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Paddle Shifters: Do You Use Them At All?


Paddle Shifters: Do You Use Them At All?

Do you ever use your paddle shifters?

When Ferrari first introduced paddle shifters to the world through their Formula One car back in the late eighties, who'd thought that their innovation would eventually make its way into run-of-the-mill cars?

What was once a performance tool in race cars is now a feature in a lot of automatic transmission vehicles, which we guess helps provide the illusion that the car has some sort of sporting attributes.

1989 Ferrari 640 with paddle shifter

The big question is, are paddle shifters necessary in ordinary cars? Or is it just more of a feature that helps manufacturers boast about how extensive the equipment list is in their cars?

Honda Jazz paddle shifters

To help answer these questions, we take a little peek at the history of paddle shifters.

Ferrari's attempt to make their Formula One cars faster and more efficient resulted in the semi-automatic gearbox. John Barnard designed it. After many difficulties in making it work, the Maranello-based supercar manufacturer eventually won a race in 1989 with a car equipped with a semi-automatic gearbox that actuated the gears through two paddles behind the steering wheel.

Ferrari 355

Although many others followed Ferarri's lead, the paddle shifter mechanism stayed in motorsport. In 1997 however, Ferrari decided to include the paddle shifter in their 355 road car, calling its transmission the "F1" box. After that, Alfa Romeo and BMW produced similar systems for their performance road cars, resulting in reduced shifting delays for each new model.

So as we can see from this little snippet of automotive innovation history, the pursuit of building faster performance cars resulted in the inclusion of paddle shifter, so why is it do we see them a lot more in regular cars?

Mitsubishi Colt

We believe the answer lies within the fun and engaging aspect of a car instead of function. Most automatic transmission logic these days are very good and might even get you better performance around a track, but none of them will make the car as engaging as a vehicle with paddle shifters as it allows you to take control of the shifting.

2019 Ford Ranger towing boat

There are other applications for paddle shifters too, like when towing or carrying heavy loads. When towing with SUVs or trucks, drivers can use the paddle shifters to quickly change gears when approaching a hill in order to maintain a constant speed. The same applies when going downhill, as drivers can descend with more control by manually engine braking through the paddle shifter.

As you can see, the paddle shifter has evolved since its inception back in the eighties. What was once a time shaving tool on the track has evolved into making boring cars a bit more engaging. The application doesn't stop there either, as from our example up top, you can see that it can also be used as a method to help tackle hilly roads.

So perhaps there is a place for paddle shifters in ordinary cars after all. It might not be for performance's sake, but there does seem to merit for its existence. 

What about you? Do you ever use your paddle shifters? Let us know in the comments. 

Adam Aubrey

Adam Aubrey

Content Producer

Wants to live the simple life, especially when it comes to cars and bikes. That's what tech is for he reckons, to make motoring simpler

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