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Definitions: Automated Manual Transmission

Pros: Superior fuel economy, acceleration and responsiveness when properly tuned.

Cons: Pricey; can be clumsy at low speeds and when parking.

Summary: If you’re shopping for a car and you see the term “automated manual transmission” (or sometimes “automated-clutch manual transmission”), it refers to a transmission that’s mechanically similar to a stick-shift, except a computer performs the clutch work.

To be clear, an automated manual transmission (AMT) doesn’t have a clutch pedal; there’s only an accelerator and a brake pedal, just like a regular automatic. And if you leave an AMT in D mode, it basically performs like an automatic transmission — all you have to do is worry about when to start and when to stop.

Accordingly, some AMT drivers may actually believe they’re driving a traditional automatic. But there are some important differences that informed car shoppers should be aware of.

For background, there are two types of AMTs: single-clutch and dual-clutch. Single-clutch AMTs are older, lurch-prone and generally unpleasant; the good news is that only the smart fortwo and some exotic sports cars use them. Dual-clutch AMTs, on the other hand, are designed to eliminate lurching, and the best units provide incredibly quick yet perfectly smooth shifts. Most AMT-equipped cars use dual-clutch technology.

AMTs also tend to yield better fuel economy and acceleration than regular automatics. The reason is that AMTs are more efficient; that is, they allow more of the engine’s energy to flow directly to the wheels. For the same reason, stick-shifts have historically edged automatics in both categories. The magic of the AMT lies in its ability to combine the fuel economy and performance of a true manual with the everyday convenience of an automatic.

AMT downsides are few but notable. First, the technology is complex, so you’ll pay more up front — and if the transmission goes bad out of warranty, you could be on the hook for an expensive repair bill. Also, engineers haven’t quite worked out low-speed AMT behavior yet, so when you’re nosing the car into a parking space, for example, you’ll likely notice a “slip-and-surge” effect that’s like being in a stick-shift car with a teenager learning to drive.

But overall, the AMT is a clear victory for automotive progress. We expect this transmission type to become increasingly popular as costs come down and consumers embrace its numerous advantages.

What it means to you: A thorough test drive is in order if you’re considering an AMT-equipped vehicle, as transmission behavior can vary widely among automakers. But given the AMT’s considerable upside, we encourage you to consider adopting this technology in your next car.

Related Transmission Articles:

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated for accuracy since it was originally published.

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