Automatic transmissions are slowly, but steadily, gaining popularity in India. We can thank two things for the change: traffic and technology. The traffic is getting worse and we’re all looking at ways to relive our left set of limbs. The technology has gotten better now and we can expect automatic transmissions to be fairly responsive. Fuel efficiency was another area where the automatics fell far behind their manual counterparts. Today, they either beat or match their manual siblings in the km/l area.
There are four types of automatics you can buy under Rs. 10 lakh:
- Torque Converter
- Continuously Variable Transmission
- Dual-Clutch Transmission
- Automated Manual Transmission
Also referred to as slushboxes or conventional automatics, these are the oldest of the lot and responsible for ruining automatics for India. They sap power from the engine in two ways: 1. they’re heavy and 2. they transmit power through the fluids. Getting fluids in motion is a demanding task and this is what earned it the nickname ‘slushbox’. The whirlpool causes the turbine to rotate transmitting the power to a conventional set of gears via a friction clutch.
They do stand out in heavy-duty circumstances as the toroidal motion of the transmission fluid can get the car moving even on an incline with a full load. They’re also called ‘torque converters’ because of their ability to push out more torque at the wheels to get them rolling. They have been around for the better part of the last century. The main part of the torque converter includes fluid coupling, which doesn’t contain gears rubbing against each other thereby minimising wear. Just replace the transmission fluid timely and you should be able to keep the car around for more than 5,00,000km.
Fuel Efficiency: 5/10 Drivability: 7/10 Reliability: 9/10 Examples: Honda Brio, Toyota Corolla Altis, Hyundai Grand i10
Continuously Variable Transmission
CVTs are relatively new and haven’t had enough time to prove their reliability. In a CVT, there are no gears but there’s a belt connecting two pulleys. The variation in engine speed and wheel speed is managed using the pair of pulleys that can change their diameter. This allows the car to have infinite ratios that keep changing quite frequently. Hence the name, ‘continuously variable transmission’.
Internal combustion engines aren’t very efficient. They offer their best efficiency (and longevity), best acceleration (power) and best hauling ability (torque), at three different RPMs. This is where the CVT shines by getting the engine RPM to where it needs to be based on the requirement and then keeping it there to give the driver what he wants. This is also where the CVTs stutter because of the infamous ‘rubber band’ effect. Say you’re cruising at 80km/h with engine speed at 2000RPM and decide to floor it. The engine will first reach its performance RPM zone while the ratios are dropped to maintain the speed and keep the belt from breaking. Then the transmission will gradually alter the ratios to give you the acceleration you desired two seconds ago. Seeing the engine speed increase without any serious change in the actual speed has kept it out of the view of performance-hungry buyers. CVTs are very fuel efficient and also very light. The transmission fluid needs to be changed roughly 50,000km compared to slushy’s 1,00,000km. Other than that they don’t need any serious maintenance for up to 2,00,000km.
Fuel Efficiency: 7/10 Drivability: 7/10 Reliability: 7/10 Examples: Nissan Micra, Maruti Suzuki Baleno, Honda City
This is for those who care about nothing but speed and 0-100km/h times. A dual-clutch gearbox will give you acceleration figures no Schumacher can match with a manual. There are two clutches, one for odd numbered gears and another for even numbered. Every time you change a gear, there’s a loss of power during the upshifts. The twin-clutch setup eliminates that loss by keeping the next gear ready to be engaged.
So, when you’re in first, the transmission is ready to slot the car in second with the clutch already engaged. When you’re in second, the odd clutch for third gear is engaged and ready to deploy. Just disengage the even clutch and you’re good to go. Technically speaking, dual-clutch automatics fall under the automated manual transmission (AMT) category. The main difference is that the dual-clutch automatics have two clutches instead of one. These are very advanced and require a heavy investment for research and are, therefore, very pricey. Volkswagen group cars prefer using dual-clutch transmissions for a thrilling drive and impossibly quick acceleration. Of course, their punchy engines also co-operate
Fuel Efficiency: 8/10 Drivability: 10/10 Reliability: 6/10 Example: Ford Figo, Volkswagen Polo GT TSI and Ameo
Automated Manual Transmission
The AMTs were born out of the sheer need to make automatic cars affordable and fuel efficient. The Maruti Suzuki Celerio was the first one in India to come with an AMT and the market accepted them with open arms. This led to the launch of a whole batch of AMT cars. Tata Zest, Nano, Renault Duster, Maruti Alto K10, Swift Dzire now offer AMT. Also, Nissan Terrano is recently launched with AMT gearbox
These are very simple and affordable. They’re also not very expensive to repair should something go down south. Fuel efficiency is their top priority and they do deliver. AMTs are the newest to enter India and it’s unclear what our traffic and climate can do to them. The driving experience of an AMT car comes with a mixed bag of reactions. They’re slow to respond and you can forget about covering those gaps in traffic the way you do with a manual. There’s no clutch lever accessible for you to ‘dump n jump’. The gear selection is also tuned for efficiency so you’ll always find yourself in a higher gear.
Cruising in automatic mode is comfortable though. To get the best out of an AMT, switch to the Tiptronic mode and choose the ratios yourself. If the revs are too high or too low, the car will take care of it. This makes it much more livable and you’ll appreciate the convenience if you can’t drive stick.
Fuel Efficiency: 9/10 Drivability: 6/10 Reliability: 8/10 Examples: Tata Nano, Renault Duster, Maruti Suzuki Alto K10, Swift Dzire
What’s The Best Automatic Transmission?
The conventional automatics can play with a good amount of torque. The technology is dated and they’re not the best option you can pick today. They do offer decent drivability, athough, fuel efficiency is not their strong point. Dual-clutch are for the Mr. Lap Time. Fuel efficiency is also respectable but they have had problems dealing with the Indian climatic conditions.
AMTs bring you the joy of driving an automatic with simple mechanicals. Green Goblins can rejoice with improved fuel efficiency that’s at par with their manual counterparts. Be prepared to make way for others as the drivability isn’t as good and you’ll often find yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong time. The best variety of automatic appears to be CVT, which doesn’t excel in any area but also doesn’t fail miserably in any either. It offers a good mix of efficiency, drivability and reliability. Just don’t expect to lead the pack when the lights turn green as they’re not designed to handle a lot of power.