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by Patrick Rall
Chrysler's newest technology to improve performance and fuel economy is their segment exclusive 8-speed automatic transmission, hitting the market for model-year 2012. At first, it will be offered in the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 models with the Pentastar V6, Recently, we had a chance to log a few miles in the 2012 Dodge Charger Blacktop equipped with the 292hp V6 and the new 8-speed transmission.
The 8-speed automatic transmission comes with an innovative new touch-shifter on the console; steering wheel mounted paddle shifters allow manual overrides. This marks the first application of the Chrysler paddle shifters on a non-SRT car.
Chrysler has done it 100% right, using metal for the shift paddles with a sleek, smooth finish, with plenty of accessibility under hard cornering — no need to search for the paddles when you need them. (The SRT8 has the + and - signs filled in with black paint, while the V6 uses unpainted impressions.)
The other component of the new Chrysler 8-speed automatic transmission is the console-mounted shifter that returns to a neutral position each time (“monostable”). The low profile shifter bears a similar shape to the old school slapstick shifter, though it only has Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive/Sport modes. As you shift from Reverse into Neutral and then into Drive or Sport, the shifter clicks through the gears but always returns to the center position of the shift console.
The driver information center indicates the gear, since the shifter position does not.
The goal of Chrysler's 8-speed transmission was to combine aggressive lower gear ratios to bolster torque multiplication and low end acceleration, with higher gears to improve fuel economy on the open road.
Under normal driving circumstances, such as accelerating away from a stop sign to a cruising speed, the ZF-designed Chrysler 8-speed is seamless in normal Drive mode; you can barely tell when the transmission is shifting. Once you have gotten to a smooth cruising speed of 55 to 70mph and the transmission has gotten through the gears, the extremely low RPM range allows for minimal amounts of fuel consumption on the open road. However, unlike some traditional transmissions that use non-aggressive gear ratios to bolster fuel economy, the Chrysler 8-speed has plenty of gearing to get the 2012 Charger with the 3.6L V6 from 0-60 in a hurry – as well as allowing the Pentastar to do a pretty impressive smoky burnout.
On the other hand, if you want manual control of the 8-speed Chrysler transmission for some spirited driving fun (or more smoky burnouts), you can pop the slapstick shifter into Sport Shift mode at which point the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters take over. From there on, the driver has full control of the upshifts and the transmission only downshifts when necessary to prevent the engine RPMs from dropping too low. Under most driving conditions, your hands don't need to leave the 10 and 2 positions so the paddles are in ideal areas for quick shifts during sporty driving situations and when using the manual shift mode while exercising all 292 horsepower, the shifts are much more positive – like you would expect from a modern sports sedan.
Based on my time behind the wheel of the 2012 Dodge Charger Blacktop equipped with the 292 hp Pentastar V6 and the new ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, it is clear that this new gearbox does a great job of combining a sporty driving experience with high fuel economy. The sport shift mode allows the driver a more engaging driving experience and when left in Drive mode, the new transmission works through the gears with no notice of the high number of shifts.
Chrysler broke the rules once again with the introduction of an 8-speed automatic transmission to the mass market; we can expect other automakers to match them, eventually. The smooth shifting automatic makes the V6 Charger both quicker and more economical, and does it with fine manners.
ZF 8-speed • Dodge Charger • David Zatz's Review of the 2012 Charger Blacktop
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