equiraptor (equiraptor) wrote in stick_shift,

Stick Shift Without a Stick, or Evil Automatic?

Recently, nugget and I went by our local Porsche dealership to test a PDK car. PDK stands for the German language version of Porsche Double Clutch and it's a double clutch sequential manual transmission. It's basically two manual transmissions sandwiched together, with two clutches, and the whole mess is computer controlled.

The car we drove had three shift profiles for the transmission, in addition to the manual override mode. In normal mode, the car drove like a typical automatic - early shifts, moving into high gear when your foot's off the gas, etc. This is "ew, automatic" mode. Great for driving in traffic.

"Sport" mode is the next option on the aggressiveness scale. In this mode, the car shifted later and stayed in a lower gear longer. It would downshift under braking, etc. It behaved very much like I would were I driving the car on the street, trying to have some fun. I liked this mode except for one thing: It doesn't coast easily. I'm not sure what would be the better way to get the car to approximate coasting - put it in "normal" mode briefly, or shove the stick into neutral, only to have to shove it back to drive once you want engine power again. Still, not bad, and it was nice to have an "automatic" shifting when I would want it to, where it a manual.

The most aggressive of the potential shift patterns is called "Super Sport." In reality, it should be called "Track." This mode basically kept the car in the lowest gear possible, always, period. It was jarring and strange on the street, but it would be fantastic on the track. It does have a bit of a built in jerk on some of the shifts. They could make that go away, but their customers accustomed to stick-shift manuals expect that jerk, so it stays. I think it should be removed in track Super Sport mode, as anything that could upset the car's balance is a bad thing (unless intentional) on the track. Still, those extremely fast, very precise shifts far outperform anything a normal human could do. I think this could produce some very nice lap times in amateur hands (though I'm not sure if it would be as much fun).

Finally, there's the manual override. I was excited to reach this. I'd driven automatic transmissions with a manual override, but never a computer controlled manual. I was hoping to find a better response time in this transmission than the automatics had had. I was eager to pull a paddle and feel the transmission respond, seemingly instantly, to my every command.

I was sorely disappointed. The transmission may be capable of extremely fast shifts, but they didn't happen with the quick response to a command I was hoping for. Nugget argued that this isn't important - that a person can adjust to the delay. Well, sure, one can, but I don't want to have to, and what if I change my mind about what gear I want for this corner at the last moment? Will the car respond fast enough? I want to feel like the shift happens the very moment I think it.

Plus, the paddles/buttons/whatever you wanna call them felt cheap. Yes, I know, this isn't a very important thing. However, the car's a Porsche. The car's a Porsche and this is my main means of communication with the transmission. It should feel as capable and finely tuned as I know the car is. I shouldn't feel like these are cheap little pieces of plastic shoved onto a steering wheel as an afterthought. It's PORSCHE, not Kia.

And so, those are my thoughts. I may have left you, the reader, with the impression that I do not like the transmission. This wouldn't really be accurate. I think it's a fine transmission - an absolutely fantastic replacement for a traditional automatic. I think it has some strong technical advantages. I have a few minor gripes that a re-tune of the transmission could probably work out. Would I want this transmission on my street car? Not yet. Maybe if they work out the gripes. Maybe not. Would I want it on my track car? Probably, if it proved it could stand up to the abuse, especially if I could occasionally throw my traditional-manual-street-car around the track occasionally when I wanted to deal with a clutch and heel-toe downshifting.
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