Five myths about automatic transmission cars

As cities get more and more congested a better case is being made for automatic transmission cars in India. However, the number of automatics sold is minuscule. Barely 1% of the total cars sold are automatics, and even carmakers in India offer very few automatic transmission variants.

Why is this so? The problem is there are quite a few myths associated with automatic transmission, and while not all of them are real, there is some truth in them. However, as CarToq finds, it’s not just the convenience factor, modern automatic transmission cars are better than their manual counterparts in some cases. Of course, there is a Rs. 80,000 – Rs. 1 lakh price difference between a manual and an automatic variant, and it’s only recently that carmakers have begun to offer automatic variants in their mid-level variants also, while previously an automatic option only came with the top-trim variant. Also read: Five affordable automatics in India

We address some of the common concerns with automatic transmission cars.

renault koleos automatic transmission

Fuel efficiency

Automatic transmission cars are known to be less fuel efficient than their manual counterparts. In the case of normal torque convertor automatics this is true, as there’s significant fuel wastage in the initial stages as pick up builds, and also with automatics shifting only at predefined rpm levels. However, in cases of some newer-generation automatics, like the Ford Fiesta dual-clutch automatic the automatic variant of the car actually gets better fuel economy than the manual. The Ford Fiesta petrol automatic claims an ARAI-certified fuel economy of 16.97 kmpl, compared to 16.7 kmpl for the manual. That’s because of the technology used, where shifts are faster with a dual-clutch automatic and it has six-speeds compared to five for the manual, making it better for fuel economy.

In the case of the Honda City automatic as well, the difference between the manual transmission and the automatic is just about 1 kmpl (in favour of the manual), which is not that bad when you look at the convenience factor.

 

Performance

Another myth is that automatic cars are not fun to drive. Well, we agree there’s a certain testosterone-fuelled, primal joy in slamming a clutch and shifting a manual transmission, and giving the driver a feeling of total control. However, with new-age automatics, you get the best of both worlds. While you don’t really have any work delegated to your left foot due to the absence of a clutch pedal in an automatic, many cars like the Honda Civic, City, Skoda Superb, Toyota Camry etc, come with paddle shifts or tiptronic-shift mode which allow you to play boy-racer, F1 style with the convenience of an automatic.

Cars like the Skoda Laura DSG automatic, Ford Fiesta Powershift and Skoda Superb DSG offer much quicker shifts in automatic mode (especially if you shift to Sport mode or L-Mode), and can hold each gear to its maximum rpm. Some transmissions will also downshift to a lower gear in Sport or L-Mode if the rpm drops below 3,500 or so, allowing you to drive the car rally style. Also read: Buying a used automatic, what to check for

 

Cannot convert to CNG

Converting a petrol car to run on CNG often results in a power loss of about 15% to 20% depending on the kit used and the car. In a car equipped with a manual transmission, you can then rev the engine higher than you normally would to extract maximum power or torque from it, before shifting to the next gear. In an automatic transmission, the shift points are pre-defined and calibrated for use with petrol, and so when you convert the car to CNG, you get poorer pick up.

However, there is a workaround to this if you drive a car with an automatic transmission that has a tiptronic or manual-override mode, such as a Honda City with paddle shifts. For 90% of your drive you can continue to use the car in normal “Drive” mode. But when you need that boost of power for overtaking etc, you still have the option of shifting with the paddle shifts or shift lever to extract that extra bit of power. Yes, it’s a little extra effort needed on the driver’s part (taking away some of that convenience factor of an automatic), but that’s a small price to pay for the cheaper fuel you are using. Also read: Can you convert an automatic to CNG or LPG?

 

Maintenance costs

Another reason buyers shy away from automatic transmission cars is that there is a perception that automatics are much more expensive to maintain. This is not really true. For one, one of the biggest long-term maintenance expenses on a manual transmission car are clutch replacements, especially for cars driven in crowded cities, and by people who tend to ride the clutch a lot. Also a manual transmission requires oil changes every 20,000 km or so, while an automatic won’t require a transmission fluid change for at least 50,000 km. Some automatics like Ford’s dual-clutch automatic transmission in the Fiesta claim they do not need any maintenance for 250,000 km (or 10 years of use). Also read: Ford Fiesta dual-clutch automatic road test

Of course, automatics are far more complicated gearboxes (except for the old CVTs that the earlier Honda City came with), and if something were to go wrong, it would be far more expensive to repair than a manual transmission. A case in point being a number of mechatronic unit failures with Skoda DSG transmissions (primarily caused by improper replacement of transmission fluid).

 

Resale value

There is also a perception that an automatic transmission car won’t fetch as much resale value as compared to a manual transmission variant. While this was true in the earlier years, where cars like the Maruti Zen automatic, Esteem automatic and Wagon R AX failed to fetch good resale value because they were seen as fuel guzzlers and poor performers, modern automatics fetch as much or more than a manual in the resale market. Demand for Skoda Laura DSG cars is quite good, with used car prices seldom dipping below Rs. 8 lakh for a 5-year old car. Used Honda City cars continue to fetch good resale value irrespective of the transmission in the car. Also read: Diesel automatic cars in India

 

These are some of the common concerns that buyers have about automatic transmission cars. Share any thoughts you have on them as well. Would you or would you not buy a car with an automatic transmission? If so why?