For a lot of years, a three speed automatic gearbox was considered the norm. Then came the four-speed automatic, in use until recently in cars like the Hyundai Accent and even the Chevy Impala. Four speeds became five speeds, which in turn gave way to six and even seven speed gearboxes. Then Chrysler announced that a ZF-built unit would carry eight speeds, and Ford countered with an eight-speed gearbox of its own.
Not to be outdone, Automotive News reports that Hyundai has announced a ten-speed gearbox for its Genesis and Equus luxury sedans. Unlike other manufacturers, who buy transmissions from industry suppliers, Hyundai prefers to go it alone, and will design and build the new transmission in-house for the 2014 model year. Not only does that allow Hyundai to ensure better quality control, it also allows Hyundai to contain costs, which is the primary reason that the automaker is able to offer so much content for so little money.
So why the transmission wars of late? More gear ratios equal better acceleration, smoother ride and improved fuel economy, but only to a point. As you add gears, you also add the ability to skip multiple gears, for passing ability. Thus, downshifting from a tenth gear to a seventh gear for passing may produce a bigger jolt (since the ratios are wider) than downshifting from a fifth gear to a fourth gear, or even a sixth gear to a fourth gear. In other words, acceleration with a ten-speed transmission may be smooth and seamless, but only if you don’t mat the accelerator.
More gears equal more complexity as well, and the durability of seven, eight and ten-speed transmissions has yet to be proven. Eventually, the drawbacks of adding gear ratios are likely to outweigh the benefits, which is why so many manufacturers are gravitating towards the much-reviled continuously variable transmission (which offers a near-infinite range of gear ratios).
Call me a Luddite, but a six-speed manual works just fine for me.