Many will know of the automated manual gearbox as fitted to amongst others, Smarts. Everyone, especially those who have never met one, knows how terrible they are. Slow, jerky changes that leave your head nodding each time.
I’ve driven five different types and been driven in two more with from five to twelve gears so how do you think they were? Can you imagine how terrible the 12 speeder must have been, with your head nodding violently eleven times?
Let’s find out.
First off is the Mk1 Smart, with a 700cc turbo triple and six speed Getrag AMT.
I picked this up at the airport with trepidation, having heard nothing but bad about it. Started up, put it into D, drove off and.........it engaged second as smoothly as you like. Went on to do the same for every gear, especially fifth to sixth which was imperceptible. It worked perfectly. Go uphill and it changed down smoothly and promptly, go down and it did the same to maximise engine braking. If normally didn’t creep but if you wanted to inch along the first few mm of throttle travel would make the clutch drag just enough to help in parking.
Next up is the Sachs Sensodrive as fitted to a Citroen C3.
A five speed this time, sampled with both petrol and diesel models. It’s not as sophisticated as the Smart one in that it doesn’t change down readily but then again you get flappy paddles. Worked fine in a slow and sensible kind of way.
Third is the Peugeot 107, actually a Toyota design and had the MMT transmission.
I collected the car at the airport and trundled away happily until I got to a roundabout at which point the car shuddered its way through so I thought this was going to be a disaster. But it wasn’t. Having got used to it the car went perfectly well. Unlike the others it had a creep function, where the clutch would drag slightly for a few seconds after you stopped and would do the same when you released the brake. No flappy paddles though.
Last year saw a trip to Italy and an encounter with a Fiat 500 Dualogic.
No flappy paddles here either (more money!) but again fine. The Dualogic offers a choice of normal or eco modes (that’s the button marked “e” above) and being mean I used eco most of the time. Normal comes into play on hilly, twisting coastal roads where the ‘box changes down to maximise power and control. Its party piece is matching the revs so smoothly on a downchange that other than the increase in engine speed you never know that a change has taken place. On the other hand if you find yourself using your sat nav’s shortcuts to go up a very steep hill you find that the car selects first and hangs onto it for dear life.
Finally, so far any way, we come to the Citroen C3 Picasso with six speed EGS 6.
Nothing much to report - worked just fine and came with a stop/start function which operated every time you came to a halt, but did so unobtrusively enough that I spent a day unaware of its existence.
Now, two more where somebody else did the driving.
Volvo i Shift, as fitted to various buses.
From the smoothness point of the view, this is the best of the lot. If the driver has to crawl along in traffic you feel a certain amount of shunt but otherwise it’s impeccable. It creeps when needed and changes up and down as smoothly as any conventional automatic, so much so that unless you’re sitting near the engine you’re unlikely to be aware of anything happening. It has, technically, twelve gears, a feat achieved by having three gearboxes in series, but skips several of the lower ones.
Interestingly the i Shift is the only one of the seven that’s ever been sold in America.
Last we meet the eight speed Scania Opticruise, as fitted to buses.
It’s not quite as smooth as the Volvo and the first gearchange is more noticeable, but once on the move it’s perfectly acceptable.
So, there we have it. Everybody just knows AMTs are terrible, and they’re just wrong.