Paddle shifters, flappy pedal gearbox or F1 gearbox are all terms that describe a piece of equipment that enables you to shift the gears using the dedicated paddles which are mounted on the back of your steering wheel.
Paddle shifters have been introduced into the Mercedes lineup almost 15 years ago, and the earliest models that offered this feature were the CL-Class and the S-Class. These models came with specific buttons rather than paddle shifters.
Nowadays, pretty much every Mercedes model can be had with paddle shifters. But most cars, and owners never use it, they rather just keep the car in automatic mode. Some sportier AMG models come with sportier, larger paddle shifters.
This is to accentuate the sportiness of the car, and AMG customers are more likely to use paddle shifters compared to regular Mercedes owners.
Purpose of Paddle shifters
Paddle shifters are actually F1 technology made available for regular cars. So the motorsport pedigree of paddle shifters is rather obvious in sporty Mercedes AMG models. Paddle shifters work in the same way as your usual central gear lever.
That means that you can upshift with your right paddle shifter, or downshift with your left paddle shifter. Some car manufacturers like McLaren offer paddle shifters that work in both directions, that means that you are able to upshift or downshift by using just one paddle.
Most paddle shifters are fixed to the steering wheel, which means that they move when you move the steering wheel. Other car manufacturers such as Ferrari for example keep their paddle shifters mounted on the column, which means that they do not move as you move the steering wheel.
There is an ongoing discussion between car enthusiasts about which setup they prefer, but fixed paddle shifters have to be larger because you have to be able to reach them at all times. This means that these types of paddles take up way too much space, and they can sometimes obstruct your turn signal or lights stalks.
Newer DCT Paddle Shifting gearboxes
DCT or double-clutch transmission is the preferred transmission setup for paddle shifters. This is because modern-day double-clutch gearboxes are lightning-fast compared to a regular automatic. That being said, even modern-day torque-converter automatic gearboxes have become as capable as some DCTs.
Mercedes offers a 7-speed DCT gearbox in the most extreme version of the AMG GT, called the AMG GT Black Series. A 720hp car that is completely set up for track driving, and in such instances a paddle shifter gearbox is almost always engaged as it enables the driver to control the gears manually.
This is probably the only instance in which you would always rather shift your own gears, and a regular automatic mode is not an option if you want the fastest lap times. This is because modern-day gearboxes have become incredibly advanced at knowing what to do.
This is especially visible when you compare the older paddle shifter gearboxes to the brand new paddle shifting double-clutch/torque converter gearbox setups.
Older Paddle Shifting single-clutch gearboxes
In 15-20 years time, the car industry has progressed immensely, and the gearbox technology has progressed so much that the older paddle shifting single-clutch gearboxes now seem absolutely archaic and borderline unusable in some cars.
Some Mercedes models like the SLR McLaren use an early version of a paddle-shifting gearbox, and many people believe that this is the main reason why the SLR does not cost more way more money than it truly does.
And that’s true across the board. A manual Lamborghini Murcielago or a Manual Ferrari 430 will cost much much more compared to an F1 Paddle shifting gearbox model. These older systems were way too expensive, unreliable and clunky at all speeds.
Some newer models like the Lamborghini Aventador are the absolute poster supercar icons. But, as far as dynamic capabilities are considered, the Aventador is being bogged down by its single-clutch gearbox. The single-clutch unit makes the car a bit too clunky, uncomfortable, and it also makes the car feel like an SUV.
Are paddle shifters worth it?
They simply are not. Well in most cases because no one actually uses them all that much. We drive our cars from point A to point B most of the time. The vast majority of in-car experiences are usually either in the city or on the highway, and people just prefer putting the car into drive and letting the automatic gearbox do its thing.
But, for some car enthusiasts and AMG owners, paddle shifters are essential as they provide a greater sense of connection between the car and the driver. Paddle shifters offer more control of the power band which is also key for setting blistering lap times and if you want to keep your engine at a certain RPM range.
Why do some electric cars come with paddle shifters?
If you look closely at some EVs including the Mercedes EQC, you will spot paddle shifters. This is strange because EVs do not have a traditional gearbox, so there is absolutely no need for paddle shifters. But, Audi, Mercedes and a few other manufacturers have thought of a function that they can incorporate into paddle shifters.
On some EVs, the paddle shifters control the amount of brake regeneration, or the amount of braking the engine will provide when you lift off the accelerator just to catch all the remaining energy and store it into the battery.
This means that in the inevitable future of electric transportation, paddle shifters will still be a thing, Without this function, paddle shifters would otherwise be obsolete.
Do some electric cars have gears?
Well, they do not, until recently when Porsche and Audi released the Taycan and the e-Tron GT. These two models offer 2 gears, one for launching purposes, the second one for steady power delivery at higher speeds.
You are actually able to hear when these cars change gears, which is strange as you’d expect EVs to be gear-less. It’s worth mentioning that the paddle shifters in these cars also control the regenerative braking, and you can not manually control those two gears.