The automaker has effectively renewed the manual's lease on life.
By many accounts, the manual transmission is on its way out. That's why automakers hardly feel the need to spend money trying to better it the same way they're investing in revamping the internal combustion engine for better fuel economy. But that doesn't mean every automaker sees stick-shifts as a dead end.
One of the car companies that's working on creating a new chapter for the three-pedal gearbox is Volkswagen, which has just unveiled a new generation of transmissions that it calls MQ281. It would be fairly insignificant news if that gearbox were another automatic, but the fact of the matter is that VW's box of ratios is a manual.
What makes this transmission different is that it's been developed with improved fuel economy in mind, which should help make it more future-friendly (though not future-proof) once tighter fuel economy regulations are instated. And while the new Passat will be the first test subject to see the MQ281 before it proliferates other vehicles across the Volkswagen Group, the gearbox is actually better suited to the large-diameter wheels worn by SUVs.
"With the MQ281, we have developed a highly efficient manual gearbox that reliably meets these demands – and is soon to be introduced into a number of vehicle classes in the volume segment," explains Helmut Göbbels, Head of Manual Gearbox and Four-Wheel Drive Development at Volkswagen. Part of what makes it resilient enough to handle an SUV's mass while achieving better fuel economy is the transmission's low levels of internal friction.
In order to achieve that, Volkswagen used virtual development methods that helped engineers design new parts, such as bearings coated in a low-friction surface, and optimize where the parts are installed. That method even resulted in a better lubrication system and a more robust transmission housing that reduces vibration and noise.
"Here we employed virtual development methods," says Göbbels. "This enabled us to design a completely new oil conduction system. Using a variety of oil conduction measures, we are able to achieve a uniform and optimum lubrication of gear wheels and bearings, reducing the amount of lifetime oil required to just 1.5 liters." It's moves like these that show us why Volkswagen still reigns supreme among those of us who like to shift our own gears.