Is “A Fun Automatic” an Oxymoron?
Though the two main cars in our household both have manual transmissions, I was recently able to sample three very different cars equipped with “let the computer shift for you” transmissions: a McLaren 650S Spider, Fiat 500 Abarth, and Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack.
And do you know what? One of those wasn’t too bad.
The McLaren has a seven-speed dual clutch “automatic” gearbox that was instant, seamless, and easy. I’m not sure how many clutches I would have roasted had it been fitted with a manual transmission, but I will say that it made the business of driving a supercar as easy as pushing “D” and going.
Dodge fitted the Charger with both the SRT 392’s massive 6.4-litre Hemi V8 as well as an 8-speed automatic transmission. The unit is just like every other transmission, except that it had a speed for almost any situation—but to get it to shift more quickly into a higher speed in order to save fuel was a chore. In day-to-day driving, it was well-suited to the car, but with the loud exhaust its shifts were more frequent, and noticeable, than in the others.
Finally, the 500 Abarth. You’ll be reading more about this car and the McLaren soon, but for now, be happy to know that its 6-speed automatic was fun…even though it was the least sophisticated of the bunch.
What made the Abarth my favorite is simple: in L.A., the combination of a tiny car and near-instantaneous power meant that it was incomparable in day-to-day driving. On the highway, the addition of an extra speed over the manual version helped keep noise down and fuel economy up. It was a surprisingly good combination.
I won’t be trading my manual transmission in anytime soon, but experiencing three very different “automatics” was a nice change and opportunity to try something new. Have you driven any “fun” automatics lately? And have any of them felt like they were adding to the driving experience?