Consumer Reports Takes a Stand Against Goofy Modern Gearshifts

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
em consumer reports em takes a stand against goofy modern gearshifts

Oddball gearboxes have been around forever. Cord’s 810 had a Wilson preselector back in the 1930s, Chrysler had the the mid-century pushbutton PowerFlite, and Oldsmobile was throwing Hurst Lighting Rods into its H/O cars in the 1980s. However, the overwhelming majority of automatic and manual transmissions have come with a strikingly familiar column or floor-mounted shifter. More recently, automakers have become a little more experimental.

Modern electronics allowed for an influx of paddle shifters, followed by an array of gear selectors that seem to serve aesthetics more than basic function. Knobs, buttons and joysticks are replacing traditional designs, occasionally at the expense of consumer safety.

Inattentive drivers occasionally had trouble getting Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep vehicles using Monostable shifters into park — resulting in a high-profile rollaway death and enough complaints to convince the NHTSA to demand a recall of over a million vehicles last year. Meanwhile, Acura, Lincoln and GMC have opted for less-than-satisfying button selectors, while Fiat Chrysler and Ford prefer that drivers dial in their gear of choice.

While a dedicated operator can easily master these systems, many average Josephs find them confusing — leading to potentially dangerous situations. With that in mind, America’s best-known consumer research publication has decided to take a firm stance on the matter.

Known for its consumer advocacy, Consumer Reports is drawing a line in the sand against any new vehicle with a non-traditional selector, saying it “believes so strongly that these types of shifters have the potential for harm that we are now deducting points from the Overall Score of any vehicle we determine has a shifter that is difficult to operate or that can be confused for other controls.”

It’s also docking points for any gearbox that doesn’t offer a conventional PRNDL pattern, or does not automatically return itself to park when the engine is shut off or the driver’s door is opened. That accounts for 50 individual models the publication had to revisit. As a result, Consumer Reports said it could no longer recommend the Chrysler 300, Lexus CT 200h, Mercedes-Benz GLE or the E-Class.

“If done right, new shifter designs can actually result in safer cars,” says Reports’ director of automotive testing, Jake Fisher. “CR encourages innovations in design and engineering, but safety needs to be a priority.”

One example of “done right” is the new rotary shifter on the Ford Fusion, which returns the vehicle to park automatically whenever the engine stops firing or the driver’s side door opens. Ford implemented those features, and made sure to highlight them, in the wake of FCA’s massive recall of Monostable-equipped cars.

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3 of 107 comments
  • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Mar 02, 2017

    I got used to that BMW shifter in about 15 minutes.

  • RobbieAZ RobbieAZ on Mar 02, 2017

    Consumer Reports thinks some of these shifters are 'difficult to operate'? What is their definition of 'difficult'? I mean how hard is it to turn a dial or push a lever up or down and maybe push a button? Just because people are not used to them does not mean they're 'difficult to operate'.

    • Sportyaccordy Sportyaccordy on Mar 02, 2017

      If you've been driving automatics for 20, 30, 40 years, and all of a sudden you get this weirdo push button crap, it can be off putting at best, dangerous at worst. A lot of time there's no upside to the design change either- takes up the same amount of room in the console for all intents and purposes. It's dumb.

  • Chuck Norton And guys are having wide spread issues with the 10 speed transmission with the HP numbers out of the factory......
  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.