A Tiptronic transmission is an automatic transmission with manual shifting capabilities. Tiptronic is a registered trademark of Porsche, part of the Volkswagen Group, which also produces the Audi, Bugatti and Lamborghini brands, among others. Nearly every automotive manufacturer offers what is colloquially known as “manumatic” transmissions, which supply a clutch-free way to control transmission shift points.
Pair This Engine
Engines and transmissions work together. The engine is tasked with sending power to the transmission, and the transmission sends that power to the wheels — usually to one axle but sometimes both, depending on the vehicle. The engine and transmission are among the main components found in a vehicle’s powertrain system.
Most transmissions have gears, and each subsequent gear ensures the right amount of power goes to your wheels at a given speed. With a manual transmission, you must manually shift gears up and down, depressing a clutch each time a gear change is required. Instead of two driver pedals — brake and accelerator — a manual gearbox requires a third pedal, the clutch, found on the left. The brake is in the middle, and the accelerator or gas pedal is on the right. With an automatic transmission, a torque converter does the clutch work for the driver automatically.
Finding a Middle Ground: How a Tiptronic Transmission Works
A manumatic transmission — Tiptronic (Porsche), Sportmatic (Kia), Steptronic (BMW) or some other marketing name — offers a middle ground between automatic and manual transmissions. Here, such transmissions behave as an automatic in default mode but can also operate like a manual transmission once shifted into sport mode.
Typically, an automatic transmission shift pattern shows P (park), R (reverse), N (neutral) and D (drive) with D representing each of the forward gears offered. For instance, if your vehicle is equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission, there would be six steps marked as you work your way to top gear.
Some shift patterns add M/S (Manual/Sport) or +/- symbols representing manual shifting. To operate, you would place the gear shift in Sport or +/- mode and press your foot on the accelerator. You’ll then hear the engine become louder as you pick up speed. To control shift points, you’d “tip,” or shift, the gear shift lever (usually forward) to reach the next gear, allowing the engine to settle or reduce RPMs, then continuing to shift upward as you build speed.
Downshifting requires moving the gear shift lever in the opposite direction. Notably, most manumatics switch to first gear automatically when you come to a full stop. All this shifting is accomplished without the benefit of a clutch pedal, supplying what some consider a happy medium between automatic and manual transmissions.
As a footnote, some vehicles include steering wheel- or column-mounted paddle shifters, providing a supplemental way to shift the transmission. The advantage here is that both hands can always remain on the steering wheel.
Not Quite a Manumatic
There is another type of automatic transmission that may be operated in manual mode, depending on its design. Continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) dispense with traditional gears and use a rubber belt or chain-driven pulley instead. Instead of fixed-gear ratios, a CVT simulates an infinite number of shift points, aiming for greater efficiency.
Just like an automatic, some CVTs (Nissan Xtronic, for example) offer a manual mode, allowing the driver to adjust the shift lever to switch gears. In this case, the automaker adds computer-controlled steps to mimic an automatic, achieving a similar feel as a manumatic.
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Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.