By on March 1, 2017

gear selection joystick

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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107 Comments on “Consumer Reports Takes a Stand Against Goofy Modern Gearshifts...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    I prefer a manual, but if I’m driving an automatic, make it a straight PNRD-type selector that goes in a straight line down through the selections. Maybe it doesn’t look as “cool” as some of the newer designs, but I can change from park, to drive and reverse without ever looking.

    • 0 avatar
      VJW

      I Rented a Chrysler 300 and found the dial shiftier to be a very dangerous design. There is no detente between neutral and reverse. In an emergency skid on ice you need to be able to hit neutral quickly to get the wheels freewheeling so you can regain control. A normal shift lever can be slammed into neutral and stops there unless you push a button on the lever. Not so with the rotary dial. If you are rotating the dial it will go past neutral into reverse or even park. It needs to have a stop at neutral and then press down to get to reverse. Very stupid design that could cause lose of control and damage to the transmission.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        I have literally never hear that as a recommended driving tactic. In the event of a skid, I’d think you’d be far better off just keeping both hands on the wheel than getting rid of what microscopic extra propulsion the engine gives you (especially in a new car – 300s have pretty aggressive ESP).

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          “I have literally never hear that as a recommended driving tactic.”

          That’s OK, it’s more advanced. Those of us who have driven manual transmission cars in the wintertime know that pushing in the clutch instantly gives slightly more traction. It’s not because it gets rid of extra propulsion (and taking your right foot off the gas pedal gets rid of that anyway), it’s because it gets rid of the little bit of engine braking. Popping an automatic into neutral accomplishes the same thing.

          If you lack the hand strength to control the wheel with one hand and power steering, chances are you live in south Florida and drive too slowly to ever skid.

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            More advanced or outdated? Can you cite an expert who isn’t geriatric who recommends that?

            http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/culture/commuting/true-or-false-should-i-put-my-car-in-neutral-to-stop-on-ice/article16330576/

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “More advanced or outdated? Can you cite an expert who isn’t geriatric who recommends that?”

            @Maymar, since you asked in such a snarky manner, I’d recommend the advice of any expert who understands the difference between a skid and straight stopping distance.

            That article you cited is talking about stopping distance and stopping distance only. I was talking about a skid in a turn (either understeer or oversteer) and I suspect that VJW was too.

            Speaking of expertise, the part of the article “So, back when cars had vinyl roofs and opera lights, the front brakes of RWD cars would lock up while the engine continued to drive the rear wheels” makes it apparent that the expert must have forgotten about a lot of vinyl roofed RWD Mopars, as many of those had much too much *rear* brake bias (as did the Chevy Citation, infamously).

            Again, “skid” does not only have to mean standing on the brakes to get minimum stopping distance. Broadly speaking, standing on ABS brakes is usually the best non-advanced tactic for average, slightly above average, and below average drivers as all of them tend to be surprised by emergency situations and thus end up putting themselves into maneuvers requiring maximum traction.

            Drive safely!

          • 0 avatar
            Maymar

            So that’s a no then? Just have to take your expert opinion?

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “So that’s a no then? Just have to take your expert opinion?”

            You completely misunderstood what I wrote from the beginning. Never mind.

        • 0 avatar

          What Jim said. Allowing the wheels to move freely – without engine interference – in neutral has saved me many times from sliding without control through a turn. I can make the turn safely and not endanger myself or other motorists. I have tried it both ways – neutral is always preferable in my experience.

        • 0 avatar
          lon888

          I’d love to see those guys those that teach ice skid control with this new bunch of smart a$$ shifters. It would be interesting especially with a monostable or rotary knob shifter.

        • 0 avatar
          zamoti

          When I took drivers ed in the 90s (yes, old) it was specifically highlighted in a video we watched; the situation they used was in a hydroplane condition. I always understood that was the logic (in most cars) why there is no need to press the shift button to move from drive to neutral–you can pop it into neutral quickly. The Navigator I have currently is the only thing I can think of that mandates the shifter button is depressed to get from drive to neutral.
          I doubt I could find the name of the video, but they demonstrated it in an Escort (Ford-produced video).
          I will admit that in a modern car with a variety of safety systems, this tactic is probably unnecessary–however, in my BMW I naturally stomp the clutch anytime things get out of hand–not that we’ll have to worry about pesky manual transmissions for much longer.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        It might be electronically locked out of reverse when you’re moving forward (it probably is… common sense and good engineering says it should be…). Might be something to try on a test drive if buying new! Might be something to try in a rental, especially if you got the extra insurance and roadside assistance.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        This exactly

      • 0 avatar
        notwhoithink

        Did you find it to be a very dangerous design, or do you suspect it of being a very dangerous design without testing for the desired feature?

        It’s worth noting that with a traditional mechanical shifter that you are physically moving a lever through a number of positions and locks. The lock on reverse that requires the button to be depressed is specifically to prevent you from shifting into reverse while moving forward.

        With the dial shifter this isn’t necessarily the case because the dial is merely a switch that signals the computer to shift the transmission. Just like Ford put intelligence in the transmission software to automatically return the car to park when powered off or when the driver exits the vehicle, one would expect them to have the simple logic to prevent shifting into reverse while under forward momentum. While the “auto-return to park” feature would be a new feature on an electronic transmission control system that didn’t exist on a mechanical system, the lock that prevents you going into reverse is an existing feature that I would have expected any halfway competent engineer to have emulated in software.

      • 0 avatar
        eamiller

        VJW
        You’re wrong about the dial shifter in the 300. It has a lockout for reverse so you can’t turn the dial past neutral without your foot being on the brake (and the transmission won’t shift to reverse until it’s is safe anyhow).

        Plus there are detents for each position on the dial.

        If you’re on ice, let the ABS do the work for you. Nobody drives this way any more unless you are in an ancient car without ABS. You can’t out-brake a car equipped with ABS on ice or wet/dry pavement by doing it manually (let alone have any sort of directional control that ABS gives you).

        JimC2
        Only in very deep snow or sand can you potentially stop shorter by locking the brakes up and “plowing” the snow or sand, but many ABS systems can even detect this situation now and allow more lockup to accomplish the same thing.

        Unless you’re driving with 4 brake pedals in your car, 99.9999% of the time, ABS will do a better job than you (even though you profess to be some sort of amazingly advanced driver).

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          @eamiller, I was talking about coasting around turns when some or all of the wheels begin to skid. I wasn’t talking about using the brakes at all.

          If you read what I wrote, you might notice that the **only** time **I** brought up braking was “engine braking.” That has nothing to do with the brake pedal, nothing to do with ABS. Anything I wrote about brakes and/or ABS was in response to Maymar’s tangent.

          I don’t know how to spell it out any simpler than that… there is no “crayon” option for these comments.

          That moment the wheels begin to skid, there is usually a slight advantage to popping the car into neutral (or pushing in the clutch), and that will often make just enough difference that the car regains its composure.

          You’re right about “plowing” snow and gravel by locking up all of the wheels, although that is something else.

        • 0 avatar
          VJW

          I tried it in a parking lot at very low speed and the dial went to reverse – no detente at neutral into reverse with a horrifying clunk! It was a rental Chrysler 300 , so I did not want to bring it back on a toe truck and so I did not experiment further.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    In general, this is an appropriate thing for CR to be doing. We don’t *need* a government agency to use this for more empire building.

    • 0 avatar
      CarDesigner

      Everyone should deduct “points” for even reading CR, an unabashedly anti car rag if there ever was one.

      That being said, I wonder who makes these kinds of decisions to “fix” things that aren’t broke? Is it money? Talking points? PR bravado? Anyone that is designing a HMI (human machine interface) should know that intuitiveness is a primary factor in good design. Planners think putting in DVD players is more important than blind spot detection or rear cross traffic warning sensors. The Chrysler lever gearshift in the dash is extremely easy and intuitive, frees up column or floor space and doesn’t look bad, either. The roulette wheel dial shifter are lawsuits waiting to happen. BTW, the Chrysler push button shifter was very easy and intuitive, moved it to the left side of the column, and was very positive feeling. Feds mandated that one away. I think Edsels also had push buttons on the steering wheel center.

  • avatar
    rcx141

    Why replace a simple P-R-N-D shifter with a shifter that requires an extra button press to go into park like on my wife’s BMW? What is the possible benefit?

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I have no issue with the new joystick controllers, which everyone from BMW to Kia to Jaguar/Land Rover to GM is now using. They do free up console space. The one in my X5 was perfectly intuitive after about a day, and it would slam itself into park if you opened the door while it was in gear. Even if the shifter was in the manual gate, it had an electronic spring release to bring it back to “normal” mode, and then it would go into park.

    I also don’t have an issue with the dials (Ford, FCA, Jaguar/Land Rover), the monostatic column shifters (E65 BMW 7-Series, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Tesla), or the push-button gear selectors (Lincoln, 2018 GMC Terrain). It’s all good.

    However, other people feel differently.

    • 0 avatar
      tnk479

      I mostly agree that this is much ado about nothing. There are 13 million new cars sold every year and a half dozen morons manage to kill themselves by not paying attention. No matter what design you go with, Darwin is still at work out there even if only to a statistically tiny degree.

      However, one thing I find irritating about the BMW design is this: when you slide the joystick to the left which is the “manual” mode, from this position the car cannot be put into reverse. You must slide the joystick to the right and then go into reverse. Not a huge problem, but, just a minor annoyance.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        That’s every car with an automatic transmission and a manual mode. Although if the car has paddle shifters and you use those to activate manual mode (without ever putting it in the manual gate), you can shift straight into reverse.

      • 0 avatar
        notwhoithink

        “I mostly agree that this is much ado about nothing. There are 13 million new cars sold every year and a half dozen morons manage to kill themselves by not paying attention. No matter what design you go with, Darwin is still at work out there even if only to a statistically tiny degree. ”

        Might be true, but if they’re going to go with electronic shifting mechanisms instead of mechanical ones then shouldn’t we be applauding the manufacturers who find a way to improve upon the capabilities of a mechanical shifter?

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      Yes, but you seem to be technologically inclined. I can say for a fact that it took about five minutes to teach my aunt how to shift into park in her last rental car. Yes, she occasionally qualifies as an idiot, but if there’s anything I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, it’s that most people are duuuumb with a capital D. Something as important as shifting into park has to be idiot-proof, which means it needs to follow some kind of standard. Like fastening a seat belt or rolling down a window are.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Did you find them all equally serviceable?

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      I’m with Kyree on this. As long as the manufacturer includes an automatic function to engage park when you turn off the engine or open the door then I don’t see the issue with these shifters at all.

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        The automatic shift to park that CR is insisting upon will condition drivers to be lazy. Then what happens when the preconditioned driver operates a vehicle that doesn’t do it automatically?

        I can’t believe we’ve reached the point where it’s too much to expect drivers to secure their two-ton+ vehicles before walking away.

        • 0 avatar
          John-95_Taurus_3.0_AX4N

          Well, the point we’ve reached is an over-crowded market with everyone trying to stand out and make you say “ohhhhh ahhh” when you sit in a 300 instead of an Impala. Its not unexpected for some of the less car-y people to be confused by 56 different answers to the same question.

          In 1996, the MOST complicating part was going to a Camry or Accord from a 6 passenger Lumina, Taurus or Intrepid, and practically ripping the wiper stalk off when going to back out.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Funny you mention the Impala, because on the previous W-body, GM couldn’t even be bothered to mark the positions on the gear selector assembly itself; you had to look at the cluster. Talk about cheap…although many of the B&B would appreciate the narrow, non-space-robbing center console.

            http://image.automotive.com/f/2011_chevrolet_impala/38034449/gearshift.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            ponchoman49

            I agree with this assessment. Not everybody is a 20 year old car enthusiast. Many older driver’s that are used to some thing that has been the same for 30 years are confusing some of these up and twisting the gear selector instead of the radio volume or fan speed etc. We had a Ram rental and couldn’t stand the rotary dial mounted on the dash and neither of us really got used to it.

            As for the W-body Impala so what if the gear selector wasn’t in two places. I’m looking at the dash more than the floor shifter anyway when driving my 2013 Impala. It’s park reverse neutral drive and L. Even my 78 year old mother understand it easily. She would probably have a much harder time going between the rotary dials, Mercedes stalks and the silly joy sticks that some are using. They aren’t really very natural or intuitive and are a source of complaint with the new LaCrosse and Cadillac SRX from many reviews.

        • 0 avatar
          HahnZahn

          Doubtful. What percentage of the time someone drives do you reckon they get out their car with the engine still running? In my case, until recently, it was probably about 25% of the time, due to my non-powered parking garage door. I think for most people, it’s very rare.

          Now, extrapolate that further to large numbers of people being made lazy by getting so used to their car shifting to park for them, that they abandon putting into park themselves. I think it’d be vanishingly small.

          That said, I absolutely agree with CR. I don’t think safety measures make people lazy. What percentage of people drive without seat belts now that every car has airbags? Luckily, I didn’t have any stupid shifter to deal with in my garage situation. And after Anton Yelchin’s death, I incorporated the e-brake into my routine.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “What percentage of people drive without seat belts now that every car has airbags?”

            Little known fact: Seat belt use is the leading cause of ejection seat malfunctions in automobiles.

            I used to cut-and-paste that comment anytime the news had a story about a road accident when a beltless occupant was ejected from a vehicle. You guys wouldn’t believe the negatives/thumbs-downs/angry responses I used to get from that one! Tee hee!!

        • 0 avatar
          notwhoithink

          “The automatic shift to park that CR is insisting upon will condition drivers to be lazy. Then what happens when the preconditioned driver operates a vehicle that doesn’t do it automatically?”

          Nonsense. My Fusion does this and I wasn’t even aware that it did so until I started reading about the shifter issues being reported and actually tested it myself. And I still manually shift it into park every time I park the car, because that’s what you do when you park the car.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      If the point of these things is freed up console space, BMW’s not doing it very well. The pic above has a bezel surrounding it so large that a traditional shifter would have fit just fine.

    • 0 avatar
      mikedt

      “and it would slam itself into park if you opened the door while it was in gear. ”

      I’m assuming it doesn’t do that if you’re still moving? I know I’ve opened my door more than once while in motion because I’ve closed the door on something – jacket belt, seat belt, scarf….

  • avatar
    tylanner

    They needlessly test the limits of human perception.

    Once the linear link between cause(action) and effect(reaction) is ambiguous or is decided autonomously based on a series of non-driver initiated inputs the whole system becomes divorced from the traditional definition of an automobile transmission.

    Like the bevy of careful actions an airline pilot must take to make a plane veer left yet maintain altitude, an overly complex “car control console” takes a more than a minimal understanding of the inner-workings and component relationships to discern with absolute certainty that what you think will happen is what will actually happen. Throw in latent unexpected system responses like the rolling sledgehammers noted above and you have a giant pile of overly complicated and dangerous garbage.

    A push button parking brake?…yikes…I want to feel the lever linkages pinch the rotor…

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The foot pedal parking brake in my MKS is a good leg workout. I’d appreciate an electronic one, which the newer models have, as do some Fords. Some older cars (Mercedes-Benz, FCA, GM) had the foot pedal, with a handle you could grab to release it, which is a bit more ergonomic.

      The electronic push button parking brake itself—wherein pushing the button toggles the parking brake—seems to be a brand-new thing. I’ve seen it on some recent GM cars, like the XT5, CT6 and 2017 LaCrosse. But otherwise, electronic parking brakes tend to use a trigger switch. Pull the trigger to engage the parking brake, push it to deactivate it.

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        I like trigger switches best, but believe they should require a push to activate and pull to deactivate, á la Volvo. That set-up loosely mirrors the old depress-foot-pedal/pull-release-handle system. And since inadvertent parking brake release is probably riskier than inadvertent engagement, I believe release should correspond with the more awkward or “affirmative” action, i.e., pulling. Same with power window switches.

        GM’s trigger switches work the other way around, as you described. I haven’t encountered the push buttons yet, but again, triggers sound better.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          The one in my X5 was also that way (I think). Pull to engage, push to disengage. You do make a good point about user-interface design…and the proposal to assign the more “awkward” motion to the action with the biggest safety implications. But you did have to put your foot on the brake to disengage the parking brake at all in that car, making it somewhat safer.

          What annoys me more than that, is that the automakers can’t seem to agree on whether pushing or pulling the gear level in manual mode should upshift or downshift the car. I’m of the opinion that you should pull to upshift and push to downshift, corresponding with the natural forces on the body during those actions…but my Volkswagen is the opposite: push is upshift, pull is downshift.

        • 0 avatar
          sirwired

          With “Pull to activate, push to release”, it’s mimicking the action of a tiny p-brake lever set in the console. At least, that’s how I think of it in my car (a ’17 CR-V)

          • 0 avatar
            MLS

            That analogy makes sense, but with a mechanical handbrake, the operator must also depress a button while pushing the lever to release, thereby making it the more “awkward” action when compared to simply pulling to engage. Not so with the electronic switch.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            How do you like your ’17 CR-V. I was close to doing the rational thing and buying a ’17 CR-V EX-L with Honda Sensing. I was impressed with it, and all of the features for under $30K.

          • 0 avatar
            sirwired

            @Kyree

            I really enjoy my new CR-V (happens to be an EX-L, as a matter of fact); if you are interested in my thoughts, I put a long post in the TTAC review of the thing last week (which I won’t repeat here for the sake of brevity.)

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            Sweet; I can’t wait to read it. Especially because Honda supplied *every* reviewer with a loaded-up $34K+ Touring AWD model. It would be nice to see someone’s take on a less-pricey version.

          • 0 avatar
            White Shadow

            And apparently Porsche did it backwards on the new 911. There’s a guy on YouTube who has a video of his new 911 rolling out of his garage and down the driveway simply because he got mixed up with the parking brake button and didn’t put the car in gear.

        • 0 avatar
          notwhoithink

          “I like trigger switches best, but believe they should require a push to activate and pull to deactivate, á la Volvo. That set-up loosely mirrors the old depress-foot-pedal/pull-release-handle system.”

          But the brake trigger switch is located on the center console, and “pull up to engage push down to disengage” mimics the motions used on traditional handbrake levers! You’re a foot-braking heretic!

      • 0 avatar
        noneuimport

        Passat had push button electronic parking brake 11 years ago. I liked it, until I found out that I cannot replace the rear drums/pads myself, and that dealership has to do it because it needs to be hooked up to VAGCOM or it will lock the brakes itself..

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      “..A push button parking brake?…yikes…I want to feel the lever linkages pinch the rotor…”

      Have you used one yet? You don’t need to feel it because you can hear it very distinctly as the electric motor changes pitch as it tightly clamps the pads down onto the rotor.

  • avatar
    kefkafloyd

    The problem with gearboxes with a lot of gears is that cycling through them all can be a pain, especially in a truck when you want to be a little more in control of your gears at times when hauling. People think column shifters are ugly (that’s where the rotary knob gear select come in), but there’s no real excuse, IMO, for monostable shifters. They were a solution in search of a problem that didn’t work.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with a rotary shift knob, but it should be far away from other knob-like implements and it should have unique haptics. When you touch it, you shouldn’t confuse the feel for the AC knob, or the radio knobs.

    There isn’t anything wrong with rethinking gearshifters, IMO, but for automatics there should be an analysis of use cases and how to best solve them.

    I prefer gated automatics that have clearly defined legs (no slop, which Toyota fails miserably at) and a pull-to-side manual mode with push up-down mechanics to shift manually. I do not like buttons on top to select gears (GM Idiocy) or rocker switches (Ford). Chrysler used to use tap left-right, but that’s not mechanically as fluid as a push up-down (Mazda, Toyota). Even then, upshift should be the pull-down a la a ratchet transmission.

    With a proper gated auto, you can easily go from park to drive (and the opposite) in one fast motion with no room for error. No buttons to get stuck, no worrying about accidentally flipping into a lesser gear because you held said button a little too long when pulling. Aside from having a feel component (each leg has a slight bump and then the hard stop at the end), there is also an audio component (each leg of P, R, N, D makes a distinct sound).

    This is just quick back-of-the-webpage writing, but people have a knack for remembering physical connections.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      That’s a very good point about gated automatics. Provided there is some mechanical feedback, you don’t need to look to see what you’ve done. Once you’re familiar with that vehicle, a satisfying series of ka-chunks tells your subconscious “you are now in drive/reverse/park.”

      This is something joysticks have a particularly difficult time addressing and was the main issue with the Monostable.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      You wanna see idiocy? While I don’t have an issue with the push-button shifter in the new 2018 Terrain, the manual shift mode also requires you to use buttons in the center stack to upshift and downshift. That’s going to be very uncomfortable should you have to put the car in manual mode, and is even worse than their stupid-buttons-on-top-of-the-gear-selector trend.

      http://image.trucktrend.com/f/134251147+re0+ar0+st0/2018-gmc-terrain-pushbutton-shifter.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        kefkafloyd

        This makes me seethe. Pushbutton transmissions should have stayed dead with the Edsel.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        I agree. The 2018 Terrain has to be the worst of this new shifter design. It looks like you have to push some and pull others depending on if your going into Park, neutral, drive etc. It looks like another lawsuit in the making.

    • 0 avatar
      AdamVIP

      Id argue that gated shifters are a waste of space now. Theres no mechanical attachments to the transmission anymore. Only wires. Also paddles are superior to the shift lever (although you are right with up being back).

      The selector wheels are the best solution out there now for automatic transmissions. A simple PRNDM indicator and notchy feedback coupled with paddle shifts would be ideal.

      • 0 avatar
        kefkafloyd

        I’d say this would be true for a truck. There are different ergonomic factors at play in different seating environments.

        In a car with bucket seats and a console, what are you really saving by axing the gated shifter? You’re getting some more space to put junk. I guess people want that, but the extra cubbies are not worth the ambiguity of a monostable shifter. They’re not opening that area up for more knee or legroom. If you’re committed to a center console, you are already committing to space that can be used by a proper shifter. Bench seats in sedans are functionally dead.

        Trucks and vans still have bench seats or buckets without consoles (though some do have consoles), and modern fullsize trucks are so large that placing a floor mounted gate shifter can be awkward. In that scenario, you have two options: a column shifter or a rotary knob. Honda likes doing the dash-mounted shifters but those are such a minority that I don’t consider it a mainstream option and it still takes up a lot of dash space. Both have pluses and minuses in my opinion. A column shifter saves space, is easy to use, and can go through gears easily. But once you get over four or five gears, you start running out of rotational room. A PRNDM mode works, but you’ll need an additional control for M mode for selecting the specific gear. Chrysler would use a pushbutton left-right toggle on their old column auto-sticks. Others could use a “turn the end of the shifter like a knob” method. Or you could just throw on flappy paddles or wheel-mounted up/downshift buttons. The latter options would also be true of a rotary knob. Paddles or wheel buttons are IMO more better suited for a truck, because they’re not cornering heavily so you don’t have the problem of turning the wheel and fumbling for the paddle. If you’re towing or hauling you sometimes have to babysit the transmission, even if it provides a haul mode.

        In a car, especially one that has sporting tendencies, paddles can be useful or a problem. Their downside is operating them during corners. Even when turning the wheel, grabbing them while turning can be difficult. With a floormounted shifter, you can still shift while turning with one hand in an easier way, IMO. But mastering a car makes up for a lot of these things. For a luxo car, a rotary knob with paddles seems cooler, and preferable to pushbuttons, but one idea I always liked for the rotary knob for M mode would be to pull out the knob so you can then turn it to select gears. Turn until you feel the click, let go and it returns to stable, rinse and repeat. This is still dumber than my preferred gated method but it does remove the need for paddles or buttons.

        When do we manual shift? These are the most common scenarios:

        1. Downshifting on an incline to save brakes.

        2. Second gear start in the winter.

        Make it easy to do those things and most people won’t complain.

    • 0 avatar
      nvinen

      “I prefer gated automatics that have clearly defined legs (no slop, which Toyota fails miserably at) and a pull-to-side manual mode with push up-down mechanics to shift manually.”

      Amen. This is a superior configuration to PRNDS or paddle shifters. I’ve had cars with both. The stupid thing about PRNDS is that if you shift it into Sport mode and forget, when you go to reverse you end up in Neutral instead (or you go to park and if you aren’t careful, end up in reverse…).

      By pushing the lever sideways, it’s obvious that you are in sport mode without looking. And the push/pull to change gears is really easy to do even if you’re cornering, unlike operating paddle shifters, which are almost never where you want them to be (regardless of whether they rotate with the wheel or not).

    • 0 avatar
      duffman13

      I would say the gated auto with manumatic that has the proper directions (forward->downshift, back->upshift) is my favorite thing about my Mazda3 that I never thought about. I have positive mechanical feedback on gear selector changes and know where the shifter is based on muscle memory. It just makes sense.

      I would say the same thing about my mother’s old altima as well.

      Our Santa Fe has the trigger-pull straight-line auto, but there is still a distinct detent for every stop, though I would like the manumatic directions to be the same as the Mazda rather than what it actually is (forward->upshift, back->downshift).

      • 0 avatar
        kefkafloyd

        When I had my Trans Am, the auto was a straight line PRND321. A T-handle shifter with a side button. The way GM worked the stops was that you pressed the button to release from Park, and you could pull the shifter all the way down into drive, and it would stop there even if you had immediately released the button when shifting from park.

        You could push up to go into neutral without hitting the button, but it would stop and not allow you to go into Reverse without hitting the button. You would also have to press the button to go into the lower gears, but once you were in the lower gears, you wouldn’t have to press the button again. Put it back into D, and the button becomes active again. Probably the fairest way to keep you from accidentally hitting reverse or manual mode on a straight-through shifter.

        Pulling back to upshift is the best thing about Mazdas, because you can rapidly shift up easily. Pushing away requires a different hand motion that is less comfortable than simply pulling back. There’s a reason those racing ratchet transmissions all pull back to upshift. I suppose you would get used to either direction, but ergonomically it is easier to pull back repeatedly than palm-push forward.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    I used to love my shifter in my 01 Olds Aurora..Felt natural.
    Oh yeah..is it Consumer Reports week or something. Just asking.

  • avatar
    Hamilton Guy

    I had a rental BMW 328i with a shifter similar to the one pictured above. The park button was so light that twice, while waiting for a traffic light I accidentally put the vehicle bark by brushing against the button while reaching across to adjust something on the centre console stack (radio, heater controls). Lousy design.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Victims of fashion. New is not always better. Different is not always better.

    Humans have not evolved that much (or at all) since the invention of the automobile. Provide us with something intuitive and that even if electronic has somewhat of a mechanical feel, so that we feel secure in using it without actually having to look down at it.

    New audio systems and navigation systems are other examples.
    How the heck can you intuitively change the volume without a rotary dial?

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I like the electronic shifter on my X5, however it did create some confusion when my wife had an MDX with a similar manual mode shifter that had the OPPOSITE shift logic for manually selecting gears than the X5. In the MDX you push forward to upshift; in the X5 you push forward to downshift.
    .
    .

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      I think forward to downshift and backward to upshift makes the most sense, personally. But my VW is like your wife’s MDX, with upshift being a push and downshift being a pull. I just use the paddle shifters on the wheel, though.

      • 0 avatar
        AdamVIP

        It should always be back for upshift as that’s the way momentum takes you when accelerating.

        • 0 avatar
          SC5door

          All you’re doing is giving the transmission a command to shift, the stupid thing will shift when it wants to. Momentum is lost when the vehicle cuts power to complete the shift.

          People should know that those paddles are a suggestion once you’re not able force it into 1st at any given time.

    • 0 avatar
      nvinen

      My car is pull back for upshift and push forward for downshift. I found it unintuitive and it took me a long time to get used to, for some reason. The way I trained myself to use it was to think “down for fewer revs/less noise, up for more revs/noise”, kind of like a volume control for the car.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        Sequential motorsport and motorcycle gearboxes have trained me to automatically assume I pull back for an upshift. Any time I’ve been in car with a “sport mode” that forces me to push forward for the next gear, I become quietly enraged.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    Half the problem is that one of the worst offenders is FCA, and they’re the ones providing half of the rental cars. I can get used to a car that I own. In a rental I just want everything to work with as little conscious thinking as possible.

  • avatar
    AdamVIP

    If its not a manual, the gear selector device should not reside where they do now. That’s prime real estate for a car interior. The wheels FCA, Jaguar and Ford are using now are the way to go. I like column shifters too but there’s just not enough room with the paddles now.

    While I’m griping Id also like to ask why cruise control systems use so many buttons. All you need is an up, down, and an on/off. Maybe a distance selector for the variable distance cruises.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I have this crazy idea that an electronic shifter should put it into park for you when you turn it off, unless you *tell it to keep it in neutral by shifting there first, manually*.

    Solves the whole problem pretty well.

    (Parking brake should also apply automatically, at least as an option.)

  • avatar
    RedRocket

    I had a rental Lacrosse with the electronic shifter and it was a disaster. I managed to put it in manual shift mode pulling out of the lot and couldn’t get out of 1st gear. Had no idea why. It was utterly non-intuitive. Reverse was awkward to move into. I kept wanting to push it all the way forward to go into Park which seemed intuitive but no. With time behind the wheel I was able to figure it out on my own but it all seemed wrong. Also had no idea shutting off the engine or opening the door put it into Park. I actually had to dig out the manual and read the 4 or 5 pages on how to use it before I felt comfortable. The section on how to set it to go through a car wash without it automatically going into park was hilariously complicated. I would not want one in my own car.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Wahhh. These systems are easy to figure out if you take 10 seconds before trying to drive. Clearly marked directions, lights everywhere, display in dash. It is not that difficult.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    i don’t even like the gated shifter in my Yaris, don’t see the point. I preferred the straight one that was in my Corolla.

  • avatar
    1981.911.SC

    Have not driven anything with the new shifter, but if I am reading correctly one solution is to automatically go into park if the door opens??? Not that it happens everyday, but on more that one occasion I’ve had the door open when trying to do some sort of tight maneuver. Would that be possible with the safety?
    As has been said more than once, these create a problem not solve a problem.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      I assume the late actor Anton Yelchin thought he’d put his vehicle into Park.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      What maneuver requires that one opens the door but couldn’t also be accomplished by sticking one’s head out the window?

      • 0 avatar
        stevelovescars

        If it’s a Jeep or a BMW, it’s likely the power windows don’t work, so opening the door is the only option (J/K… mostly). Then again, I can’t recall the last time I had to open a door or stick my head out the window to accomplish any normal driving maneuver.

        It does seem that a lot of ATM machines are now placed higher to accommodate SUVs, which sometimes does require me to open the door of my car to reach them. But I want the car in P in that situation.

        The Lincoln MKZ has a PRNDL stack of buttons on the dash, which is both intuitive and cleans up the center stack. I suppose it is primarily there to differentiate the interior a bit more from the similar Fusion. The Chrysler Pacifica’s dial also saves some space. But, I agree, in the case of the BMW, the shifter just seems like they tried to be different for no perceived benefit. An electric shifter can be smaller and still be intuitive or even follow the same pattern we are all used to.

        I think with hybrids and electrics, there may be an interesting opportunity to redesign the shifters in order to manipulate things like the level of regenerative braking, coasting to maintain inertia, etc. The EV1 had a simple button on the shifter to accomplish this and it worked intuitively 20 years ago, otherwise it was a standard PRND pattern.

    • 0 avatar
      notwhoithink

      On the Ford it is. If you really want it in neutral or drive or whatever you can set it for that, once you have passed the event that puts it into park first.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    It’s time for CR to demand some standardization of increasingly goofy and confusing head and taillights.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    That over-engineered abomination in that picture is from a BMW.

    Just drove one last week, was horribly over complicated, as was the turn signals (tap twice to turn off, because you know, pull lever in opposite direction is so passe).

    Stunningly bad design.

    • 0 avatar
      mik101

      X2. I don’t like the signals in my parents Fusion either for similar reasons. I miss that nice click and tactile feeling. At least the Fiesta is still normal.

  • avatar
    s_a_p

    My jeep dealer has been on me about getting a new transmission flash for my Gc. I’m not sure I want to do it. I don’t want the car to put itself in park if I open the drivers door. That sounds very annoying.

  • avatar
    brn

    Can we go back to putting the shifter on the stalk? Might need to pick up a Ford PI Sedan.

    • 0 avatar
      BobinPgh

      Again, Ralph mentioned that the stalk shifter could cause injury in a crash. And that was back in 1965

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        Ralph was a bit on the paranoid side. He’d claim just about anything could cause injury. I’m pretty sure the stalk shifter could be designed in a way that would minimize the potential for injury in a crash.

        Looking at used PI Sedans oneline. There aren’t many available. People must be aware of the stalk shifter and are buying them up!!!

  • avatar
    BobinPgh

    Maybe Ralph Nader needs to come out of retirement over this. One feature mentioned in his book that was unsafe was some cars at the time had PNDRL settings that were confusing and unsafe. He also mentioned that the stalk shifter could cause injury in a collision, one reason some have it on the console.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Park Neutral Drive Race Leap

    • 0 avatar
      CobraJet

      Actually it was PNDLR with reverse being the lowest position on a column shift lever. It was easy to go all the way into reverse when down-shifting to low. I did just that in my grandmother’s Oldsmobile one time. Luckily I was able to get it out of the reverse position quickly before the transmission had time to react. There was no electronic protection back then. It usually meant a ruined transmission. Ford had used the more standard pattern from the beginning, I believe.

  • avatar
    mik101

    I have a feeling there is an additional qualifier to the auto shifting into park… Speed equal to zero. Otherwise this could be a boon for transmission repairs, and issues if the engine stalls while still moving. I know this is pretty commonplace with electronic controlled automatics (as opposed to cable/rod acutated transmissions) but I didn’t see that mentioned here anywhere yet. Who here has seen what happens when older automatics are thrown into reverse or park on the move hehehe.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    The earlier Chrysler Powerflight lever on the dash was simple and attractive. This preceded the 56-up pushbutton. Going back to something like this would be fine. The Grand Caravan is a similar design.

    http://www.classiccarstodayonline.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Chrysler-1955-Chrysler-300C-gear-shift-lever-250×200.jpg

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    And when these vehicles get old?
    PNDLR
    And Ford 70s and early 80s: P–R CRASH

    Yes use the parking brake, but very few do today.
    With these electronic fancy shifters I predict recalls and crashes that will make the “Unintended Acceleration” events seem like almost nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      And wait until said vehicle needs to be towed. Some vehicles you have to snap off plastic trim to get to a release to put the damn thing into neutral because the electronics no longer work due to a dead battery or something. Just more and more frustrations for users that aren’r really necessary.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

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

  • avatar
    RobbieAZ

    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’.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      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.


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