Ease of driving
The most obvious and common benefit of driving an automatic car is that they are typically easier to driver than manual cars. Not having to shift gears or use a clutch pedal make city-driving much less stressful and remove any risks of pains to your left leg/ankle from creeping up streets on the clutch. There’s also no risk of an automatic car cutting out at slow-speeds and it won’t roll back on a hill, even without pressing the break.
The lack of clutch-pedal also means that automatic cars need that bit less servicing than manual cars, which typically wear their clutches out quickly due to the natural habits of drivers “riding” the clutch at slow speeds or “kicking” the clutch at high-speeds.
Automatic cars can also lead to a more relaxing motorway-driving experience than manuals. With modern gearboxes, automatic cars are not as slow to respond in, say, overtaking scenarios, as they were in the past, and most no longer come with an “overtake” mode due to lack of need. Also, automatic gearboxes typically have more gears in them than manual cars (a typical manual gearbox has 6-speeds, where an automatic can have anywhere from 6 to 10 speeds, with the most common being 7 and 8-speed options). This has lead to smoother and quieter motorway cruises and better fuel economy.
In countries like America & Canada, Automatic cars are the default, and it’s quite rare for people to ever learn to drive manuals. While that’s not the case in Ireland or most of Europe, Automatic cars are still typically much more accessible to the wider public.
Anyone who learns to drive in a manual car (which is the vast majority of Irish people), can naturally drive an automatic. However, there are a large number of people who, due to personal preference or disability, learn to drive in Automatics. Having an automatic car in the family, for example, means that it can be driven by anyone.
The need to use only 1 leg to drive an automatic car makes them more accessible to those with hip, knee, ankle or foot injuries; amputees; or recovered stroke-sufferers. It is even now possible, and increasingly common, to have your automatic car modified so that the accelerator is on the left – meaning those without the use of their right leg/foot can still drive automatic cars.
A number of modern car models offer “manumatics” (although the term may differ from brand to brand). These are, by default, automatic transmissions with regular “R, N, D, P” options, but no traditional gear-shifter.
However, these automatics can be shifted into a manual mode and rowed through the gears like a regular manual, but without the hassle of a clutch or gearstick. Most commonly, these cars will come with “paddle-shifts” behind the steering wheel. These can vary in size depending on the car and model.
Standard family saloons, SUVs and hatchbacks with these gearboxes will typically feature either a “+ and –“ sequential-style option on the gear-lever, or 2 small paddles attached to the back of the steering wheel – such as those found on the new Peugeot 508(right). On more sporty cars, like the Renault Megane GT (below) and RS, these gearboxes feature much larger paddles attached to the steering column; meaning they do not move with the steering wheel and allowing for more sporty and aggressive driving.
The most convenient feature of these gearboxes is that “manual mode” is completely optional, and at all other times they drive as perfectly normal automatic transmissions.
Historically a big turnoff in automatic cars due to manual gearboxes typically being more fuel efficient as they weigh less and often have fewer RPM’s when accelerating. However, modern automatic transmissions, using features such as variable gears and dual clutches can be equally, if not more economical than their manual counterparts.
As mentioned above, modern automatic gearboxes typically have more gears than manual ‘boxes. This means that on motorway cruises, the gearbox can shift to 7th or 8th gear and maintain motorway speeds while using far less fuel.
Even in vehicles which typically need more pulling power, like commercial vehicles or mini-busses, modern automatic transmissions typically offer similar or better fuel economy than manuals. An automatic transmission's ability to determine exactly how much power and torque is needed at any one time means it will always be in the correct gear to give best pull at lowest fuel usage.