Editorial: Three Cheers For Eight Speeds

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
editorial three cheers for eight speeds

In the annals of automotive history, there is a litany of ill-fated replacements to improve upon the manual gearbox. From Citroen’s semi-automatic gearbox in the DS, to the Tiptronic system of 1990’s Porsches, the attempts by various manufacturers to offer the performance and driver engagement of a manual with the ease and convenience of an automatic have universally failed. For a time, it looked as if the dual-clutch transmission had finally achieved this synthesis, but outside of performance applications, they proved disappointing. Balky starts, jerky shifts and a reputation for sub-par reliability marred the adoption of these units. It looks as if the great equalizer has come in the form of a tried and true torque converter automatic transmission.

The ZF 8-Speed automatic has proven to be exceptional in every single application. From the BMW X1 to the Jaguar F-Type to the Dodge Charger Hellcat , the ZF unit has a remarkable ability to perfectly adapt to whatever driving conditions are at hand. In traffic it shifts imperceptibly, while on the highway it lets the engine hum along at RPMs that ensure relatively miserly fuel consumption.

When its set for performance, shifts are snapped off in such a rapid manner that even the best dual-clutch units from Volkswagen and Porsche would be hard-pressed to claim a qualitative edge. In certain applications, like the Hellcat, it’s downright violent when the appropriate settings are engaged – yet it can still return 22 mpg on the highway.

There is one thing that a two-pedal transmission can never replicate, and it’s not the purity of the driving experience, the bragging rights of owning a manual or even the increased engagement with the car. It’s the rhythmic motion of working the clutch and the gear lever, and it’s what keeps me coming back to the stick shift. I find it incredibly relaxing, even in the worst stop and go traffic. On an open road, there is nothing better than pressing the clutch, moving the shifter into its gate, feeling the mechanical precision, letting the clutch out and watching the revs fall back to the appropriate RPM.

But my mindset changed when Jaguar announced a manual F-Type V6S (my favorite variant of the range). The prospect of a three-pedal setup didn’t seem as enticing as flicking a paddle, hearing the burble and pop of the exhaust and feeling the infinitesimally rapid *thud* in my back as each shift propelled me forward.

But I’m not in the market for an F-Type. Or any car that uses the ZF 8-speed auto. My next car will more than likely three pedals. I can’t imagine it any other way. Unless I get a MK7 Golf R. I’ll explain later this week in the full-length review.

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  • Theoldguard Theoldguard on Feb 04, 2015

    I have a bad left knee so no more manuals for me, especially since I live in an urban area. No more DSG's either. I bought both a Fiesta and a Focus because of that new technology. Both have had to be rebuilt. Powershift has become as shameful a word to Ford as Edsel. I wonder how many of these Ford has had to pull and rebuild. Some people have had to have clutch packs replaced 3 times.

  • Theoldguard Theoldguard on Feb 04, 2015

    No more DSG's for me. I bought both Focus and Fiesta Powershift DSG. Both have had to be yanked out and have clutches replaces. Powershift may be as big a tragedy to Ford as Edsel.

  • Jim Bonham Full EVs are not for everyone, they cannot meet all needs. Hybrids do a much better job of providing the benefits of EVs without most of the drawbacks. I have a hybrid sedan with plenty of room, plus all the bells and whistles. It has 360 hp, AWD, does 0-60 in just over 5 sec.(the instant torque is a real benefit), and I get 29 mpg, average. NOT driven lightly. I bought it used for $25k.Sure, it's a little heavier because of the battery, motor, etc., but not nearly as much as a full EV. The battery is smaller/lighter/cheaper and both the alternator and starter motor are eliminated since the motor assumes those functions. It's cool to watch the charge guage show I'm getting energy back when coasting and/or braking. It's even cooler to drive around part of the time on battery only. It really comes in handy in traffic since the engine turns off and you don't waste fuel idling. With the adaptive cruise control you just let the car slowly inch along by itself.I only wish it were a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). Then, I'd have A LOT more EV-only range, along with even more of that instant torque. The battery would be bigger, but still a fraction of the size of a full EV. I could easily go weeks without using much, if any gas (depending upon my commute) IF I plug it in every night. But I don't have to. The gas engine will charge the battery whenever it's needed.It's just not as efficient a way to do it.Electric companies offer special rates for both EVs and PHEVs which lower your operating cost compared to gasoline. They'll even give you a rebate to offset the cost of installing a home charger. You can still get federal (up to $7,500, plus some state) tax credits for PHEVs.What's not to like? My next daily driver will be a PHEV of some kind. Probably a performance-oriented one like the new Dodge Hornet or one of the German Hybrid SUVs. All the benefits, sound, feel, etc., of a gas vehicle along with some electric assist to improve fuel economy, performance, and drivability. None of the inherent EV issues of cost, range anxiety, long charging times, poor charger availability, grid capacity issues, etc. I think most people will eventually catch on to this and go PHEV instead of going full EV. Synthetic, carbon-neutral eFuels, hydrogen engines, and other things will also prevent full EVs from being 100% of the fleet, regardless of what the politicians say. PHEVs can be as "clean" (overall) as full EVs with the right fuels. They're also cheaper, and far more practical, for most people. They can do it all, EVs can't.
  • Ron rufo there is in WaSHINGTON STATE
  • ToolGuy @Chris, your photography rocks.
  • ToolGuy No War for Oli.If you have not ever held a piece of structural honeycomb (composite sandwich) in your own hands, try it.
  • ToolGuy You make them sound like criminals.
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