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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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Saighdear Edogg
Saighdear Edogg
3 years ago

This article written a year ago- and no other comments ?
Hmmm – well from UK, I have had same experiences – Salesmen, nay sales ppl ( really should be sales robots) have just no idea. After all, the selling is done by the Mfrs advertising . then follows on what my neighbour got –> street-cred and what the government recommend ( diesel cars ) ( did I mention Electric cars) So by , “one” buys useless vehicles with useless technologies like stop start, etc etc. Lots of journeys are in the commuting areas – low mileage but long hours. consequently the engines are idling / screeching junction to junction. Transmission systems from clutch to brakes suffer accordingly. But Ppl cannot take a telling, as long as “it – the car” has little chrome writing on its ass (Acronyms) suggesting various attributes, worthy or otherwise of the attached vehicle. So often, the driver aka owner – but as often as NOT – Company car, hire car, etc has NO IDEA of what they mean / refer to/ whether the feature actually is working ( eg 4WD ).
It has also come to my attention that often when a vehicle is sent in for servicing within the Mfrs extended / long-life Warranty ( ie more-than the former regular 12mth period) The Diagnostic computer discovers faults unbeknown to the Presenter of the vehicle, so instead of them being corrected, they are skipped to save COSTS – unless of course, that the presenter discovers this and wants it fixed. ( Currently VAG & others Emissions setup scandal ). This goes on to Beg the question about buying a car with a good service history …… “been serviced by OEM Dealer …..” and you would expect then that EVERYTHING is working properly. Far from it, YOU will be the one to dip further into the pocket to fix a car , now close to obsolete, to enable the features you expected, but were never used by that ” 1 careful lady owner ” . Have g’day

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper