The Automatic Choice

I had a mishap in a car park with my car; so a bodyshop visit was required. This meant a courtesy car. This is rarely a good experience, courtesy cars usually fall into 2 camps: old and knackered or new and bargain-basement, with one exception when a loss-recovery company hired me something flasher.

So, then, this was the bargain-basement end. A nearly new Toyota Aygo, and as I need an autobox these days, one with the MMT transmission. A car so thoroughly vile, I chose to leave it at work when I could, and get a lift from a colleague.

I need, at this point, to be fair. The Aygo is a 1-litre city car, and it’s actually not built badly; it feels light and flimsy because it is light: the engine develops a fair amount of power (about 67BHP) for a non-blown 1 litre, but you need light weight. You also need minimal transmission losses, which is where MMT comes in.

MMT isn’t a traditional autobox, and, by that, I mean a torque converter-and-epicyclic auto, which was the way to do an auto in bygone times. It’s essentially the normal, manual box with a few actuators bolted on and some electronic control. This is done for efficiency and cost- both in terms of production and fuel economy/emissions: the conventional auto is expensive, heavy, and inefficient. MMT, and it’s work-a-likes from other manufacturers is cheaper, lighter, and has low parasitic losses. That’s where the good news ends: even VWs offering, ASG, seems to suffer from inherent “features”.

I can’t vouch for ASG, but forums are full of opinions that mirror my experiences with MMT and the technology is pretty much identical. MMT vibrates at standstill as the ECU slips the clutch at low revs to provide “creep”. The creep itself is lumpy as the 3 cylinder engine struggles, and the change from 1st to second could be timed on a calendar as the car loses momentum and then bogs down when the lack of torque fails to make up for the delay. In traffic, surely the ideal place for an automatic city car, the smooth, easy progress of a decent auto becomes lumpy, jerky and learnerish. In an odd thing for a city car, there’s paddle shifters, for when you inevitably need to override the ECU’s choice. As if that weren’t enough, rumours of poor reliability are common.

Higher speeds are obviously noisy, and kickdown is merely a volume control.

I’ve driven automatics on and off for 30 years: conventional ones (including this rather revolutionary British interpretation, German and Japanese implmentations), CVTs with a torque converter, dual-clutch things like DSG or Powershift, and I can say that if automated, single-clutch manual gearboxes are the future for small cars, then either take us back to the past, or pray for the death of internal combustion engine (or buy a manual, if you can). If you can’t, then for $deity’s sake, get a DCT or conventional auto, you’ll not regret the expense or the economy trade-off.

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