Paddle shifters are a waste of time…
These days automatics can change gear for you better than ever before, so D is no longer for Dunce. So, are paddle shifters a waste of time?
THERE ARE VERY few situations outside of high performance driving (on, or off-road) where you’d need (as opposed to want) to take control. These situations include descending long, steep hills where you’d select a lower gear, and moving off on very slippery surfaces like icy roads.
So if you are going to take control of an automatic transmission by yourself the first thing to know is that you aren’t changing gears when using paddle shifters. You are asking the computer to change gears, and the computer may or may not grant your wish. Try and change down too early and the computer will say no, perhaps even if changing down won’t over-rev the engine.
The computer may also automatically shift up for you if you hit the rev limiter, instead of bouncing off the limiter. It may also also downshift if you floor the accelerator and there’s enough rev range, even if you’ve manually selected a particular gear. This is what we mean by the automatic transmission not really allowing the same control over the car as the manual, even when you’ve selected ‘manual’ mode.
If your car does offer control over the gears then there’s a few different designs to choose from. The most common is moving the auto gearshift to select the next higher or lower gears in sequence. For a while there were two methods – gearlever forwards to change up and back to change down, and the exact opposite. Fortunately, everyone now seems to be falling into line with backwards to change up, forwards to change down. Except for Jeep/Mercedes who have left/right for up/down.
The other big option here is paddle shifts which can be operated without taking your hands off the wheel. There are two types – those that are fixed to the wheel, and rotate with it, and those that are fixed to the steering column and do not rotate with the wheel. Examples of the former are Subaru, BMW and Land Rover. Examples of the latter are Nissan, Ferrari, Volkswagen and Renault (but don’t hold me to the fact that every one of their models follows that convention). It is true F1 cars have paddles that move with the steering “wheel”, but given their total steering wheel movement is about 120 degrees either way it doesn’t really matter for them and in general, “because racecar” does not always apply logically to roadcars.
So which is best – fixed paddles or rotational paddles?
It’s a matter of preference really, but let me throw in some ideas. First, for off-road vehicles you definitely want paddles that do not move with the steering wheel, because you may well have an full turn of lock on and need to change gear. Which is hard when you have to remember where the gearshift has moved to. For sportscars on racetracks I think it matters much less because your hands never leave quarter to three anyway. But I’d still rather have the shifters fixed to the column for those occasions where you’re dealing with lots of opposite lock and need to change gear, for example coming out of a second gear corner on a dirt course shifting to third as it opens out – on a road track you’d have half a lock of turn on, on dirt you might have the same but it could be opposite lock. However, many, but not all cars with paddle shifts can also change gear using the gearlever which solves the problem, although expect that capability to disappear over time.
The final note on paddle shifters is that my experience is that everybody tries them for five minutes – then they’re never touched again because you can’t do a better job than the computers for daily driving and taking manual control for mundane motoring is not fun, so it doesn’t actually matter what system you have, you’ll never use it. But I am willing to be corrected… see you in the comments.