Cooley On Cars
How To: Drive a modern automatic transmissionCNET's Brian Cooley gets behind the wheel of a Mazda3 and shows you how to drive a modern, shiftable, automatic transmission.
-It's new, the latest development in the industry. A selector lever and dial replace the standard gearshift control. And here is just how simple driving can be with the marvelous new Merc-O-Matic drive. -Now, it used to be that driving an automatic was brain-dead simple. Pull it out of park, roll past reverse in neutral and stick it and drive, and then push the pedal on the right. -When you desire a burst of speed for passing, you just press the accelerator to the floor. -But the high-tech automatics today have a lot more new ones than that. The shifters you find on the actual lever on the paddles are not literally connecting you with the gears, but they are connecting you with the software that runs a transmission. You can get in there and just about call all the shots as if it was a manual except the actual guts of the transmission remains different than a manual. Now, we're in a Mazda 3 which is pretty classic as today's high-tech automatics go. You've got your Drive mode over here, manual position, shifted there, nothing too uncommon about that. And you've got paddles on the wheel. You can invoke a shift with these paddles while in drive and it's a temporary shift. So, let's say I want a downshift now down to third or second gear, the RPMs go up, and then after about five, six seconds, it goes back into Drive mode and drops down the RPM shifting up the gear. If I move the lever here, I can also put it into a Manual or a Sport mode. Now, my shifts done either with the paddles or through this lever are sticky. The car will hold the shift that I select all the way to red line and all the way down to engine lung. Let's say I wanna pull a lot of downshifts here. I could run this thing way up. Here I am, first gear 5,000 RPM. It will hold that right to red line. It's totally in my control. And same thing could be done over here at the leverage. It just replicates what the paddles are able to do. Now, on this car, as you can see, I've got a paddle over here on the right for upshift. There's another one over here on the left, that's for downshifts. Not every car does it that way. Some cars, like Porsches, for example, come to mind, they are bilateral. There is a shifter on each side of the wheel that will do up or downshift depending which way you push it. This is a little more common, though. So, what's the best way to use this technology? Well, several ways. First of all, you need an immediate burst of better acceleration on the car is geared for at the time, snap it down a couple of gears momentarily. For five or six seconds, it will hold. And then, let the car go back into drive for best fuel economy. Another way, you're going up for a nice drive on a nice country windy road, snap it over into Manual or Sport mode and choose your position, either lever or paddles, to get fully engaged in the drive trans, one of the nice benefits here. Here's another one. You've got really challenging conditions -- gravel, mud, snow, and for whatever reason you think the car is not handling it well. Sometimes, it's really nice to have a more granular gear, typically a lower gear to modulate your power on uneven surfaces.