Phil Hanson investigates two 'boxes in one
There are advantages to a manual gearbox; there advantages to an automatic, and most drivers prefer one or the other.
But what if you could combine the advantages of both in one box?
That’s what Porsche was thinking in 1990 when it introduced as an option the first Tiptronic gearbox, an automatic that could be worked like a manual, if you wanted to. Today, many manufacturers offer auto-manual hybrid gearboxes although details of how they work vary. They’re also known by a whole lot of different names (see below), but this article will stick with the Tiptronic title.
The best are so good they’ve enticed many drivers out of the manual-only camp. Basically, a Tiptronic-type gearbox is an automatic with a second shift gate. When the shift lever’s in the second gate, the driver can upshift or downshift by flicking the lever forward or backwards. Some go up a gear when you push forward, others are the opposite.
Some vehicles, usually sporting types, also have paddles on the steering column or steering wheel to work the gears, so the driver never has to move a hand to the shift lever.
It’s a convenient arrangement that’s likely to become common in mainstream models. Tiptronics won’t generally allow the full control offered by a manual. For example, their computer overlord won’t allow downshifts if it considers the engine revs to be too high. Some have been set-up to be very conservative and are a frustration to
enthusiast drivers. Some will upshift automatically, rather than hold a specific gear, once certain rpm have been reached. For example, it may change on its own from first to second gear, depriving the driver of the ability to use engine-braking characteristics on steep downhills.
As with some conventional gearboxes, Tiptronics may also have a Sport mode that allows the rev counter to get closer to its redline before shifting. This enhances performance but uses more fuel. Other manufacturers simply consider the Tiptronic side to be the sports mode.
There are some disadvantages to a Tiptronic-type box. A well-driven manual will probably shift faster and will put a little more torque to the wheels, for brisker acceleration. A manual gearbox is also cheaper to fix; Tiptronics can be very complex. Despite their complexity, Tiptronic-type boxes are quite reliable and, if they’re going to
have serious problems, will usually do so within
the warranty period.
A “virtual” Tiptronic is also found on some vehicles with a constantly variable transmission (CVT). These have arbitrary shift points programmed into the computer to mimic real gears and the driver can “shift” between them.
For people living in urban areas, but who like or need to get out on the open road, a Tiptronic type of gearbox can be a real bonus. The driver can plod along with the snarled traffic in Drive, then flick the shifter into the second gate and drive it like a manual on the open road.
Tiptronic-type gearboxes are known by many different names.
Audi, Nissan, Skoda, Volkswagen and Porsche are among those using the Tiptronic name.
Alfa Romeo: Sportronic, Q-Tronic
Aston Martin: Touchtronic
Ford: Sequential Sports Shift
Land Rover: CommandShift
Mitsubishi: INVECS, Sportronic,