Revival of the manual, death of the clutch: Hyundai introduces a clutchless manual transmission

The manual discussion has been perhaps one of the most prominent and important ones among automotive enthusiasts. In the new age of CVTs and dual-clutch transmissions that shift faster than a human can, the stick shift has been experiencing a slow extinction for the past couple of years. Although many cars do still offer manual variants, as a whole manufacturers have sacrificed it to chase refinement and better figures, and to answer an overall less market demand. For activists of the #SavetheManuals movement, new cars (especially enthusiast focused ones) with manual variants are nothing short of party-worthy. But we’re not sure if Hyundai’s approach is what they expected.

Hyundai’s new ‘Intelligent Manual Transmission’, or iMT as they call it, can shift gears without the need to operate a clutch, thereby delivering enhanced control and retaining the joy of driving according to them. It’s essentially a 6speed stick shift that works without the need to press in a physical clutch; a manual transmission without a third pedal!? Sounds like paddle shifters with extra steps (as opposed to stick shift with less steps, and you’ll come to know why).

 

The system obviously has a clutch, but the engagement and disengagement of gears itself has become automated, relieving the duties of the clutch from the driver. It works as paddle shifters would, you upshift or downshift when necessary but all of it is ultimately automated. The transmission features an “Intention Sensor”, which relays signals to the transmission control unit to hydraulically operate the clutch for you when it senses the user’s input to change gears. This begs the question of “what if I shift down from fifth to first on the highway?” As you’d expect from such a transmission, the system is programmed to not perform user inputs if it believes that it will lead to a mistake. With said scenario, the transmission would not reengage the clutch when shifted into first gear, as it receives data using telemetry obtained from the car such as wheel speed, etc. What then, would the stick shift just spring back into fifth? Well, we don’t know yet, and it has brought forth some skepticism regarding the iMT.

 

Although the entire system is seemingly new, the concept isn’t unheard of in the automotive industry; semi-automatic/clutchless manual transmissions have been there before in cars. Citroën produced a number of variants on semi-automatic transmission. The Citroën DS, introduced in 1955, used a hydraulic system to select gears and operate the conventional clutch using hydraulic servos. There was also a speed controller and idle speed step-up device, all hydraulically operated. This allowed clutchless shifting with a single selector mounted behind the steering wheel. 

 

The lack of a clutch will surely take away from the original driving experience of working out your left leg engaging a clutch and shifting through the gears and the preservation thereof. An opinion I believe any enthusiast will share. As such I do not take the iMT to be a replacement for a conventional manual, but more of an engaging alternative to paddle shifters, as they follow similar automated principles albeit with a different formfactor. This is not to say it doesn’t have its benefits, because many, especially in Bangladesh donot opt for a manual solely because of the trouble that it poses in traffic. Perhaps this will finally allow many to enjoy a similar experience to the MT legacy. Moreover, it may allow individuals to combine the daily driver and the fun car. More so than it posing to be a manual, it seems to be more of a fun option from those who have a deprivation of it in their day to day car. A more important perspective is that people unable to engage a clutch due to physical conditions will be able to enjoy rowing through the gears to say the least. 

2020 Hyundai Venue
2020 Hyundai Venue
2020 Hyundai Venue

Unfortunately, Hyundai has announced that the iMT will only be available in India right now, launching in the 2020 Hyundai Venue mated to its 1.0litre turbocharged inline four. But if a proper demand presents itself, we may see a widespread application of this transmission or other similar/derived systems