When Ferrari’s engineers gave the world paddle-shifters back in 1997, little could they have imagined the F1-derived technology would find its way onto 21st century delivery vans. But, that’s exactly what’s happened, which prompted me to think ‘what’s the point?’
The Ferrari F355 F1 was the first production car in the world to feature a semi-automatic transmission with gear changes effected via paddle-shifters. It brought Formula 1 technology to the road and added some zest to rapid-fire gear changes and added some zing to the overall driving experience.
Compared with today’s razor-sharp dual-clutch autos, those shifts in the original F355 F1 might seem a tad sluggish, but back then in 1997, road cars had never featured anything like it, and Ferrari’s F1-styled transmission was universally praised.
And that’s largely the point. Paddle-shifters belong on performance cars, whether a sportier version of a humble sedan, a nimble little hot hatch, or a bona fide supercar, the benefits of effecting lightning-quick gear changes cannot be underestimated.
So when I took the Peugeot Expert we recently had through the CarAdvice garage for a spin, I was at first bemused, then a little annoyed, to find it came equipped with paddle-shifters. Really? It’s a delivery van, about as far removed from a performance car as you can get.
Sure, it’s fun to drive, according to our own Sam Purcell who spent the bulk of the time behind the wheel of the Expert, but the inclusion of paddle-shifters to row through the eight cogs of the conventional automatic transmission seems a stretch.
Still, at least the Peugeot features a conventional torque converter transmission with eight proper gears.
Where paddle-shifters become laughable is when they are matched with a continuously variable transmission, as I recently discovered with the Subaru XV.
Now, don't get me wrong, the Subaru XV is a decent little crossover SUV, stylish and with plenty of perkiness from its boxer engine. But, a CVT ’box with seven ‘gears’ transmits power and torque to all four wheels. Except, there are no gears or ratios contained within a CVT. Instead, thanks to its system of pulleys and belts, a CVT can provide an infinite number of ‘ratios’.
So why manufacturers insist on equipping CVT-shod cars with paddle-shifters is beyond me, a feeling only exacerbated by actually using them.
The pause between flicking the paddle – whether up or down – can best be described as pregnant, the anticipation building as the CVT finally effects the glacial transition from one ‘gear’ to the next. It’s as if there’s a person living inside the CVT operating what I imagine is like an old telephone exchange, unplugging one cable and plugging in the next to effect any change.
So please, car makers of the world, save yourself some time and trouble – not to mention money – and stop equipping cars that aren’t genuine performance cars with paddle-shifters. And for the love of all that is good in the automotive world, cease and desist with paddle-shifters in CVT-equipped cars. They’re pointless and unnecessary.
And while I’m at it, bring back manual gearboxes for everything. Thanks in advance.
What do you think? Are paddle-shifters mostly pointless? Or do you like being able to control your own gear changes (even when they're not 'gear' changes). Let us know in the comments below.