The manual transmission has all but faded into obscurity here in America, and the transition to electric vehicles devoid of multi-speed gearboxes at all promises to (eventually) put a final nail in the coffin. There is a glimmer of hope, however, coming from Toyota. After filing a patent for a manual transmission simulator for EVs, the Japanese carmaker let us briefly drive the test mule at its Shimoyama R&D Center outside Toyota City, Japan. Yes, it’s completely superfluous. It’s also one the most amusing things we’ve ever done in an EV.
Both the shifter and clutch pedal in the UX300e test vehicle are dummies, connected only to electrical wires that tell the computer what they’re doing. The clutch pedal’s resistance only comes from a return spring, while a simple potentiometer reads its arc of travel.
To operate this proof of concept, you start with the car on and choose D from a rotary dial grafted onto the center console. Then, with the brake on, gear selector in neutral, and clutch out, you press the engine start button just behind the manual stick. The speakers burble with a simulated engine coming to life, and the tachometer stuck on the dashboard ticks up to idle speed.
Shift into first, gently let the clutch out, and you’re rolling. Let the clutch out too fast, or without feeding in the accelerator, and it will gently buck with a warning that, technically, you just stalled. As it’s an EV, you’re still in gear and ready to proceed. And once rolling, the system in its current form will recognize shifts without using the clutch. There’s no risk of trashing the synchromesh gears, but it’s also less fun.
The simulator is a convincing imitation of the real thing, even with a somewhat heavy clutch effort. (It’s based on the GR Corolla’s feel.) Intentionally mangle a shift, and the car lurches as you take your left foot off the pedal. Bog the “engine” in 6th, and you’ll get the equivalent lack of torque found in a gas-powered car. Imamura-san, the Toyota engineer riding shotgun, even mentions that they calibrated the accelerator to have a slight lag, dampening the instant response of the electric motor to further mimic the real thing.
Once rolling, the manual simulator can be toggled on or off using the engine start button, seamlessly switching back to single-speed electric drive that’s more responsive but far less engaging. This is the purpose of this simulator: clawing some fun back from the banality of an electric motor’s instant responses.
It’s ironic that the powertrain that will eventually doom the manual transmission could, at least theoretically, revive it. After all, it’s much easier to learn to drive a stick when you can choose when to use it and there’s almost no penalty for getting it wrong. Whether Toyota will ever actually sell something like this is anybody’s guess. It could easily be offered as an add-on kit, and we could envision a selection of different shifters modeled on Toyota’s greatest hits. That’s also assuming that any vehicle that could use this system has room on the console for the stick shift. With space at a premium, even automatic shifters are more and more frequently replaced by dials, buttons, or even options on a touchscreen. Still, it’s nice to dream, and even better to know that a few people at Toyota also want to save the manuals.
You Might Also Like