Tiptronic transmission can be thought of as being a hybrid between manual and automatic transmission. In this WheelZine article, we shall explore the working of this system, and also list its advantages and drawbacks.
Did You Know?
Tiptronic transmission falls under the category of ‘manumatic’ transmission, which is actually a portmanteau word formed by combining the words ‘manual’ and ‘automatic’. Other notable manumatic transmission technologies include ‘geartronic’, ‘sportronic’, ‘touchshift’, and ‘clutchless-manual’.
If you are a follower of the ‘Fast and the Furious’ series, you surely must have noticed one thing – there aren’t as many dialogs in the movie as there are gunshots and gear shifts! As soon as the camera pans on an actor, he/she jumps on the clutch and shifts a gear. Believe me, it truly gets the adrenaline flowing, and makes watching these movies a blast.
Automatic cars offer convenience and ease. But if you were to ask any veteran driver, he/she would surely tell you that manual gear shifting is what truly brings the ‘feel’ into driving. So, the one question that many major automobile manufacturers have asked over the years was, how do you bring the ‘feel’ into automatic transmission? The answer to it came in the form of an innovative piece of technology – tiptronic transmission.
Tiptronic transmission literally brings out the best of both worlds. It offers the convenience of automatic shifting, while retaining the excitement and thrill of manual shifting. In the following sections, we will understand what exactly does Tiptronic transmission mean, and how it works.
What is Tiptronic Transmission?
Since 1904, car manufacturers have tried to implement automatic transmission in their models, with hopes of improving the driving experience of their customers. Starting with Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, over the century, many have experimented with various technologies to make this concept a reality. However, it wasn’t until the late 1990s, when semiconductor technology improved the computing capabilities of the ECU, that finally the possibility of perfect automatic transmission in automobiles started seeming like a reality.
The first computer controlled automatic transmission system took the automotive world by storm. It gave the driver comfort and driving-ease, as it was able to offload the effort of gear-shifting to the car’s ECU. This meant that the driver was only required to steer, accelerate and brake, while the rest of work involved in driving was taken care of by the car itself. All-in-all, it seemed like the best thing to have happened to the world of automobiles.
However, soon a new problem arose. Drivers started complaining that they felt like passengers in their vehicles, as all the pleasure of driving, along with the feeling and sense of control seemed to be lost in automatic transmission. So once more automobile engineers had to go back to their drawing boards and rethink their designs. This time, they were faced with the challenge of combining automatic shifting with manual shifting.
German sports car giant Porsche was among the first to find an answer to this riddle. First used in 1990 in the legendary Porsche 911, their solution was called tiptronic transmission. It was designed with the intention of invoking the feeling of control in automatic cars, by allowing the driver to shift gears while at the same time retaining a certain level of computer control over the whole transmission process.
Porsche’s trademark tiptronic system received a lot of success and gained serious fan following. Seeing its popularity, later, similar systems were adopted by Chrysler, BMW, Audi, etc. Porsche today even licenses this technology to other major car manufacturers, including the Volkswagen group, Land Rover, etc.
How Does Tiptronic Transmission Work?
The tiptronic system has two modes – manual shift mode and automatic transmission mode. In the automatic mode, the car’s entire transmission system is controlled by the car’s ECU. Therefore, it will behave just like any other fully automatic car, with the driver only required to accelerate and brake. This is the ideal mode for hassle-free driving, especially in city traffic.
When the driver wants to take control over the transmission, he/she can switch over to the manual shift mode. In this mode, the car’s computer transfers the control over to the driver, who can then freely shift gears according to his/her preferences. Manual shifting is done via the gear-knob or through special steering-mounted pedals. Each time the knob or the pedal is operated, a signal is registered by the car’s computer, and depending upon its position, an up-shift or down-shift is made via the car’s internal transmission actuators.
It is interesting to note that, while the driver is given the freedom of shifting to the gear of his choice, a significant portion of the transmission control is still retained by the ECU. For example, consider the implementation of the tiptronic transmission system in Audi. Even in the manual mode, the car still shifts from the 1st to the 2nd gear automatically. After that, it waits for the driver’s input to shift to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th gears, respectively.
Also, most cars running this system have built-in high-RPM as well as low-RPM protections. Thus, if the driver fails to make a gear shift, and the car’s RPM hits the red-line, the ECU automatically performs the shift in his/her stead. Similarly, if the RPM drops below the acceptable limit for a particular gear, the system automatically performs a down-shift. In the modern implementation of the system, known as ‘Tiptronic S’, the system reverts back to automatic if it doesn’t detect any driver input within a period of 8 seconds. All these measures have been adopted to protect the engine as well as the transmission system.
How to Use Tiptronic Transmission
Take a look at the image in this section. It shows a typical gearshift knob found in a car enabled with the tiptronic technology. Basically, it has two planes of operation. The left plane is the automatic shift plane. In it, the gear knob can be positioned by shifting forwards and backwards, in either the park ‘P’, reverse ‘R’, neutral ‘N’, or ‘Drive’ mode. These modes are found in almost every automatic car, and thus, the tiptronic system allows fully automatic gear-shifting capabilities while in this mode.
To shift to the manual transmission mode, the driver has to change operating planes, by pushing the gear-knob to the right side. As can be seen in the image, the right plane, or the manual-shifting plane, has only two positions – up-shift represented by the ‘+’ and down-shift represented by the ‘-‘. To shift to a higher gear, the driver pushes the knob to the ‘+’ position. The knob is spring-loaded, and therefore returns back to the central position once the drivers let goes of it. To shift to lower gears, the driver pulls the knob towards the ‘-‘ position.
1) Tiptronic transmission gives you the best of both automatic and manual transmissions. When slugging along in traffic, you can shift to the automatic transmission mode, and thereby enjoy the convenience of automatic gear shifting. On the other hand, when on a free highway, you can shift to the manual-shift mode, and thus avail yourself the benefits of manual transmission, such as increased engine braking, rapid down-shifting before overtaking, early up-shifting while cruise driving, etc.
2) By constantly monitoring for over and under RPM, the tiptronic system manages to make appropriate automatic shifts, thereby protecting the engine and transmission system.
3) Automatic shifting in the manual mode also assists the driver by preventing the engine from stalling in case of failure to down-shift.
4) Cars installed with paddle shifts allow the driver to keep both hands on the steering wheel while making gear changes. This maximizes his/her control over the car.
1) The driver is given only a pseudo control over the car’s transmission. Hence certain unique styles of driving cannot be incorporated in cars installed with this system.
2) Tiptronic system utilizes a torque converter instead of a regular clutch mechanism. This can result in a certain degree of power loss.
3) Since, even in the manual mode, it is the ECU that actually performs the gear shift, there is small delay during shifts, which becomes noticeable in more aggressive driving. More modern systems such as the Direct Shift Gearbox and the Sequential Gearbox offer a better performance as they are quicker at making the gear shifts.
Thus, the tiptronic system tries to bring back the ‘feel’ into driving that seems to be lost in automatic cars. This system is by no means perfect, but it sure can bring back your smile, when you find that you can lock your automatic car in the 3rd gear while aggressively accelerating down that corner.