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Why an easy-driver is all geared up to be my automatic choice

07:32 03 September 2014

Smooth operator  modern automatic cars are a pleasure to drive.

Smooth operator  modern automatic cars are a pleasure to drive.

Andy russell

When I took the motoring journalist road the thought of driving an automatic car filled me with dread, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Dull, sluggish, thirsty and with a habit of lurching between their three or, if lucky, four gears when least expected, I could not see why anyone would pay extra for the privilege of an auto box.

Given the choice of a manual or automatic model, I always opted for the former... now I look forward to, even relish, driving an automatic.

Automatics are now so good they often outperform the manual model when it comes to acceleration, fuel economy and emissions.

One dealership even made sure all models in its showroom were automatic versions to encourage people to try them with a test-drive and compare them to the manual. The result was a big rise in its automatic sales with some model ranges split half and half.

Modern automatics are a joy to drive – I recall being wowed by my first five-speed automatic in a BMW 3 Series in the early 1990s. Now it is not uncommon to have seven, eight and even nine-speed gearboxes which are so slick you barely notice the shifts unless you see the rev counter needle rise or fall.

My father has an automatic for the first time and it has given his driving a new lease of life by not having to make sure he is always in the right gear – one less thing to worry about so he can concentrate more on his driving. Even his little supermini has a seven-speed gearbox and driving it is a pleasure.

My elder son has also switched to automatic because, living on the edge of a big city, surrounded by motorways, it makes life so much easier, while not having a clutch pedal takes the strain out of stop-start driving.

More manufacturers are using twin-clutch or dual-clutch gearboxes, which shift automatically, and many sports models are no longer offered with a manual choice.

Twin electronically-controlled shafts manage gear selection, always anticipating your next shift so it can be made in milliseconds. One shaft selects first gear, the second one puts the next gear on ‘standby’. As the gearbox changes to second, the second shaft is engaged and the original shaft reaches third. As you shift upwards the sequence continues in a series of seamless moves. They also give different driving programmes, generally normal and sport with upshifts at higher revs in latter. You can also change manually by nudging the lever back and forth or using paddles behind or buttons on the steering wheel should you want more involvement.

So, if you are in the market to change your car, check out the modern automatics... it may also change your perception and shift your preference.

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