Chugging along in traffic, but in control

I think I’ve figured out the perfect automotive combination for performance-minded people in Seattle. Many of us spend upwards of 1.5 hours every day driving between Seattle and the Eastside, usually in stop-and-go traffic. The side streets of Seattle experience congestion as well and our hills are second only to San Francisco. Sounds like a terrible place to own a manual, eh? It is, to be honest. I’ve got 39k miles on it now and I’ll be damned if my clutch makes it past 50k. You know those people that get 300k miles on a single clutch? Their daily commute takes them from Bumblenowhere, Ohio to Flatsville, Kansas. Clutch longevity isn’t about miles, it’s about clutch engagements and how rough the engagements are. I digress.

Though it is not available in many vehicles as of yet, the DualTronic transmission from Borg-Warner seems to offer the performance benefits of a manual with the ease of an automatic. The DualTronic, known to many as the DSG in various WV Group products, is a computer-controlled, dual-clutch transmission. Since it uses clutches instead of torque converters, you get none of the parasitic loss of an automatic transmission. The two clutches can independently engage different gears, the algorithm of which can be changed on the fly. If you’re on a Sunday drive, gently accelerating while in third gear, fourth gear will be pre-selected. Well below red line, the first clutch will disengage and the second one will smoothly grab onto fourth gear. Looking for performance? The system can be put into full manual mode. The algorithms can be changed such that if a potential downshift situation is detected (sudden reduction of the throttle with concurrent application of brakes, for example), the second clutch could pre-select a lower gear instead and rapidly snap to it as decelleration is detected (8 milliseconds is the publicized shift time). Good compromise, eh?

Even better than just having the option of throwing your DualTronic into automatic mode would be the inclusion of Bosch’s Adaptive Cruise Control. Available on various luxury makes such as BMW and MB, the latest version is capable of full stop-and-go control. I’d absolutely adore being set a maximum cruise speed of 65 MPH and then let the car get me across 520. I’d definitely be attentive and not place full trust in the technology, but this would allow me to relax my left foot and frustration after a hard day of work.

I bet that the 2009 BMW M3 will be the first vehicle available with this combination of technologies. BMW have announced they will offer a DSG-style transmission at some time for the M3 and sources say it is coming in the spring of 2008. BMW already offers adaptive cruise control as an option so they may incorporate the latest stop-and-go system by then as well. It’ll be years before this combination is available at a reasonable price.