indicator. In my GTI at 30 mph I would certainly hope to be able to tell if I’m in 3rd or 5th by looking at the tach (30=1379 rpm in 5th, 2328 in 3rd), if it were to come to that, and I would bet I could do it in a Focus ST, too.

  • avatar

    My 2010 GTI with DSG doesn’t routinely show the gear that the car is engaged in. If you have the selector in Drive, it shows D in the MFD directly in the middle of the instrument cluster. If you have the selector in Sport mode, it shows S in the MFD. Only when you select Manual mode (and shift with either the flappy paddles or the gear shift lever itself) will it indicate what gear the DSG transmission is currently in. Perhaps other VWs are different, but it’s not as readily apparent as the original poster indicates.

    • 0 avatar

      I own a 2012 Skoda Octavia with DSG. Built mostly from the same bits as your VW. In fact, i’m sitting in it now typing this. It shows the current gear next to the D, or the S if I n S mode. “D1”, “D2”, “S6”, etc.

  • avatar

    The 2013 Ford Fiesta has as an accessory for the 6 speed manual, a aluminum gear knob that not only illuminates, but displays the correct gear you’re currently riding. I’ll have to double-check, but I believe that if you actually FIND a Fiesta in Titanium mode with a 5 speed manual, you are the luckiest American in the States and should snatch it up promptly.

  • avatar

    The VW Touareg and the VW Phaeton, both with automatic transmissions, show you which gear you are on. Obviously this feature goes back to 2003. Gear number is shown both if you are on full auto or if you are using the steering wheel paddles or rowing the shifter.

    The smart ForTwo only shows you which gear you are on if you are shifting manually using the steering wheel paddles or rowing the shifter. I think Daimler-Benz should show you the actual gear in automatic, just like VW does.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    My Audi has a manual transmission and it does show which gear you’re in on the small LCD screen between the gauges. The driver has the ability to turn the gear display on or off.

  • avatar

    In an automatic or DSG Audi (and probably VW), if it doesn’t display the gear you’re in, you can enable the feature with a VAG-COM. It’s capable of it, but for some reason, they disable it by default in some models when the cars leave the factory.

  • avatar

    Ummm, this was a feature in Accords since at least 1979. It was a visible indication of the thought and quality Honda put into their cars vs the malaise era domestics. I betcha the Toyotas had it too.

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