Does an adaptive gearbox really learn how you drive?
Thanks to car marketing hype plenty of people believe an adaptive gearbox can learn the way you drive, and it does, but it’s not quite as cut and dried as all that.
Practical Motoring reader Martin Dart wrote to us about how his new Jeep Cherokee behaved when he bought one a few years ago.
“On the test drive, and in my first week of ownership, I queried the salesman on the sluggish mid-speed response of the nine-speed automatic Jeep pairs with its Tigershark engine (I have since made a sport of coining other, less marketable, name-pairings for it). On my early enquiries I was told it was an ‘adaptive gearbox’ – that it would learn my driving style and smooth out over time. Not so it seems.”
Ah, car salespeople. They give me so much to write about. As usual, the information given to the buyer is not exactly true, and in my opinion, is a fob-off.
An adaptive gearbox does indeed learn the style of the driver, but over minutes.
Essentially, if you start to brake hard and accelerate hard it’ll start to go into a sport mode where it delays upshifts and downshifts earlier. Then if you back off to a more economical pace the gearbox will respond by shifting up earlier and generally using higher gears. Adaptive ‘boxes may also detect loads on the back such as trailers and downshift when descending hills.
I know of an elderly gentleman concerned that his wife would “teach the car bad habits” – he need not be concerned, as whatever habits the car may learn from his wife would be forgotten as soon as the engine was switched off, or very shortly after he took the wheel. And I failed to see what bad habits the car could be taught anyway. So the information about “smoothing out over time” because it is an adaptive transmission is a simple furphy.
It is, however, true that brand new cars do loosen up and change over the first few hundred km, but that is nothing to do with the gearbox being adaptive and even that change is becoming less and less noticeable thanks to modern manufacturing techniques. And in fairness to the dealer, whoever said that may actually believe it. But that doesn’t make it any less misleading.
UPDATE: But what about Jeep and the first 1000 miles?
Jeep has, apparently, stated that their auto gearboxes need up to 1000 miles to learn the driver’s habits. That’s not true, and if you think about it, most cars are driven by different people in different conditions so how much consistent learning could there be? This is what’s actually going on.
A brand-new transmission or one that’s been serviced or had parts replaced doesn’t behave quite the same as one that’s worn or has been run-in. The computer controlling the gearbox is smart enough to detect this and modifies precisely how it works to compensate. In other words, it’s self-tuning for wear and tear. As Jeep put it:
“The 948TE automatic transmission uses a sophisticated shift algorithm that includes learned information so that the shift quality remains excellent even as the transmission wears.”
So there you go. It doesn’t take a Jeep, or any other automatic, 1000 miles to learn your style, and you don’t need to “teach” the car your style over that period either. Just drive as you normally would, and the automatic will help as best it can, adapting to your style in minutes, not weeks. Over the space of a 15-minute drive you can see a difference; start off gently, then go hard, and then back to gently.
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