Are Automatic Cars Fun to Drive?

If you’re considering learning to drive in an automatic car, or purchasing an automatic after only driving manual cars, then you might be wondering ‘are automatic cars fun to drive?’. It really comes down to the:

  • Driver and what you want to get out of the car
  • Type of automatic car and the technology it uses

What do You Want from Your Car?

Cars with a manual transmission have always been heralded as the driver’s car. The manual gearbox and clutch enables the driver full control over the vehicle and when mastered, you can do things in a manual car that you’ll never be able to do in an automatic.

But for many, mastering the gearbox and clutch just isn’t on their list of proprieties – they just want a car that’s fun to drive, without all the hassle of operating the clutch and gears. This is where the type of automatic car you choose is very important.

The Type of Automatic Car and the Technology

In the last decade or so, automatic cars made significant improvements. Automatics were once overweight, slow and fuel inefficient and were really only considered for those as a last resort because they couldn’t get to grips with manual stick-shift.

But things have changed and with that change, automatics are gaining in popularity. However, automatics vary considerably, so if you’re thinking about buying one, let’s take a quick look at the differences.

Automatic Cars Transmission and Clutch

We’re not going to get very technical here, but if one of your main priorities is having an automatic car that’s fun to drive, then it pays to know a little about the type of transmission (gearbox) and clutch that it has before purchase.

Automatic car gear selector lever
Basic automatic cars come with the standard gear selector lever

Some automatics can be slow at gear changes and can suffer from lag when moving off from a stationary position. Far from fun, this can often result in driver frustration. In order for you to narrow down your choices, let’s take a brief look at the various types of transmissions available in automatic cars.

Automated Manual Transmission

These are automatic cars that essentially have the same gearbox and clutch as a manual car. The difference being is that rather than having a manual clutch pedal, it’s all done automatically for you.

Automatic cars that use the automated manual transmission are often towards the cheaper end of the market and are usually best avoided due to their slow gear changes and jerky response. If you’re looking for an automatic car that’s fun to drive, don’t buy one with a automated manual transmission.

Torque Converter

Rather than using a clutch to change gears, many automatic cars use a device called a torque converter. Torque converters have been in use for decades and come in a range of cars from budget models to high-end models.

The benefits of an automatic car that has a torque converter is smooth gear changes, ideal for town driving. The technology varies depending on the model of car, but in some models, gear changes can be slow and lag can be experienced when moving off from a stationary position.

To help make driving a little more fun, some models come with paddle gear shifters mounted behind the steering wheel. However, if the gear changes are slow to react, it’ll soon suck any fun out of the driving. Always best to test drive before purchase to ensure you’re happy with the level of responsiveness.

Dual Clutch Gearbox

What makes an automatic car fun to drive is to some extent down to personal opinion, but what most drivers of any type of car including manuals, will say is that it’s down to the level of control and responsiveness.

You’re never going to get the level of control in any automatic car that’s achievable in a manual car, but if it’s going to get anywhere near, then it’s going to be an automatic car with a dual clutch gearbox.

Car manufactures all have different names for the dual clutch gearbox; DSG, EcoShift, SpeedShift, PowerShift, PDK, S-tronic, but they all essentially mean the same thing and that is a gearbox often with 6 or 7 gears that has two automatic clutches.

Using smart tech, the car’s computer anticipates what gear you’re going to need to next and gets that gear ready by using the free clutch. Unlike an automated manual that has a single clutch, gear changes are super-fast and smooth.

Cars with a dual clutch gearbox usually have gear paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and when paired up to a lively engine, it’s going to be the most fun you can have in an automatic car. Along with the fun factor, due to the fast gear changes, dual clutch gearboxes offer great fuel efficiency.

Gear selector paddle shifter
A responsive and lively engine hooked up to a dual clutch gearbox with gear change paddle shifters behind the steering wheel is the most fun you’ll have in an automatic car

Gear paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel offer the driver a little more control and on sportier cars, a little more fun too. They allow the driver to manually shift up and down gears by use of a quick press of the paddle. If you don’t feel like changing gear manually, simply select full auto mode and the transmission will do all the work for you.

In terms of disadvantages, dual clutch transmissions were initially associated with high-end sports cars and due to their complexity, cars fitted with this technology usually have a high cost. However, they are now filtering down into the mainstream and becoming more affordable. As with all the transmissions and clutches here, some are better than others so always take a test drive first.

Continuously Variable Transmission

Continuously variable transmission, or ‘CVT’ isn’t a gearbox, instead it uses pulleys and belts. As with torque converters, there’s been many improvements over the years and the main benefit of CVT is a very smooth driving experience. The fact that CVT doesn’t use gears also means that the system is always using a speed ratio that’s optimal for fuel efficiency. The seamless driving and lack of any upshift or downshift makes CVT an ideal system to use in hybrid vehicles.

While there are benefits associated with using CVT, it’s a system used for efficiency rather than fun. A lack of any ability to change gears can take away that sporty feel, plus they tend to be rather noisy under engine load. If you’re looking for fuel efficiency and a smooth drive, then CVT is where it’s at. But if it’s fun you’re after, then it’s best to move on.

Are Automatic Cars Fun to Drive?

Absolutely! Paired with the right technology, there’s arguably just as much fun to be had in an automatic car as there is in a manual. In terms of manual cars, how nimble and responsive they are is in part down to the skill of the driver. For automatics, it’s all to do with the technology.

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