Hyundai Has A New Manual Transmission With No Clutch That Reminds Me Of The Old VW Autostick

a close up of a toy car © Illustration: Jason Torchinsky

In America, as we all know and lament, manual transmissions are an endangered species, like the Carolina Bottleneck Squid, the last one of which I accidentally slammed in my car door this morning. In the rest of the world, they’re still thriving, but that doesn’t mean the manuals are safe. Automatics are always looming, though, in some places, that path is a bit stranger. Like in India, where Hyundai has introduced a manual transmission that you shift, but with no clutch. Sort of like the Volkswagen Automatic Stickshift from 1968.

Earlier this month, Hyundai of India announced their new “Intelligent Manual Transmission” technology for the Indian-market Hyundai Venue, a small crossover based on the Accent platform.

Here in the U.S., you can get a Venue with a six-speed manual or a CVT, but in India there’s now an option for a six-speed manual, but with no clutch.

Yes, it’s a two-pedal setup, but you still shift.

I’ve shifted without the clutch before on several cars I’ve owned, but that’s only been because either a clutch cable broke or a clutch hydraulic cylinder failed, and it was never really ideal. Especially trying to get into first.

a close up of an engine © Photo: Hyundai

Hyundai’s system, of course, is actually intentional and as such has mechanisms in place to replace the usual foot-actuated clutch. Here’s how Hyundai describes it:

Hyundai’s iMT technology features a Transmission Gear Shift (TGS) Lever with Intention Sensor, Hydraulic Actuator and Transmission Control Unit (TCU). The system has been designed to offer a seamless drive experience by incorporating a cohesive logic between the various components on manual transmissions:

1. Transmission Control Unit receives signal from TGS Lever Intention Sensor, indicating drivers desire to change gears.

2. TCU sends signal to engage Hydraulic Actuator forming Hydraulic Pressure.

3. Hydraulic Pressure is then sent to Concentric Slave Cylinder (CSC) through Clutch Tube.

4. Concentric Slave Cylinder uses this pressure to control the clutch and pressure plate, thereby engaging and disengaging the clutch.

5. Driver is able to seamlessly shift gears without the need to mechanically operate clutch pedal.

Okay, so there is a clutch in the system, but it’s hydraulically actuated. How it’s actuated is the interesting part. Hyundai says an “Intention Sensor” mounted on or in the Transmission Gear Shift (TGS) lever (that’s just the shifter, people, don’t call it a “TGS”) somehow sends a signal to the control unit, which then actuates the clutch.

This all sounds a hell of a lot like the old Volkswagen Autostick setup, which was, essentially, a regular four-speed manual transmission with first gear lopped off and a torque converter and vacuum-operated clutch added.

a close up of a map © Illustration: Volkswagen

On the old VW system, there was a simple little electrical contact in the shifter that, when you put your hand on the shifter, sent a signal to engage the clutch, and then when you let off, let the clutch out.

When mine broke I briefly replaced it with a simple toggle switch.

Hyundai’s system seems similar—the motion of shift lever still seems to trigger the clutch to engage, and it’s essentially just a manual transmission with an automatic clutch.

Strangely, the VW system is actually a bit more advanced, if that’s even the right word, since the old Autostick had a torque converter, allowing the car to be driven from a dead stop in any of the gear ratios, even the highest (fourth) gear, though if you did that you’d be envying glaciers for their acceleration.

The Hyundai system seems fun, I suppose, at least more fun than a normal automatic, or, worse, a CVT. I still think it’s worthwhile and rewarding to learn how to use a clutch, but this setup, which is cheaper than a fully automatic and still saves your left leg in long stretches of stop-and-go traffic, seems like a pretty novel solution.

Bring it to America, Hyundai! Why the hell not? This would significantly reduce the learning curve of a manual and could be a good gateway drug to full three-pedal driving. Plus, it’d just be a fun option no one else would have! What do you have to lose, right?


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