Yesterday I had the pleasure of checking out a Zipcar and running some errands for work. While ordinarily not an event in and of itself, I chose to check out a Mazda 3, which happened to have a tiptronic transmission. One of my favorite things about Zipcar is that I get to drive different kinds of cars. Someday, this may help me pick out a new car for myself…
Anyway, tiptronic transmission. Odd, if you’ve never used one before. Really odd, if you’ve driven a manual and expect this to act the same. In the Mazda 3 it isn’t required, as the car is fully automatic and you can just drop it into Drive and go; but for those that like to feel in control you can use the pseudo-manual mode and shift without a clutch.
Yes, without a clutch.
Shifting is done via the gear shift, but with a simple flick up or down with the shifter (as opposed to moving along a gear track template). The odd thing is, you only HAVE to shift up – the car will downshift for you if you don’t do it… So no stalling at a stoplight. And you can’t accidentally put it into 5th from said stoplight, nor can you jackrabbit out into an intersection to the amusement of any bystanders. You can, of course, shift down as well, but without the benefit of a clutch to ease the transition it can be a bit abrupt.
I tried to explain it to my son last night: when driving a manual, the body develops a rhythm, a synchronized dance of hands and feet to (hopefully) ease the car from gear to gear and make for a smooth ride. Lacking that and having instead a simple joystick-like shifter takes away that coordination and control. You are literally dropping the car into gear rather than engaging it gradually.
While I can see the appeal of shifting manually during heavy acceleration, overall I didn’t see much advantage in this car. It had enough get-up-and-go that I didn’t feel I needed extra oomph, but then again, I wasn’t trying to cut in front of a line of cars, either.
Overall, I give this a big ol’ lukewarm medium opinion. Perhaps with more practice one would develop the knack of shifting the tiptronic so that it isn’t as abrupt, but I think it’s more of a gimmick than a real benefit.