Getting the best out of an auto’ ‘box

Mark Kendrick Technique - fundamentals Leave a Comment

Here at Bespoke Driver Training we train dozens of chauffeurs and VIP close protection drivers every year, so we own an auto’ (an AMG-Mercedes, in case you were wondering) simply because it’s a required tool of our trade. However, when I’m on my own enjoying a cross-country drive I prefer a manual ‘box. Not until the anti-car lobby push to amputate enthusiastic drivers’ left leg will I choose an auto’ in preference to a car with a manual transmission – there’s just too much satisfaction to be had stirring a gearbox, matching engine speed to driven wheel speed on each synchronised down-change.

Leaving a car’s automatic transmission to select gears automatically optimises fuel consumption and refinement. As we drive, modern auto’s adapt to our driving style and road conditions, selecting the most suitable ‘map’ from the pre-programmed shift patterns. ‘Drive’ is great if we have to endure a commute through heavy city traffic. However, there are occasions when switching manually into another mode or gear offers more control.

Consider for a moment leap-frog overtaking within a line of vehicles on a two-way single carriageway road. Your intention is to overtake a vehicle or two before rejoining the queue, awaiting another opportunity to pass another dawdler. If you were to remain in ‘Drive’ using kick-down to power past, on lifting off the accelerator the gearbox may change up a gear. At a time when engine braking would be useful in assisting you to considerately blend back into the queue without showing brake lights, engine compression falls with the engine revs and you will likely need to brake to fit into the gap. Bugger. So, prior to overtaking pre-select the gear manually, thereby retaining the extra engine braking available at higher engine speeds. You’ll enjoy an instant response to the loud pedal too, as kick-down usually arrives after a momentary delay.

Stringing a series of bends together using acceleration sense in preference to the brakes is aided by manually selecting another mode (‘Sport’, for example) or gear. Once again the extra engine compression is useful. Easing and squeezing the accelerator between the bends rather than accelerator and brake is more flowing, albeit the trade-off is in terms of increased fuel consumption. Particularly if the road is both twisting and undulating, retaining a lower gear helps to stop the car from running away. The car remains more responsive to your right foot.

Prior to a long, steep descent, overriding an automatic can mean retaining more control over the car’s speed. This is in contrast to manually shifting down through the gears to slow a car that has already begun to run away. The brakes are for slowing and the gears are for going, remember! So, at the top of a hill consider manually selecting a gear so that during the descent the extra engine braking reduces run-on. The extra control is especially noticeable during a winding descent.

When climbing lengthy slopes an automatic can occasionally become caught between gears. In order to maintain speed when the gradient is often changing, you’ll instinctively ease and squeeze the accelerator. An auto’ can then begin to ‘hunt’ for the best gear. In these circumstances selecting a gear manually can prevent unnecessary, irritating gearshifts.

Whilst automatic transmissions have become much more intuitive over recent years, my personal preference remains with manual transmissions. Is there treatment available for a gear-knob fetish?

Enjoy your driving,

Mark Kendrick

Share this:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.