Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Look on the Bright Side of Car Features

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Look on the Bright Side of Car Features

Article excerpt

I have the privilege of sitting in more new cars in three months than most people will in a couple of years.

Most of the time, that's a blessing, as I get to try out some of the latest features and tell readers what I think of them. And yet, most of the time I sound like the kid in school who whined about everything: The weather, the bus ride in, what the other kids did wrong. Maybe that was me, but I'm grown up now. Stop rolling your eyes at me, Mrs. Passenger Seat.

Over the years I've learned to count my blessings. So I'll save my whining for another column and accentuate the positive, explaining some of the favorite features I've found recently.

"Shiftable" automatics: I was surprised how my references in recent columns about these transmissions led to more than a few questions about how they work. But these are about the best thing to happen on the car scene in a long while.

They've been around since about the turn of the millennium, but people who take care of their cars long-term -- or who, for other reasons, may have an averaged-aged car or older -- may have missed them entirely. (For instance, Mama Driver's Seat has a 1992 Ford Taurus she bought new, and it's probably in nicer shape than the lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat's 2013 Kia Soul.)

When I write about a "shiftable" automatic, I'm also referring to the ShiftTronic or TipTronic transmissions (the brand name varies by automaker), at one time called manumatic.

Drivers can treat them like an automatic, or move the lever to the left or the right (depending, again, on the maker) and move it forward and backward to upshift or downshift. Some have steering wheel-mounted paddles as well.

They sound complicated but they aren't. They allow a family like mine -- where Mr. Driver's Seat is a shifty gearhead and everyone else is a major disappointment who can't drive anything but an automatic -- to have one car that everyone can use and be happy with.

I never would have thought this transmission could match the fun of a clutch, but being able to switch back to automatic mode when the traffic gets heavy is a great relief. It depends how they're engineered, though; some are fun (Kia Soul, Hyundai Accent, anything from Mazda or most of the premium brands) while others are mainly designed for downshifting on hills and whatnot (I'm looking at you, Toyota). …

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