Cars with paddle shifters

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

Oct 8, 2021

While most Brits have favoured changing gears manually for many years, as time and technology has progressed, the automatic gearbox has started to become a far more popular option - in fact in some cars it is the only option.

The popularity of the automatic gearbox jumped quite significantly between 2007 and 2017, with The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders stating that the number of automatic cars sold in the UK increased by a whopping 70.5% during this period.

Though they have always been popular in markets such as the USA, where most road trips are very long, drivers in the UK are only now being wooed by the ease of the automatic gearbox and its laid-back nature in significant numbers. Technological advances have also helped, as automatic gearboxes are now 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?

Originally derived from technology used on Formula 1 cars, paddle shifters allow the driver to manually select a gear when using an automatic gearbox.

There are two paddles behind the steering wheel which can be used to change gear. The most common setup is that the one on the left is used to change down a gear, and the one on the right is used to change up.

Pull on the left paddle, and the car will change down a gear. For some cars, this will also switch the car into its sport driving 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 once the paddles have been left alone for a while.

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 automatic gearbox do the hard work. Some older systems may 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 gearbox’, 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 old semi-automatics also use a traditional manual-style gearshift, 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 now 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.

Naturally, sports cars like the Jaguar F-Type can be selected with paddle shifters but you don’t actually have to opt for a performance car, with family cars like the Honda Jazz, Ford Focus, and Audi A3 also having them as an option.

Audi A3

Used deals from £11,307
Monthly finance from £269*

BMW 5 Series Touring front

BMW 5 Series

Used deals from £12,000
Monthly finance from £385*

Jaguar F-Type

Used deals from £28,989
Monthly finance from £547*


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