Cars with paddle shifters

Have the laziness of an automatic and the speed of a manual, thanks to paddle shifters

Sep 11, 2018

While Americans have always preferred to leave their left feet out of the car driving experience, traditionally, us Brits have preferred to swap gears ourselves. But times, they are changing.

The rise of the automatic gearbox in the UK has not gone unnoticed either. Arbitrator of all things new car sales related, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, says that the number of automatic cars sold in the UK increased 70.5% between 2007 and 2017, and as of 2017, 40% of new cars sold in the UK were automatic.

The people of the UK are being wooed by the ease of the automatic gearbox and its laid-back nature. Technological advances have also helped, as automatic ‘boxes are better than ever. While much older cars had noisy and slow-witted auto boxes, new cars are so advanced that they can actually change gears quicker than a human can. Some can even change gear quicker than a human can blink.

Paddle shifters are the latest advance in the life of the automatic gearbox, and are found on most new automatic cars on sale today.

What are paddle shifters?

These Formula 1 derived paddles allow drivers to manually select gears while using an automatic gearbox.

There are two paddles behind the steering wheel which can be used to change gear. The one on the left (generally) is used to change down a gear, and the one on the right (generally) is used to change up.

Pull on the left paddle, and the car will change down a fear. For some cars, this will also switch you into a car’s sport mode sharpening up throttle responses and generally making the car feel more urgent. Others will just let you change up or down a gear, not altering anything else related to the car. In this case, the car will go back to changing gears for you almost immediately. 

How do you use paddle shifters?

The short answer is by pulling on either one of the paddles. The paddles themselves are usually mounted to the steering wheel (so the paddles move with the steering wheel) or to the steering column, where the paddle shifters do not move with the wheel, and stay still.

In most new performance cars, say, the Porsche Cayman, you can keep your right foot buried into the floor while you change up a gear, letting the auto ‘box do the hard work. Some older systems benefit from you lifting off the accelerator, while changing up a gear, just like when changing gears in a manual car.

Some people are also left frustrated with paddle shifters’ inability to change down gears when they want. This is essentially because they’re still working with an automatic gearbox, which won’t let you shift gears if it thinks you’ll be putting an unnecessarily high load onto the engine.

What else are paddle shifters referred to as?

A popular BBC motoring programme helped spread the term ‘flappy paddle’, so you might hear it referred to as this, but you’ll very rarely see it written like this.
Some adverts may refer to these types of systems as semi-automatics, although, confusingly, some older semi-automatics also use a gearbox, but with no clutch.

Which cars come with paddle shifters?

The good news is that if you have your heart set on a car with paddle shifters, most manufacturers offer them.

Obviously you’ll need to select a car with an automatic gearbox, but apart from that, there are very few barriers to entry.

City cars like the Smart ForTwo offer the option, family cars, such as the Honda Jazz, Ford Focus, and Audi A3 have them, and of course, sporting cars like the Jaguar F-Type can also be selected with paddle shifters.


Read more about:

Latest advice

  1. Leasing: How to choose the right mileage allowance

  2. Tips on buying your first car

  3. Panoramic sunroof pros and cons