I know I’m supposed to be off today for Yom Kippur, but it’s technically the night before, so I think if nobody rats me out to any clergypeople or their authorized agents, then I’m probably okay. And that’s good, because we need to do another episode of Prove Me Wrong! As you know, this is important. This time, we need to talk about paddle shifters, commonly found on a wide variety of vehicles you can buy today. They’ve been around for a while now; in fact, I’d say they may be the most common and yet least-used controls in a car, because, let’s be honest: aside from playing around with them every now and then, nobody really uses these things.
Now, I’m not talking about genuine racing cars with transmissions that will only shift with paddles – I mean the sort of paddle shifters that actuate semi-manual gear selection on otherwise automatic transmissions in mainstream, mass-market passenger cars. It’s quite likely you, the devastatingly sexy person reading this right now on the deck of your pleasure-helicopter, have a car with such paddles.
My theory is that people with cars that have optional-use paddle shifters use them for about, oh, 12 minutes per month in the first few months they own the car, and then after the initial novelty has worn off, they forget about them. Maybe, maybe, your fingers will graze them on a boring drive and you’ll remember they exist, and you’ll have fun for a few minutes downshifting and getting the car to rev really high and feeling that pull of torque, and then you’ll have to pay attention to your next turn or whatever and you’ll forget about those paddles for months. Maybe years.
On just about everything modern with paddle shifters, the automatic transmission left to handle the job itself shifts better than you can, for acceleration, for efficiency, for whatever. The act of paddle shifting isn’t nearly as satisfying as using an genuine manual transmission anyway, and people learn that pretty quickly.
So what’s the point?
[Editor’s Note: On vehicles with good transmissions that do what you want them to, I tend to agree with JT, here: paddles don’t see much use. The ZF eight-speed auto that’s seemingly in every car these days usually puts the driver in the gear they want if the transmission is properly calibrated. I think people are more likely to click a “sport mode” button that ensures the transmission behaves a certain way than they are to use the paddles. Though, on transmissions that don’t behave how you want them to, a paddle might help you, for example, hold a lower gear on a steep incline/decline.
I think, on a fun sports car like an E92 M3, paddles can be fun, but on most other cars, they tend to be forgotten, as JT argues here. Center tunnel-mounted slap-stick “manumatic” shifters, though (you know, the shifters that you push or pull to change gears)? I think those are even less frequently used — again, unless the transmission isn’t doing what it needs to do, like downshifting up a grade or holding that gear. -DT]
Maybe you’ll argue with me. Maybe you’ll say I just don’t understand the pure, visceral joy one gets from those flappy paddles. But I kinda doubt it. Is there anyone, anywhere who routinely, consistently, uses paddle shifters exclusively on their daily drives? I think you’re more likely to find a Corvair-driving toucan with a fondness for the large-scale works of Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline.
I’m not even going to say that paddle shifters are dumb or useless or anything like that. I don’t need to. Because it just doesn’t matter if they are or not, because nobody ever really uses them enough to care.
I use the weird shift rocker on my DCT Focus all the time, but rarely use paddles on other cars. Although the rocker switch on the shift lever seems lame I think it’s more functional than paddles.
Agree. Only car I ever used them on regularly was our Peugeot 1007 (yes, the one with the constantly malfunctioning sliding doors). It had some sort of semi-automatic transmission that was so slow on changing up gears that it was either using manual paddle or revving it almost into the red zone before reaching the threshold set by French engineers.
I use the paddle shifters on my Ridgeline for descending steep grades. Some of the roads in my area exceed 15% grade.
When I was 25 years old my girlfriend got a brand new A3 (1st year of them) that I drove more than she did. Nicest car I’d ever “owned”.
Tried out the paddles a few times then ignored them.
They weren’t very intuitive and I felt like I was gonna break something.
I watched her dad write a check for that brand new Audi so I was admittedly a little scared to fiddle with them.
Now it’s burned into my brain. Paddles dumb, knob good.
It’s a very subjective question but I agree with you Torch.
I’m a bit late to the party, but I drive an MR2 Spyder with SMT and use them pretty much exclusively. That being said, the TCM does not automatically shift except when coming to a stop, or going in and out of neutral, and the only other option for shifting is pushing the selector up and down which is a much worse experience.
I wouldn’t in an ICE car. However, Hyundai/Kia/Genesis EVs use the paddles to select regen power (none up through level 3) and to come to a complete stop on regen, and the couple times I took an EV Kona between stores (about an hour drive) I was using them fairly often. I still prefer how my Volt handles that, though.
Came here to say this. I picked up an Ioniq 5 a few weeks ago and that is how they use the paddles on it. To me changing drive modes would’ve made more sense and saved having a separate button for that but it works fine.
I’ve used it a few times to slow down when I’m coming up on someone faster than I would like without hitting the brakes but I didn’t know you could use them to come to a complete stop at a stop sign. I tend to leave the regen on level 3 because I don’t care for single pedal driving unless I’m in stop and go traffic. I’ll have to give it a try.
Yep, the paddles work really well, and they can totally do a complete stop – though I personally prefer, again, the Volt, and being able to feather it to a stop rather than letting the regen do it a bit more abruptly and less precisely. (Though I nailed my mark pretty well when showing it in this video.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZDxsidWxlLU
I doubt a day goes by without using mine.
CR-V hybrid here, I use it a lot to change the Regen braking. The car goes back to the standard mode when you release the brake unless you put it in Sport mode, then it holds the setting. It’s muscle memory now, so much so I try to Regen brake my manual Wrangler, then remember to downshift.
Look, I live in Denver and have to drive in the mountains and foothills probably 10 times a year. I use my paddle shifters on my B9 A4 Allroad (dual clutch trans) every single time I’m in the mountains so I don’t cook my brakes, especially on the downhills. Otherwise you end up freewheeling and getting out of control very quickly. In fact, I drive Mt Evans and Pikes Peak for fun once a year… Jason must be one of those people who ride the brakes all the way down (and why at Pikes Peak the rangers actually stop you halfway down and measure the temps on the brakes). This is the reason when I see plates on cars from Texas, the midwest, and particularly the south, I give them LOTS of room and anticipate them losing brakes at some point.
Since we moved to the Carolina Appalachians, I use them all the time in my Outback. The underpowered turbo-4 pretty much makes it mandatory to get up the steep roads, because the switchbacks “require” the visiting Floridians to almost stop.
The vast majority of people with them don’t even know what they do
The two vehicles my wife and I currently own both have DCTs with paddle shifters – a 2012 Hyundai Veloster, and a 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz. Like you said, I used the paddle shifters a half-dozen times in the Veloster when we first bought it. I learned to drive on a 1973 AMC Hornet with 3-on-the-tree manual transmission and no tachometer. My dad taught me to listen to the engine sound to determine when to shift. The Veloster’s engine is so quiet, and my hearing has degraded in the decades since I first learned, that I can’t hear it well enough to shift properly. So I let the transmission decide. The Santa Cruz is the same way – it’s quiet, and I like how the DCT performs.
Prior to getting the Santa Cruz, I did start using the paddle shifters more frequently in a specific situation. When stuck in start/stop rush hour traffic, the Veloster’s DCT hated the low speeds. Invariably the speed traffic is at will be just a smidge too fast for 1st, but just a smidge too slow for 2nd, so it’ll hunt between the two. After putting up with it for 7+ years, I learned to put it in “manual mode” and shift it to 2nd when I come to a stop – it has enough torque to start it rolling, and it no longer hunts. I just have to remember to shift to 3rd when speeds pick up.
My EcoBoost flex has ’em.
When I lived near Denver, I used them in some fairly specific cases, primarily to shift into lower hears for engine braking on certain portions of “The Hill” aka I-70 heading form roughly Genesee to Golden. It kept me off the wheel brakes on the way down and was a fun bit of driver engagement.
Now that I live in a pretty flat part of Texas, I have no use for the flappy paddles. I put the Flying Brick in “D” and go about my driving.
Only sorta counts, but my ELR has paddle shift paddles that are instead used to activate the regenerative braking mode, which I use more than my brake pedal, I find them far more convenient and consider regen paddles a must on any EV.
Huh. I actually hate how that works in the Volt. The regen paddle has a delay and is all-or-nothing, so it’s really tricky to get full regen without jerking passengers around. I’d prefer something like one-pedal driving with adjustable levels, or a small detente in the brake pedal feel that tells you it’s about to start blending in friction braking.
Daily a 99’ 911 Tiptronic. The switches are on the front of the steering wheel in rocker buttons (not paddles in back), but principle is same. Use them daily. The normal shift pattern (pre-sport mode) will put you in 5th doing 35mph it’s so fuel efficient. (The 3.4l flat six, not so much.) An exception to prove the rule?
I occasionally use the downshift paddle on my 2010 Honda Insight with a CVT as an engine break method. It’s not an everyday thing, but certainly more than once or twice a month. The 2010 was my first non-MT car.
Revisiting this article, did anyone else notice the Gordon-Keeble turtle badge on the steering wheel?
I drive my DCT E92 M3 with paddle shifters almost exclusively.
The automatic shiftlogic is fine (for the street) and even adjustable, but DAMN those downshift exhaust BRAHPS in manual mode are ridiculously satisfying.
I’ve got a 2006 Saab 95 wagon in which the paddle shifters are almost useless.
There’s a delay which at higher speeds isn’t a big deal, but from a standstill, if you drop the hammer and don’t hit the up-gear paddle immediately it will definitely redline and shut your shit down before it switches to 2nd gear.
Having said that, even if they didn’t have a delay I’d have not seen much point in the dumb things as the sports mode works just as well.
I’d rather just have a manual transmission.
My daily driver is a manual and my wife’s car is electric so I don’t drive automatics very often. I use the paddle shifters/manual shifting on rental cars which refuse to shift or pick the gear/ratio I want to be in. The most recent examples include a Chevrolet Malibu with the CVT and a Toyota Tacoma.
My ’17 Subaru Legacy has paddles, just like an IndyCar! Honestly though, I tried them once when I got it and was like “meh, might be nice if I’m on a steep hill or something.” Torch, do you ever get tired of being right all the time?
I would definitely use them. In the sport setting my auto is pretty good but not perfect. I definitely use the tip setting to hold gear for sporty corners and hills. Otherwise meh, that car is only an auto because you need to spend 5x as much to get a manual one. Sometimes my manual car is better in traffic because it’s better at choosing between 1st and 2nd gear.
Forgot to mention-slow shifts mean that most of the time I’d rather it shift in “sport” mode. Seems to shift faster and hold gear alright.
Most normal cars that have them nowadays, employ them in lieu of offering a “3-2-1/L” section on the shifter. Otherwise you have no manner of downshifting or encouraging the transmission to stay in one gear in situations that it would be frequently hunting.