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A Hooniverse Thanksgiving Turkey – The SportShift II transmission

I was chatting with my both of my brother in-laws while back east during my Volt road trip, both being massive lovers of all things automobile. The topic always turns to cars when I’m with my wife’s family, and that’s a wonderful thing as far as I’m concerned. I brought up a few of the vehicles that I’ve driven recently, and someone asked about the Aston Martin V8 Vantage roadster.

“Lovely machine, that one, with a glorious engine note that pairs perfectly to the stunning looks… too bad the transmission is garbage.”


“The one I drove was equipped with the new SportShift II automated manual gearbox… horrible.”

“So… it was horrible driving an Aston Martin?”

“…umm, yes actually, please allow me to explain enough so I don’t sound like a jaded dick.”

The SportShift II is an automated manual transmission, which means it can be driven as a typical automatic or it can be shifted via a pair of paddles. However you drive it, there’s still a clutch facilitating gear changes, which doesn’t sound entirely terrible. There’s a problem in this application though, and it can be felt in between each shift.

Put the car in “D”, and allow the Aston Martin to shift itself. If you do this, you’ll also keep constant pressure on the throttle as you accelerate and you’d expect a crisp, smooth shift when called for. You’re clearly an idiot who should know that the SportShift II requires you to lift ever-so-slightly off the throttle for the smoothest shifts.

Wait, what?

OK, let’s pop this thing into SPORT and see what happens. Oh, that between-shift lurch is now more perceptible… that’s not fun. How about this, let’s just go full manual with SPORT on and shift it ourselves. The between-gear lurch is still present unless you’re nailing the slight lift between paddle pulls. With some practice it starts to disappear, but it shouldn’t be there in the first place.

Other automakers use automated manuals, and they are not as rough as the Aston Martin version. It doesn’t make sense that an expensive, stunning, otherwise-fun-to-drive grand touring exotic be stuck with such a mediocre gearbox. The manual version is rather nice, of course, but the other option needs to change. Time for a DCT or simply find a more refined automatic.

…dammit, I still sound like a jaded dick that’s complaining about driving one of the best looking cars on the road. Regardless, the SportShift II transmission is my Hooniverse Thanksgiving Turkey for 2012.

  • lilpoindexter

    I'll keep this in mind when I'm shopping for my next Aston Martin.

  • Paul_y

    So, basically, it's a smart fortwo.

    Clunky shifts are tolerable (to a point) in a car that costs $12k. If I'm paying an order of magnitude more, however, I don't even want to know if it's changing gears.

    • I'd rather pay an order of magnitude less than $12k and know that I'm changing its gears. That is, if it has gears.

  • Dean Bigglesworth

    I might be weird, but your description of the transmission makes me want to drive the car even more.

    I've always wondered if these automated manuals need to be driven like a manual.

  • Hopman

    I'll add another turkey trans to this, but this one is found the HD truck world.

    It's the Eaton Autoshift trans. Supposedly, it is the best of both worlds: an auto for in the city & a stick for other times. In reality, it just plqin sucks. It's way rougher than an auto (on a bad day I could shift faster & smoother than that pos) and you can' manually downahift at th points you want to! Thus, you can't be ready for hills so you don't act like a total slug!

  • e24tony

    Should've just gone Saab on us and made a clutch less manual like the Sensonic

    • Perhaps more along the lines of the Saxomat.

      • Dean Bigglesworth

        According to the internets, it "reappeared in the 1990s as Sensonic". I would think they had modernized it somewhat. A relative worked at Saab in the late nineties, he said it worked really well but was kind of pointless.

        Anyway, my next car will probably have a similar aftermarket system installed, though it would be electronic and not vacuum actuated. I would rather drive a normal manual but since that is impossible, it's either that or an automatic and I'm bored with automatics.

  • Van_Sarockin

    OTOH, this suggests there may be an actual need to have thinking humans behind the wheel, working the controls in a coordinated fashion.

    • Tiller188

      *gasp*! Perish the thought!

      …yeah, over-automation in cars is a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Your comment has me envisioning the failed press demonstration by Volvo of their automatic braking setup.

  • My inner Jeremy Clarkson has to ask, shouldn't we expect British cars to have a bit of quirkiness to them? Maybe you gotta know how to Fonzie the transmission, but if everything was flawless it would have all the personality of an Audi.

    Keep Aston-Martin eccentric!

    • Syrax

      If you believe Clarkson, the Audi RS5 is designed to fire a drop of petrol into the exhaust just to make that pop while changing gears. Not exactly responsible but that's personality for me.

      • Remdog

        I'd say it has personality if there was actual unburnt fuel making the pop, not because the engineers designed a system to intentionally make the pop while changing gears. Sure it's cool in the rs5, but it isn't genuine.

      • Dean Bigglesworth

        Inside the car it just sort of sounds like a loose fart when you shift. Otherwise the engine is pretty quiet, and the car feels heavy. It's pretty quick and grips like mad, but it's not very exciting.

  • TX_Stig

    I recall reading this about the SMG boxes that BMW used in the E46 M3. Since they really were an actuated manual, you had to do the throttle blips, at least in manual mode.