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Frequently asked questions about automatic cars
Out on the motorway, the fact that they often have more ratios and a long cruising gear can also make them more efficient on long-distance runs. They do tend to cost a little more than a manual car, so you might need to budget a little more if you’re after an auto model.
DSG gearboxes have two clutches – so they can preselect the next gear (if you were in second it would preselect third) – which cuts shift times, making the car accelerate faster than one with a conventional manual or automatic gearbox. For example, a Volkswagen Golf R with a DSG gearbox accelerates from 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds – two-tenths of a second quicker than a Golf R with a manual gearbox.
Enthusiasts tend to prefer DSG gearboxes (over conventional autos) because their quick changes make them feel more responsive and rewarding to drive and because gears can usually be manually selected using Formula 1 style paddles behind the steering wheel.
DSG gearbox do have some disadvantages, though. The biggest is that they cost more than a manual gearbox, but they also tend to be more complex and heavier. DSG gearboxes can also be a little jerky at low speeds – making parking tricky – and they don’t usually have the ‘crawl’ function you’ll get with a conventional automatic.
Another popular type of automatic transmission is a dual-clutch or twin-clutch gearbox. These sorts of automatic gearbox, as the name suggests, use two clutches. This means they can pre-select the next gear for you, reducing the time it takes to change gears, and so improving both fuel efficiency and acceleration. Twin-clutch gearboxes can feel less smooth than torque converter autos, though, and they can be jerky at parking speeds, as you can’t balance the clutch as you might with a conventional manual. They can also be more complex, and therefore heavier, than conventional manual gearboxes.
Another type of auto gearbox is the robotised manual. This is essentially a conventional manual gearbox with an automatically operated clutch. It’s not as smooth as most other forms of automatic and can take a little while to get used to.
CVTs – or continuously variable transmissions – are a type of auto gearbox that don’t have traditional ‘ratios’. This means that the engine revs sit at a constant level and the gearbox itself adjusts. This can be a bit disconcerting initially but is theoretically fuel-efficient. Hybrid cars often use CVT transmissions.
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