I said I would never use it out of principle (this car is an auto and I have zero delusions about it). But I got bored on the long drive home last night so I said LET’S COMPROMISE FOR NO REASON BEYOND CURIOSITY.
Here’s how it works: you shift over to M (manual mode) and begin using the buttons on the steering wheel for shifting up or down. Except the car will still shift by itself.
You can select the range of gears for the automatic transmission to shift though. So if I set it for 5, and begin driving, it will just shift exactly the same, as it is a five speed automatic. If I set it for 2, the transmission will not shift beyond two, unless I then use the buttons to upshift. Now the mode is 3. To get back to 2 directly, I use the buttons to downshift, changing the setting back to 2.
So, to get the most optimal feel of a manual mode, you have to shift into M, then set it for 2. Why two? Because you can’t set it for 1. That’s right. It won’t go below 2. So that means first to second gear is always shifting automatically in M mode, no matter what you do. Sad! Anyway, it goes thusly:
Shift into M
Set it for 2
Auto will shift from first to 2nd at about 2.75k rpm
Click Up to Set it for 3
Car will shift into 3rd after half a second
Click up to Set it for 4
Car will shift into 4th
Again with 5.
If you stop at any point, and you’re still in 5, and you forget to change it back to 2, the car will then shift through five automatically. The buttons will do nothing unless you lower the amount of usable gears below the one you’re currently in. So if I set it from 5 to 4, but I’m in second gear, nothing happens. Until I get to 4th, which then won’t shift into 5th until I change the setting back to 5.
Are you still with me, friends? This primitive gear selector is extremely gimmicky. “What about downshifting?” you might ask. “Surely there is value in that... even some minimal jollies?” Ahh, NO.
Dig this scenario: you’re cruising on the freeway, in 5th gear, you’re setting is therefore at 5. You’re tempted to hit the down button and BRRRRRRRRR as it will limit the gears to 4 which will force the transmission to downshift from 5th to 4th. But here’s the catch: THIS CAR NEVER NEEDS TO DOWNSHIFT!
The IS 300 is geared so heavily for torque, and when you’re on the freeway you’re already spinning 3k rpm, that all you need to do is tap the throttle just a liiiittle bit, and then it effortlessly pulls away. That’s probably the best thing about this transmission: the smoothness, and the torque on demand.
In other words: to snake through traffic, downshifting is worthless: I need only apply minimal pressure to the pedal which controls the acceleration application.
In summation: manual modes on short-shifting, torque-geared automatic transmission from a car designed in the late 90s is hilarious, in a laugh-AT-you kind of way.
Thanks for reading.