By on August 31, 2017

2017 Chevrolet Suburban interior column shifter - Image: ChevroletSetting aside the glorious wonders of the manual, DIY shifter, is it not becoming increasingly clear that the automatic transmission shifter reached its zenith with the traditional column shifter?

One thing is certain: the column shifter is quickly fading away. The electronic controls behind many shifters are more often linked to unnecessarily complicated shifters than a simple, intuitive, steering column-mounted unit. There are pushbutton affairs on the center stack in Lincolns, rising and falling console-mounted pushbutton arrangements in Hondas and Acuras, rotary dials in everything from the Ford Fusion and Ram 1500 to the Jaguar XJ, monostable shifters with no detents in vehicles of every sort, and a horizontally opposed array of buttons and switches in a GMC Terrain that GMC felt necessary to explain for three hours.

We’re not sure these alternative shifters have shoved society along the path toward enlightenment.

But when Ford’s North American product communications manager, Mike Levine, tweeted a picture of a 2018 Ford F-150 with a 10-speed automatic and a column shifter — merging the past and future — we naturally wondered whether column shifters deserve more involvement in the present.


Column shifters free up space in the center console. They’re located where your hands are already tasked with vehicle operation. Their action is distinct — there are unique placements for PRNDM21. They provoke no questions. They require no lessons.

Okay, so they’re not all perfect. Mercedes-Benz, for example, takes many of the misguided principles from modern console-mounted shifters and applies them to a fiddly, rinky-dink, chintzy column shifter.2017 Ram Power Wagon column shifter - Image: FCABut the general knock against column shifters is simply the style, or rather, the lack of style. Column shifters look like something out of the distant past.

But the past was a simpler time, often a more elegant time, and a time in which some solutions were found that didn’t need updating. So, are column shifters the best automatic shifters?

[Image: General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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108 Comments on “QOTD: Is the Column Shifter the Best Shifter Design There Ever Was or Ever Will Be?...”


  • avatar
    EMedPA

    Short answer: yes. Especially in trucks and vans.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      No, even in trucks and vans. I have one, and it’s relatively hard to not miss detents and/or select low gears. It also contributes to stalk overload and confusion.

      The best shifter design, ever, is the high-mount console shifter in most minivans, but especially the Grand Caravan: the gates are quite clear and easy to hit, but the shifter is up and away from floor space. You could easily put that in a truck or van and it would leave just as much room free without being as imprecise as a column shifter.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve driven my in-laws ’14 GC on multiple occasions, but hadn’t really given the shifter much thought before. You’re right, it is a good design, easy to use and well out of the way of everything else.

      • 0 avatar
        EMedPA

        Point taken. The GC shifter is darned close to perfect.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        By different means you, along with the ever so practical minivan crowd, have arrived at the same conclusion as that subgroup of drivers that really, really need their shifter to be in the most conveniently accessible, and least prone to shifting inaccuracy, position available: Rally drivers…..

      • 0 avatar
        TCragg

        As the owner of two RT-model vans (2010 Routan/2016 Grand Caravan), I second that.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I’ve never found the shifter on my F250 or my old Toyota particularly imprecise or difficult to get into Drive-but-not-2 in, myself.

        (Not saying a high console mounted shifter is bad or might not be superior, though.)

    • 0 avatar
      Maxb49

      Yes, the column shifter is the best shift design including for manuals. I absolutely hate console shifters (and consoles in general).

      • 0 avatar
        RHD

        Bring back the 3-on-the-tree!
        But it needs to be updated, now it’d be a 6-on-the tree.
        Ah, memories of that ratty but dependable ’65 Valiant that I had for a while in college, and that huge swing down from 2nd to 3rd gear.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    Column shifters generally sucked for manual-shift cars, particularly as the linkages got older and looser. However, for automatics (particularly in the set-and-forget mode), column is fine. Floor-mounted automatics are pretentious and space-wasting. Besides, how else are you going to get a nice front bench seat?

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      @tonyola
      I know what your talking about. In particular, I remember a Chevy three-in-the-tree that actuated like like wet noodle in pudding.

      BUT, I also remember a very, very old car that had a thick and substantial shift mechanism, external to the steering shaft, that was smooth, slick, and positive in operation. I was a revelation. I had no idea it could be so easy to drive a manual. It all but leapt into the next gear. I asked the old folks why these were stopped – they said people were just too lazy to shift themselves. Anyway, a smooth non-sloppy manual column shift is possible.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      What’s … pretentious about a floor-mounted automatic?

      • 0 avatar

        I think he used a word without knowing what it means.

        • 0 avatar
          Pig_Iron

          Nope, he’s correct. Early auto trans console shifters were deliberately designed to pretend to look like manual shifters, both in the T and ball handle types, to the point of including Naugahyde boots. To some stick aficionados, it is/was the height of pretension and fakery.

          PS Will I be banned for contradicting a writer?
          ;-)

          • 0 avatar

            Ahh. Well the leather boots are still right there even. Interesting.

          • 0 avatar
            Pig_Iron

            Sadly, it is because of the uncontrolled blood lust across the vast entirety of the automotive landscape for those auto trans console shifters, that the Nauga were driven to extinction.
            :-(

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            We have a few preserved Nauga herds here in NM. Far more popular with the tourists than the Bison herds.

          • 0 avatar
            Pig_Iron

            @PrincipalDan

            Thank you. I had no idea. Truly, you and your fellow NMs walk with the angels. This was the last known pic:
            http://myarchive.us/richc/2012/f8c0bf8a9c81_1265C/thenauga.jpg
            ;-)

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        “pretentious” sounds better than phallic symbol!

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      A floor shifter for auto is simpler and cheaper to make, there a lot of common parts between auto and manual shifters, and you can put the wiper and lighting controls on a combination stick.

      Also, the steering colum is shorter and its simpler to fit column adjustments like rake and height into the design.

      They’re here to stay.

  • avatar
    hirostates12

    Since the market is proving that all Americans want is cheap gas and a modern LTD station wagon, why not.

    Automakers were castigated for column shifters for years by the automotive cool-makers. It’s sweet revenge to bring them back!

  • avatar

    It is the best design for a traditional automatic.

    It is not the best design for an automatic with a manual shift mode. The best auto/manual is the Tiptronic pioneered by Porsche and copied by many others. Flappy paddles may shift faster, and allow the driver to keep both hands on the wheel. But IMO, nothing beats rowing your own gears from a lever on the console. And if you can’t justify a manual, the Tiptronic arrangement is the next best thing.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Yes, they’re great — but only if you have a secondary way to handle regular gear changes, like paddles (or steering wheel buttons) in addition to the stalk. I think that might be the best of both worlds. Further, I believe the headlights should never be controlled by a stalk, only by a dial on the dash.

    I learned to drive in a column-shifting ’88 Dodge Caravan and managing hills could be a pain at times. Remove your hand from the wheel, pull the stalk, hope you find the right detent and don’t shift one gear too far (on a 3- or 4-speed, that can be especially problematic).

    So yeah, columns are fantastic in how they save space, but they could always use a little enhancement.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      A rocker switch on the column solves this reasonably well, although the silly number of speeds that transmissions have now means a lot of rocking to reach a gear low enough to provide much braking. Dropping four gears with my six speed already feels like a kludge. Needing seven or eight rocks with the new 10 speeds is just plain stupid.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        The older gen Mopar had PRNDL. When you put it in L the transmission would downshift early keeping the RPMs up for engine braking and it would hold gears longer before upshifting. No need for a rocker switch. Let he auto do it for you automatically.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        The i3 has a rocker switch. Default is neutral, you rock forward for drive and backward for reverse. Then there’s a park button on the end. Admittedly, it’s an electric drivetrain, but an automaker could just couple the rocker with paddle shifters for cars that need or are equipped with a manual mode.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        This is why modern transmissions should do engine braking *for you*, like the 5R110 in my SuperDuty will – more aggressively in Tow/Haul mode, but even with it off.

        (At worst with a button to tell it “hey, do that thing”.)

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    I dont know why a lever or t-bar is even necessary these days.

    I would prefer it if there’s four buttons on the dash, PRND and a manual option… say “M” and then you use the paddle shifters.

    Or maybe have a tiny little lever that comes from the dash and just use that.

    A half foot lever that sticks out of the column or center console is massive overkill now that its just moving microswitches for the ECU…. when it was moving something mechanic in a hydraulic automatic box then you have a point but now?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Actually there are a lot of automatics that still mechanically engage the parking pawl so having some leverage to pop it out when it it bound is a good thing, particularly in a vehicle that is meant to tow.

      Now I can’t say I’ve looked into the umpteen speed transmissions today but on the original electronically shifted transmissions it was common for the shifter to move a valve to allow R or a Forward gear to be possible as well as preventing any possibility of fluid flowing to the valve body to be able to engage any gear when the shifter is in P or N.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The dainty little modern Mercedes column shifter is like this. Up for R, down for D, and push the end for Park. Plus flappy paddles for when you want to play. Don’t remember how you get neutral.

      I still hate it. But not as much as Audi and BMWs autotragic shifters. :-)

      Automatic shifting reached absolute perfection with the Mercedes zig-zag console shifter. You don’t have to look at it at all, no extraneous buttons or knobs, just simple perfection. Effortless.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I’ve only had a quick test drive in a Mercedes with one of these, but I think you get neutral by tapping only once when moving from R to D, or vice versa. For example, if you are in reverse you will need to tap down twice to get to D. Similar to a BMW automatic, or any other monostable shifter.

        Monostable shifters drive me crazy.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Chrysler had push button autos in the 1950s and 60s. There were some problems when the puttons didn’t engage fully and the car would run over people (like the recent problems they had with another “adventurous” design).

  • avatar

    Unless it’s a cool Toronado throttle shifter, column shift FTW

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Personally I think the GMC and Honda push-buttons look just fine. They are in a logical order, and can be operated easily by feel (unlike dials and monostable shifters.)

    They are, of course, cheaper, since there’s fewer parts and no mechanical interlock device needed. (Or the need for an interlock override button.)

    Now, the Lincoln row-of-identical-buttons is not a great design, although at least it’s at eye level…

    I think as a shifter, a column shift is just fine, but I don’t like having the wiper controls on the signal stalk, which is the norm for most column-shifters.

    In my ideal world, the shifter would be a small dash-mounted lever. You get a wiper stalk back, the operate-by-feel use of a lever, but without occupying center console space.

    • 0 avatar
      zamoti

      I had a loaner Lincoln at one point and I attempted to parallel park with those button shifters. It is a bit frustrating if you’re trying to hustle into a spot because there’s a pregnant pause between shifts that slows the process. I guess they expect that most people will pick up a model with the auto-park features and learn how to use it before they have to park on the street.

      I don’t care for the buttons.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Assuming this is an AT-only discussion: I’m partial to the pushbuttons Chrysler had some 50 years ago. I can’t think of a shifter design that I truly hate, but there’s something about pushbuttons that I really dig.

  • avatar
    YellowDuck

    Meh. I’ve never been the least bit bothered by any of the modern designs, including Chrylser’s rotary shifter do-dad. It has logical detents just like a linear PRD setup and was completely intuitive to me within seconds. You could even stick it on the dash and for me it would be just fine.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Horseshoe shifter is the best one.
    Then pistol grip.

  • avatar
    MBella

    I disagree with you on the Mercedes column shifter. It is very simple to use. You just push down for drive, or up for reverse. Button on the shifter, key off or open the door for park. It’s intuitive just like a manual shifter. You do not have to pay attention. On a conventional column shifter you have to be conscious of where the shifter is placed. It’s easy to miss D and hit 3rd or whatever follows D instead.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I’m young enough that I associate column shifters with the garbage Oldsmobiles my mom drove (1985 Custom Cruiser wagon and 1990 Delta 88). Those cars had column shifters, and they sucked. Everything since has had a console shifter, and been just fine. So yeah, column shifters are garbage in my subconscious. Sorry.

  • avatar
    Syke

    For me, the shifter that should have never gone away was Chrysler’s push button drive on an automatic, 1957-64. It takes up less space than a lever, still allows your choice of bench seat or buckets plus console, and the mechanical linkage was perfectly suited to the technology of the time (here’s looking at you Edsel).

    And it didn’t hurt that it allowed those beautifully symmetrical instrumental panels with the shift buttons to the left of the wheel, and the heater controls to the right.

    Granted, today the actuation will be electronic, but as long as the setup is the traditional logic (P-R-N-D-add whatever other lower gears you feel necessary), I consider it superior to that ungainly lever sticking out of the steering column.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      My older bro has a 64′ 880 custom convertible. His first car in HS was a 64 Chrysler Newport. You could say he has a thing for the old Mopar push button torque flight. That was back when the dash was more art than function, I agree the dash mounted buttons work just fine.

  • avatar
    tonyd

    Just a rocker switch FNR. When I turn the car off and open the driver door and get out of the seat put it in PARK and return rocker to N. If I put it in N leave it in N until I turn the car off. When I pull/push/tap a paddle DO WHAT I SAY.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    And while we’re at it – can we bring back the high-beam button on the floor?

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      One of those lovely floor buttons set fire to the wiring and all the way up behind the instrument panel due to the rusted-out floorboards of my semi-custom ’39 Ford. That was an exciting night to be sure.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I like the one in my Mustang but only at night. During the day I have a tendency to accidentally bump it and with no indicator to tell me whether it is “HIGH” or “LO” I have to remember where they were set.

    • 0 avatar
      ptschett

      Gosh, I haven’t thought about those since the ’90’s when I was driving my ’73 Mercury Cougar or my dad’s assortment of late-’70’s Ford pickups. I developed a habit of always putting the lights back on low beam before I turned the car off, so I wasn’t blinding some unfortunate oncoming person the next time I needed to turn the lights on while driving.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    When you’re in-n-out the driver’s seat a dozen or more times for each task, you want the “important” controls in one central-location, where they’ve always been, and easy to reach especially when you’re constantly moving it around the job site, ranch, etc, *door open*, standing on the running-board, half in, half out, reaching-in to control it.

    Mono-stat or button/dial shifters might not let you drive/back-up with the door open (ridiculous for a “truck”) and you don’t want to reach further in the cab and fumble with non intuitive controls, makes for a long day.

    So yes I appreciate auto (truck) makers going the extra mile (and expense) to provide “column shifters”, and listening to those that actually buy trucks, not “auto journos” scared of running out of things to snivel about.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    There is the monostatic column shifter. BMW first did it on the 2002 7-Series and 2003 Phantom. The default position is neutral, tap up for reverse and down for drive. Then there’s a button on the end for park. Mercedes-Benz adopted a similar gear selector on the 2006 M-Class and 2007 S-Class, and later most of its cars. It continues to be used by Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce, as well as Tesla (who gets it from Mercedes-Benz)

    BMW also has a different type of monostatic column shifter in the i3, wherein you rotate the end of the gear selector to make your selection, although that one is unintuitively a D – N – R pattern, opposite of the R – N – D pattern that BMW’s other cars use.

    As for the physical column shifter, GM still uses it on all of its full-sizers and it’s seen on all trucks with bench seats (except the Ram series, which uses a dial shifter). In GM’s case, the trucks aren’t available with keyless start and the shifter’s position precludes them from using their nifty switchblade key, so these trucks make do with an old-fashioned key and separate fob arrangement, which annoys me.

  • avatar

    I’ve got to say I really like the positioning of the shifter on my wife’s automatic Fiat 500. It has a substantial ball-topped lever sprouting from the lower-central dash, angled upward. Slide your hand off the wheel and it just falls right to it without thinking.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    QOTD: Is the Column Shifter the Best Shifter Design There Ever Was or Ever Will Be?

    ANS: It depends.

    Manual Transmissions: No. Floor is best.
    Automatic, Simple with no manual shifting: Yes, column.
    Automatic, sporty: either column or floor, but augment by “flappy paddles” on steering wheel.

    Push buttons on the dash are awkward and not “tactile” enough.
    Rotary knob is awkward, and too “detached” feeling.

    =======================

  • avatar
    Sam Hall

    The thing that’s good about a column shifter is the same thing that’s good about a floor shifter–it is clearly a shifter, and not any other type of control. It also works the same way in any vehicle from any maker. The minivan dashboard-mounted lever is also easily identified as a shifter. You can’t say the same for the various pushbutton, rotary knob etc. shifters that are starting to proliferate. That’s a safety issue, as several folks have found out to their sorrow.

    Think of it this way–if a car came on the market with a R/C-style pistol grip for steering, what would you think of that? Why would you think any different for the thing that puts the car in or out of gear?

  • avatar
    volvo

    Column on my RAV4 is already too busy without a shifter added. Turn signal, headlights, wipers, cruise control. The center console mounted shifter has crisp detents with left right movement between D-4, 2-3 with 1 a separate detent. Works well for me.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    A column shifter is acceptable only if you don’t shift very often.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I am seriously considering a 1/2 ton crew cab mid-trim truck for my next vehicle just to get column shift, V8, and bench seats front and rear.

    That was the best sedan design PERIOD. It’s a pity that it is now only available in a truck.

  • avatar
    86er

    I’ve never owned anything without a column shifter, so, yes.

    It wouldn’t be so bad to add some chrome to the shifter, while they’re at it. Not everything is going to be a glare hazard.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    My concern with shifter location is four-fold.
    1) Do you need to take your eyes off the road to confirm what gear you are in?
    2) How much usable space does the shifter take up?
    3) Can you accidentally shift into reverse, neutral or park?
    4) This does not impact those in the south but can be very important for those of us in the snowbelt. Is the shifter location/type practical to use when trying to ‘rock’ a vehicle back and forth to get traction? Column shifters are perhaps the best option among automatics as you can easily see what gear you are on and therefore not ‘mess up’ too much. I would surmise that dials are terrible for this. And when we had old push button auto Chrysler vehicles in high school they were also terrible to use in this situation.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Modern cars have this “traction control” thing, and often AWD.

      I’ve never had to rock a car out of snow that wasn’t ancient and lacking all those things; my Volvo with those things is basically a mountain goat, and didn’t care about snow [that would have made my Corolla put on chains to leave my neighborhood!] in *all-seasons*.

      I’m not sure rocking out of snow is a huge concern if you have those two things, what?

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I have had to perform that function multiple times over the past 4 years, to help other drivers who were stuck. On different types of 21st century vehicles.

        Often in parking lots where the plow has piled large amounts of snow (known as windrows).

        Modern traction aids certainly help to make it easier. But without winter tires they can still leave the wheels spinning. Particularly when the vehicle has been lifted off the ground by the amount of snow.

      • 0 avatar
        brn

        Sigivald, Traction control and AWD help, but they aren’t magic. I’ve had to rock 4WD (not AWD) BOF SUVs in the snow.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        Well, many cars have just traction control, and if you can’t turn it off to get some wheelspin, it only hampers your ability to free your car. My Altima hybrid sucks for being able to free it from snow. The computer does not allow for much wheelspin at all. Rocking out is almost impossible despite the floor shifter being ideal for this purpose. Our Century has the ability to disable the TC by using second gear or one click of the parking brake. Way easier to free from a snowbank. Even with it’s column shifter.

        The only reason we have electronic controls for the shift is because the electronics are cheaper than the cable and related assembly time for a mechanical actuation.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @Sigivald – there are certain conditions where traction and stability control are a hazard. I know a lot of fellows who work in logging and construction. Several have told me that they have actually been put into the ditch or snow bank by it. It usually happens on a narrow road where you have to move over into the snow to make room for an oncoming vehicle. Standard practice is to counter the pull of two wheels in the snow by applying some throttle along with counter-steering. The traction/stability control thinks you are loosing the front end and cuts power.
        Another problem is when you know that you will need to drift a bit to keep momentum in deep snow to make a hill or even on muddy ground. I’ve had the nannies kick in and loose the ability to make a hill. You are then forced to back down.
        3rd time where nannies suck are when you lose a bit of grip in the rear and the ass end kicks out a bit. The smoothest way out of that problem is to actually gently power out of it. You add throttle and ease out of the slide in a controlled fashion. The nannies will kick in and you have an abrupt regain of grip which unsettles the entire vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          I agree with every point here, Lou. I know a number of pickup owners who can’t even drive their own fields in the mud with these nannies and not all of them can be shut off. Honestly, the Ridgeline’s AWD is probably one of the best systems out there today because it seems to know how and when those nannies are hindering movement.

        • 0 avatar
          brn

          I’ll back Lou on needing to maintain momentum. Early traction control was too aggressive. I need to be allowed to spin if needed. Also, in some conditions (grass or sand are excellent examples, but often true for snow also), you can brake a lot quicker by locking the wheels and digging in.

          The nannies can help, but they’re not always the answer.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    I only ever operated one column shifter in my life, and that was on a manual gerbox in a Mitsubishi L 300 van. I liked it as a novelty item, but I have never missed it in any other vehicle.

    Especially not in an automatic. The whole point of an automatic is that you don’t need to operate the shifter constantly, after all — so it doesn’t need to be in close reach from the wheel. I’m fine with the usual array of stalks on the column for turnblinkers, wipers, maybe lights (although those are fine as dashboard switches as well), cruise control, and maybe radio. If and when I do need to operate the automatic shifter, the hand falls to a console shifter quite naturally, and when that’s done well, it can be operated without looking too.

    The only benefit, that of seating three in the first row without needing excessive width nor being in danger of brushing the middle passenger’s left knee, has never really been applicable in my vehicles except old Volkswagen vans, which however I prefer as walkthrough versions where the floor-mounted shifter isn’t a problem either. I like the dash-mounted handbrake in the T1 and T2 models though; the floor-mounted one in the T3 feels like an afterthought.

    Back to shifters, there is another logic to the console shifter in an automatic: simplicity, which is something I generally appreciate in vehicles. In my Citroën BX*, there is but one mechanical linkage between shifter and transmission, pushing a lever on the tranny fore and aft as you move the shifter. Trivial to assemble and debug, except you’ll never have to because it will never break.

    * No no, there’s more simplicity in there than you think :-)

  • avatar
    r129

    There were three factors that made me purchase a slightly used 2012 W-Body Impala:

    1. Cheap!
    2. 300 hp V6
    3. The last car (not truck or SUV, and not a police version) available with a true column shifter

    I searched far and wide to find an example with the rare bench seat option. The only way to tell was to look at all of the interior photos. Not only that, but I wanted one in victory red with a bench seat, not a common combination. I was willing to travel 200+ miles, but one appeared nearby and I snapped it up right away.

    Theoretically the option was available through 2016 on the Impala Limited, but I doubt that it was actually ordered very much.

  • avatar
    Tandoor

    Yes. The column shifter was peak shifting logic. The console shifter, what is it doing there, pretending to be a manual? Why is anyone manually shifting an automatic?

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      I’ve no problem with column shifters, but I do prefer a console shifter. A console shifter is easier to work, without having to look at what gear you’re in.

      As to why manually shift an automatic? Good question. I’ve found that a “good” automatic does better than I do manually shifting it, most of the time. Mine (in sport mode) is even smart enough to pre-downshift when I’m turning aggressively.

      A true manual is another story. Like many here, I love the control.

  • avatar
    PandaBear

    I hate column shifter so much I’d avoid any car with it.

  • avatar
    YellowDuck

    Anyone remember the scene in “Wanted Dead or Alive” where Rutger Hauer reaches through the window of the detective’s car and tears the column shift lever out, leaving him stranded? Always wondered if that would actually be possible but was never willing to test it out.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      No, not probable. I had a girlfriend back in the day that lent her car to some people that I would classify as “undesirable”…they took her 2 door Olds Cutlass (84?) to a rather unpleasant location. Somebody grabbed the shifter from outside the car and pulled as hard as they could. The column held; the plated handle was bent up about three inches…..YMMV

  • avatar
    dal20402

    There’s nothing wrong with column shifters that work well. But very few of them work well. The effort and detents aren’t well calibrated. You select low gear instead of drive, or park instead of reverse, or neutral instead of drive. To be fair, this is a problem with some floor shifters too.

    My favorite shift arrangement is actually buttons + flappy paddles, provided that the buttons are arranged sensibly. I may be the only person who likes the new Honda button shifter, but I really like it. It has differently shaped and contoured buttons for P/R/N/D. Easy to use without looking, hard to use incorrectly, doesn’t have to take up much space (although it does in most of the current implementations).

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Agree. My column shfiter on a ’77 LTD wore to the point where you had to pay attention to what you were really doing.

      Modern column shifters on the Ford PI Sedan are almost foolproof. Always lands where you want it to.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    In a word, No. The column shifter was never a good idea… not even the simplest, all things considered. Granted, it took advantage of a clean hole through the firewall but then you had a long arm or combination of links leading down to the transmission for the actual shifting process. The floor shifter was always the better choice for a reliable mechanical connection.

    With today’s solenoid-operated shifters, the column shifter is again needlessly complicated; it simply requires too many mechanical components and electrical connections in an already-crowded steering column housing. Push buttons make sense. The rotary dial makes sense; they’re simple, obvious and should be nearly foolproof. Console-mounted shifters offer a more tactile sense of a mechanical connection but again, some designs can be confusing because of that previous mechanical connection.

    You want simple and functional? Buttons or dial. You want a sporty feel, a console-mounted lever. But a column-mounted shifter? Clumsy, invasive and sometimes obstructionist as it gets in the way of other controls.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      THE JOKE

      Vulpine’s head…

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Until that’s deleted I’d like it to be known that I posted to the wrong thread…

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        How many people remember the column shifters with the bad habit of popping out of park into reverse or popping out of gear for no reason? How many people were injured or killed when FORD, in particular, had so many runaway cars? No, the joke is on you, PD, and always has been. Your prejudices have always been counter to reality.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      There’s no reason a column shifter wouldn’t also be shift by wire. It doesn’t have to be a mechanical linkage.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        You’d still have the mechanicals required to make it “feel” like the old-style column shifter, including heavy springs, detents for each gear position, ‘sockets’ for the lock in each gear, etc. All that would be purely wasted mechanicals and wasted weight. The rule of K.I.S.S. is perfectly valid.

        • 0 avatar
          brn

          If you get a chance, try a Ford PI Sedan. It’s been a few years for me, but I recall it being very easy to work.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            I have no issues with the column shifter on my F150. I much prefer it to a centre console location. I’ve been teaching both my sons to drive and they have adapted to it rather easily. The dash shifter on my ex’s Sienna is more fool-proof though.

  • avatar
    Fred

    You want to see a notorius complicated push button shifter? Check out the electro mechanical nightmare that Dodge & Plymouth thrust upon us.

    http://www.1962to1965mopar.ornocar.com/transtech.html

    • 0 avatar
      gasser

      I remember these buttons on Dodges, Valiants and even some Ramblers (late 50s or early 60s).
      Truly delightful when one of the buttons would crack and fall into the housing. It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel.
      Leave the shifter on the column and STANDARDIZED.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Cars have gotten unreasonably complex, as if Rube Goldberg was head of design for ALL OEMs.

    Sure, all the safety features I understand, but for simply changing gears, turning on the heater or AC, operating a radio – what it takes to do these previously simple tasks have gone off a cliff with no end in sight.

    I don’t have an answer, but a column shift is pretty good. I do like console shifters IF the console is of a reasonable size, but even consoles have gotten huge. Why?

    Wish I had answers to these!

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Zackman, the simple answer is that electronics and CAN bus wiring has become so cheap that it costs a lot less than the mechanical equivalent. Consider the installation of a cable for the temperature control and rods for the shifter:

      1. Mechanical items need to be fished through the firewall, attached on each end, and then they have to make sure the lengths are ok so when the slide control for temperature is in heat, there is heat. Gotta know where to clamp down the outer sheath… Same goes for speedometer cables, shifters, etc.

      2. Electronic control requires a few extra connectors and wire (built by a supplier) and those few extra connectors have to be connected. No adjustments to worry about. A wiring harness is going to be installed anyway. Pretty much a big win on assembly time and warranty costs.

      Not to mention electronics weigh less, usually don’t wear out, and it is a pretty safe bet they will last the life of the vehicle. Mechanical actuation is going to disappear. Brakes are going to be the last thing to go drive by wire in my opinion…Merc’s foray into electronic braking was dropped IIRC..

  • avatar
    Southern Perspective

    Pushbuttons to the left of the steering wheel kind of like old Mopars with DRIVE and REVERSE and PARK being extra large with extra big, bright letters so folks may be less likely to screw it up. Auto makers today don’t understand how important PLAIN and SIMPLE are for the sake of safety. (On 10 speed automatics, have buttons for LO 1, LO 2, and LO 3. Each distinct LO range will limit upshifts to the top ratio in that range. These can be smaller since few will ever use them anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      The logic of the idea seems questionable. Are you talking RHD or LHD? Headlamp controls tend to be to the left of the steering wheel in LHD countries, so putting transmission controls there could be confusing or even catastrophic when driving at dusk and in the nighttime.

  • avatar
    bph78660

    The problem with column shifters is so few people know how to grasp them properly. Back in the 1980’s when I was a teenager, I was a lot porter at a local Buick/Oldsmobile dealer and had to move & park around 50-100 cars everyday, nearly all of them with column shifters. I quickly learned the secret to effortlessly shifting these transmissions into the right gear ever time. Put your right thumb on the rim of the steering wheel around the 2 o’clock position and then grasp the knob of the column shifter with your forefinger and middle finger and gently pull it towards you and then glide it down to “Drive” (or up to “Park”) using only your hand muscles (not your arm). Your hands have infinitely more motor control then your arm. In other words, if you’re using your whole right arm to work the column shifter, you’re doing it wrong. Why car manufacturers have enlarged the stalk knob from being the size of an egg to something as large as a sword hilt, I have no idea. It only reinforces the problem of people grasping it incorrectly and then using their whole arm to move it up/down.

  • avatar
    jfb43

    I’ll take a column shifter any day for an automatic, especially over those janky zig-zag gated automatic shifters, or even those idiotic J-shaped ones Jaguar used to love to use.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Yes.

    PRNDM, with an button rather than a push-pull to allow you to move the lever.

    Set the detents such that it’s at about 3 o’clock on the wheel in M.

    In M, push the lever forward to downshift, pull it towards you to upshift. Make it just like a shifter kart.

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