Formula 1 is the most prestigious racing competition ever, and back in the late 1980s, the first paddle-shift gearboxes were introduced for drivers to always keep their hands on the steering wheel. The ethos of this transition was to maximize the focus of F1 drivers because they could move through gears way easier.
However, the first road car to ever utilize paddle shifters was the 1995 Ferrari F355 Berlinetta. Back then the automatic gearbox found in the F355 was considered revolutionary, but because it was rather clunky and slow, the F1 gearbox did not age that well. Be that as it may, modern-day paddle shifter gearboxes are way more advanced.
Nowadays you can buy many cars equipped with paddle shifters and most of them are performance cars. However, paddle shifter gearboxes can also be found on everyday cars like the Honda Fit or the Toyota Yaris. It’s worth mentioning that cars such as these don’t benefit all that much from paddle shifters because they are designed with comfort in mind.
On the other hand, cars like the BMW M3 or any other BMW M car, Audi RS car, or Mercedes AMG car do benefit from paddle shifters because they are performance cars. Furthermore, you can find paddle shifter gearboxes both on large luxury sedans, all sorts of SUVs, and supercars alike.
Benefits of paddle shifter gearboxes
As mentioned previously, paddle shifters were introduced in order to increase the level of control a driver has over the car’s dynamics. This means that you take control of your automatic gearbox and go through the gears yourself without taking your hands off the wheel.
This enables you to perfectly time your shifts which is the whole point of modern-day DCT gearboxes. Automakers integrate paddle shifters differently as some tend to place them on the steering column and others like to place them on the steering wheel itself.
If the car has paddle shifters directly on the steering wheel, it means that the shifters move with the wheel which means that you can easily shift mid-corner. On the other hand, if the shifters are mounted on the steering column they are always fixed in place which means that you always know where they are.
Nonetheless, most automatic cars enable you to shift gears by using the standard shifter, but it’s way easier to do so using paddle shifters.
Cars with paddle shifters
Honda Fit – Affordable car with paddle shifters
Even though the paddle shifter gearbox is usually associated with performance cars you can also find them on cheaper cars. The Honda Fit is a car that starts at around $16k and it comes with paddle shifters which means that this little car is rather fun to drive in a spirited manner.
Besides being equipped with paddle shifters, the Honda Fit also returns 33/40 MPG from its 1.5L 4-cylinder engine. The Fit’s footprint is rather small which enables you to maneuver the car through tight spaces with relative ease.
BMW M3 – Mid-size performance sedans benchmark
The new BMW M3 has caused quite a bit of a stir thanks to its rather enormous front grilles. Some deem them atrocious while others like the look, but no one can deny that the new M3 is anything less than amazing when it comes to spirited driving.
The legendary inline 6-cylinder engine produces more than 500hp in its Competition form and it also comes with either a 6-speed manual or a torque converter automatic with paddle shifters. Even though the manual is a rather interesting prospect, the torque converter automatic is a way better option.
Lexus LS 500 – Flagship Lexus cruiser
The Lexus LS 500 is a full-size flagship Lexus sedan with also comes equipped with paddle shifters. The LS 500 is tuned towards cruising in uttermost comfort and it’s not really geared towards performance at all. Even though the 3.4L V6 makes 416hp, the engine is smooth and tuned for smooth transitions through the gears.
The LS 500 comes with a 10-speed automatic that sports rather large paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
Hyundai Palisade – A family SUV benchmark
The Hyundai Palisade is one of the most popular SUVs on the market due to many reasons such as affordability, efficiency, styling, space, and safety. However, the Palisade offers a rather potent 3.8L V6 engine that puts out 291hp.
The Palisade also comes equipped with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters which enable you to shift the car’s gears as you desire. It is rather obvious that all car segments offer paddle shifter gearboxes even though they were originally designed specifically for performance cars.
Are paddle-shifters included as standard?
It depends on the car, but the majority of cars offer paddle shifters as standard if you opt for an automatic gearbox. The only difference here is how large these shifters are and how sophisticated they are. Some brands like Ferrari offer you to upgrade the shifters if you want large carbon fiber ones.
Why do EVs come with paddle shifters?
As we all know, EVs don’t have conventional gearboxes, yet they often come equipped with paddle shifters. This is because paddle shifters in an EV have an entirely different function. They are designed to modulate the level of regenerative braking in order to recuperate lost energy back into the battery.
By using the paddles, you are essentially increasing or decreasing the level of regen which means that you are often able to engage “one-pedal mode” or make the car drive as a normal car would.
How do you operate paddle shifters?
Operating paddle shifters is rather easy, all you have to do is push the corresponding paddle in order to upshift or downshift the car. It is standard with all cars these days that the right pedal enables you to upshift while the left one enables you to downshift.
Some brands like McLaren design their paddles differently because you can both upshift and downshift with a single paddle. All you have to do is flick it one direction or the other depending on what you want to accomplish.