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What type of automatic gearbox should you buy?

What type of automatic gearbox should you buy?

Saffron Wilson

Saffron Wilson

  • 29 May, 2020
  • 4 min read

So you think all automatics are the same? Well, at one point in the past they probably were (near enough.)

And now the automatic gearbox getting more and more popular thanks to its convenience, ease and smooth driving. Plus, modern autos are taking less time between gear shifts, so the argument for a manual is getting a lot more one-sided.

But that means there has been a lot more development in the automatic gearbox, and now you’ve got a range to choose from. So, which one is best for you?

Traditional automatic transmission

Volvo R DESIGN Nav 5dr Geartronic

Commonly known as a torque converter automatic, this is the automatic gearbox that was nearly in every car until recently. Instead of a clutch, this type of gearbox uses hydraulic fluid or a torque converter to transmit the power from the engine into the gearbox and change the gears.

You can also find them called ZF 8-speed, ZF 8HP, ZF 9-speed, ZF 9HP, 9G-Tronic and Geartronic.

Because you’re transferring the drive with a fluid, the gears themselves change very smoothly, and you can rest assured that they are reliable as this tech has been around for a while! This also means that their performance has greatly improved, and now you’ll tend to find them in a lot of cars, particularly if they have a little prestige like a Jag or a BMW.

Automated manual transmission

Volkswagen Up! 1.0 BlueMotion Tech High Up 5dr ASG

The name is pretty self-explanatory on this one. Inside the gearbox, the mechanics are the same as if it were a manual. But the internal ‘car brain’ changes the gears for you instead! So, all the driver needs to do is brake and accelerate.

This is also sometimes known as robotised manual, clutchless manual, semi-automatic, Tiptronic, SMG, ASG, ETF, EGC, EAT.

The only issue that you may find is that the gear changes may be slightly jerky as the engine’s electronics have quite a lot to deal with!

Dual-clutch automatic

Volkswagen Golf 1.4 TSI Match 5dr DSG

The dual-clutch automatic is pretty new to the world of everyday cars and it’s sometimes known as a twin-clutch, double-clutch, DSG, R-Tronic, DCT and PDK.

The dual-clutch transmission has been seen in race-cars for years as a manual, but this relatively new type of auto only just came to the production market and was first used in the Audi TT.

The big difference between this gearbox and the others is that it has two clutches (surprisingly)! These two clutches work in sync with each other with one driving the car and the other anticipating the next gear you’ll need. Which works well in theory, but when you are driving slowly, you can sometimes get a small delay when the first clutch engages.

Another thing worth mentioning about the dual-clutch automatic is that it is quite a complex gearbox, and therefore there is more to go wrong. Older models of the dual-clutch autos have started to go wrong in recent years, and the repairs are pretty costly too.

But, these sort of gearboxes do help with fuel economy if you need to look after the pennies, and at higher speeds you get much more of a seamless gear change.


Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid Active 5dr CVT

CVT stands for Continuously Variable Transmission, but it is also known as Multitronic, belt-and-pully and Xtronic.

The CVT gearbox uses cones rather than cogs to work. Inside, you’ll find one cone that is attached to the engine, and another which is connected to the wheels. They are linked together by a belt running between them.

Once the driver changes the speed of the engine by accelerating or braking, an internal computer will tell the cones to get closer together or further away from each other. This changes the angle of the belt and alters the gears.

This is a very efficient gearbox as the gearing can be changed without actually having gears to go through, so you get smooth acceleration and the engine will be at the optimal speed at all times.

Be mindful that the CVT gearbox works much better when you have a bit of bite under the bonnet. With a smaller engine, it will use high revs constantly when you accelerate which makes it noisy too.

Browse our range of used automatic cars here.