Car News:  Oversteer

GM's No-Lift Shift Will Turn Your Mind to Jelly

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author photo by Aaron Gold October 2016

When teaching someone to drive a stick-shift -- something I've attempted very rarely and with a shockingly poor success rate -- I've always said that the trick is to keep your feet moving in opposite directions. As the accelerator goes down, the clutch goes up, and vice-versa. Pretty easy to remember, right?

GM's no-lift shift, a feature offered in a handful of their performance cars, puts and end to such common sense.

The name explains it perfectly. Under full throttle, you can keep the accelerator on the floor while you shift gears. For your launch, rev it up, dump the clutch, and floor the throttle. When the redline approaches, step on the clutch and change gears -- while keeping the accelerator on the floorboards.

If you think that sounds easy, then clearly you have never tried it. It is the most unnatural thing in the world.

The first time I tried the no-lift shift was at the Chevrolet HHR SS press preview. (The HHR wasn't very good, but the HHR SS was quite a car, and I mean that sincerely.) I rode along with a rather well-known automotive journalist. We both accepted the no-lift shift challenge, and what I remember most is the constant yelling. "You lifted!" "I did not lift!" "Yes you did -- I was watching your feet!" "Okay, I'll try again!" "Don't lift!" "I'm not lifting!" "You're lifting!"

Completely and totally unnatural.

Let me say here that I'm no stranger to fancy footwork. For reasons I'd prefer not to get into at this moment, I once owned a Gillig bus with a non-synchronized manual transmission. (It also had a midmounted 12.2-liter Cummins straight 6-cylinder diesel and air brakes, all off-the-shelf big-rig parts. Was I in heaven driving it? My friends, you have no idea.) A non-synchronized transmission -- otherwise known as a crashbox -- requires you to double-clutch and match engine and transmission speeds. If you don't shift it into gear at just the right moment -- or more specifically, at just the right rpm -- it won't go into gear. I don't mean it grinds; it grinds if you're maybe 50 rpm off. Any more than that, and you cannot move the shifter where you want it to go. The shift gate simply ceases to exist.

Downshifting also requires rev matching: Clutch down, neutral, clutch up, rev the engine to just the right speed, clutch down, gear, clutch up. (Except when you're learning. Then it's clutch down, neutral, clutch up, rev the engine, clutch down, try a gear, fail miserably, clutch up, rev again, clutch down, try a gear again, fail miserably again, clutch up, rev, clutch down, fail, hazards on, roll to side of road, set parking brake, cry.) I got pretty good at it, but once again, your feet are moving in opposite directions.

Needless to say, all my seat time in the Gillig did nothing to prepare me for the no-lift shift. Nothing prepares you for the no-lift shift.

Naturally, once you do get the hang of it -- if you ever get the hang of it -- you wind up not lifting when you should lift. No-lift shift only works under full throttle: The engine's electronics recognize what you are doing and hold the revs at just the right point until the clutch is engaged, the idea being to keep the boost up on the turbocharger. (Ain't throttle-by-wire grand?) This doesn't happen at part-throttle, so when you forget to lift while gently pulling away from a light, the engine revs like crazy, and -- as Hannibal Lechter told Clarice Starling -- you look like a rube.

Like many of my most interesting college romances, the no-lift shift fills me with angst and frustration, and yet I love it. It's like a neat little puzzle the engineers gave us to solve, and it's one of many reasons I'm a big fan of GM's performance-engineering people. They are geniuses. Evil geniuses perhaps, but geniuses nonetheless.

Besides the HHR SS, GM also provided no-lift shift functionality on the Chevy Cobalt SS, the Buick Regal GS, the previous-gen CTS-V and the fifth-gen Camaro ZL-1. You'll find it today on the ATS-V -- and I hope we'll see it on more GM performance cars in the future.

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GM's No-Lift Shift Will Turn Your Mind to Jelly - Autotrader