Large, well-equipped hatchbacks are perfect city cars. Easy to park, easy to drive and as good as sedans in all other areas, they rule in tight, congested cities. As traffic becomes heavier and the number of gear shifts go up, drivers also look for the extra convenience of an automatic gearbox. Allowing a mechanical device to take over the work of your left foot and left hand is strangely liberating. Driving in city traffic becomes much more relaxing as a result and fatigue goes down, especially when the average speeds drop.
Of course, automatic gearboxes are a convenience you have to pay for. They are, in general, more expensive to buy, they often sap a considerable amount of engine power and, they consume more fuel too. This double whammy is what has kept ‘on-a-budget’ small car buyers away from automatics in the first place. Today, however, there are several solutions to this. Some automatic gearboxes are now quite affordable, others are very quick and yet others are quite efficient too. In fact, so confident are manufacturers that the small automatic car revolution is around the corner in India, there are no less than four different types of gearboxes to choose from now. As each of these work quite differently, here’s a quick guide to help you choose one that is suitable for your needs.
Brio Automatic (Torque converter conventional automatic)
In a car fitted with a conventional automatic gearbox, the engine is connected to a torque convertor that rotates even when the road wheels are still. This allows it to build up and keep a reserve of pulling power or torque. As a result, the Brio has considerable punch when it takes off. This is good at slow speeds and the gearbox is well suited for start-stop traffic. It also feels extremely smooth and jerk-free on the move.
There are very few parts that can wear in conventional automatic gearboxes, so a well-maintained one is very reliable. The downsides of this type of gearbox are that they can feel lethargic or slow to change gears and that fuel consumption is a bit higher than on other gearboxes.
Read Honda Brio automatic review
Nissan Micra CVT
In a Continuously Variable Transmission, a belt is connected to two pulleys that move in and out. This alters the gear ratio, delivering the ideal gear at all times: in theory at least. In reality, however, these gearboxes work well when you don’t demand too much of them.
The Micra feels lively from the word go and as a result, is really nice to drive at city speeds. The CVT holds engine speed at a constant, depending on how much you accelerate, and power flows smoothly. Flat out acceleration though, results in a bit of stretch and strain from the gearbox, as the revs rise but the car struggles to catch up. It is not as smooth as a traditional automatic and does feel jerky to drive at times. There is also a sport button on the gear-lever which tightens the belt, resulting in a sharper response from the motor. CVTs are the most efficient type of gearbox unless you
pull it hard.
Read our Nissan Micra CVT review
Maruti Celerio AMT (Automated Manual Transmission)
Electric motors take the place of your arm and foot in shifting gears on an AMT. But the transition from flesh, bone and brain to micro circuits and hydraulic actuators is a difficult one. AMTs are not smooth and you feel a pause, or dip, between gear changes. To get the best performance and response out of the transmission, it is best used in the manual mode, as you would a tip-tronic gearbox. Here, there are no complaints as the gears are engaged positively and even held on to; as you would on a normal manual gearbox. Yes, engagement of gears is not rapid, but the car does drive really well in this mode. We are likely to see many more AMTs around as these gearboxes are very efficient and extremely affordable.
Read our Maruti Celerio automatic review
Volkswagen Polo twin-clutch automatic
A twin-clutch automatic gearbox is actually nothing more than two AMTs working together. Each has its own clutch and set of gears. The two gearboxes are connected to a special transmission shaft, that has one shaft running inside the other. Even numbered gears are connected to one shaft and odd numbered gears, to the other. The clever bit is that the twin-clutch gearbox pre-selects the next gear for you; so gearshifts happen so fast that they are barely perceptible. The Polo takes a bit of time or a few revs to get going, but once it is on the move, the car drives beautifully. The Polo 1.2 turbo engine has a nice, strong midrange and so, using the manual tip forward/back works very well too. Twin-clutch gearboxes are almost as efficient as manual gearboxes and they are quick to shift, so they are popular; but they are expensive too.