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ZF Announces 9-Speed Automatic, We Ask When The Madness Stops

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ZF's front-drive 9-speed transmission

ZF's front-drive 9-speed transmission

How many gears does your car have? Have you ever felt it had too few? Well, say hello to the Matt LeBlanc of transmissions, the ZF nine-speed automatic. Feeling inadequate?

You should, according to ZF. "Similar to ZF's eight-speed automatic transmission used in rear-drive platforms, the new 9-speed delivers extremely short response and shifting times that are below the threshold of perception. That means double shifts and direct multiple gearshifts occur without the driver or passenger noticing," said ZF president and CEO Hans-Georg Harter in the official announcement.

The primary advantage of the new nine speed is its design to mate with transversely-mounted engines, meaning it's useful for front-wheel drive applications. The previous ZF eight-speed unit was designed for longitudinal rear-drive orientations only. A quick-locking torque converter improves efficiency, and the extra gear count allows more room for fine-tuning acceleration and overdrive gears. According to Harter, "ZF's new 9-speed enables significant fuel economy improvements and delivers excellent performance characteristics for front-wheel-drive vehicles."

Using extra gear ratio allows engineers to tune a car to stay in its most efficient rpm range for a higher percentage of the time, minimizing sweeps of the tach under normal acceleration, almost like a continuously variable transmission.

That's where we get into the madness. The move from three-, four-, and five-speed transmissions to a largely uniform six only occurred relatively recently in the long history of automatics. Seven, then eight, came shortly after, but remain mostly in the domain of luxury and sports cars. Now we're at nine. The incremental gains have to be minimal, at best.

Further, how many times can you divide a car's useful gearing range before you begin to approach the reality, as well as the function, of a continously variable gearbox? How many people really notice the gaps between gears even in a now-plebeian six-speed?

To make the matter even less rational, the ability to skip gears, or "double shifts" and "multiple shifts" as ZF calls them, means the transmission might intentionally put a nice big gap in your gear ratio to deliver the acceleration or deceleration requested. That means less hesitation, but could also mean less smoothness as the difference in ratio of a two-gear jump in a nine-speed would in most cases be slightly larger than the one-gear jump a six-speed would make, though ZF claims to have ironed that out.

Do you really need nine speeds? Outside of the freight business, does anyone?

[ZF]



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Comments (6)
  1. Madness? No.
    It's much more efficient to use gear appropriate to the load and rev rage to maximise economy and power at the wheels. The is one of the ways existing engines can use much less fuel - a 9 speeder linked to a small capacity hybrid/turbo/super charged engine would be A Good Thing.
     
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  2. As davidturnedge mentioned, it is not important if you can percieve the gaps between the gears, 9 gears will improve fuel economy and performance, engine will run at optimal rev range for more of the time
     
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  3. technology wise i think its not so bad.
    but im fine with my 5 spd auto. thanks
     
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  4. I'd buy one. Small cars are terrible when mated to an auto gearbox as it kills any power they do have the only decent one I have driven was a 1.8L with a 6 speedbox because it could change down to generate more acceleration as required.
     
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  5. Slick shifting at the expense of durability? No thank you. Skinny gears sets, even when constant-mesh, have got to be dependent on high priced materials and machining.
     
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  6. I think the nine speed would be great for the Dodge Grand Caravan. At 4500+ pounds the nine speed makes sense and it could increase economy by a mile or two per gallon. The Caravan would be a great place to start with the nine speed. Beyond that I think we just need to go to a contineously variable transmission---try Subaru's I think you will be impressed how much better they have gotten. It would take some getting use to but we can adapt for the avantages they offer.
     
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