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.

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