Out on the open road, automatic gearboxes takes some of the joy out of motoring, but when the traffic slows up, and progress is painfully slow, the merits of two pedal operation bring pleasure to the smuggies who ticked the ‘Option’ box in the showroom order form. If you want to save money, increase tolerance and reduce high blood pressure then it could be worth considering an automatic. And who knows, it might even make you a better person, it’s worth a thought.
For some unknown reason van drivers have so far resisted the widespread adoption of automatic gearboxes. Truck drivers used to be like that too, but nowadays virtually every truck manufacturer has an automatic option at least, or as is now becoming much more common, automatic or automated gearboxes are fast becoming a standard fitting. In some cases you can’t even specify a manual option.
This wholesale HGV mood change is hard to understand. Anyone who mastered the art of two speed range changing gearboxes with 16 ratios in days gone by used to scoff at the beginners and newcomers who could be heard working their way through the ‘boxes from miles away. You’d think they were eating crunchy nut cornflakes through a megaphone. It was bad enough on the flat but try climbing Shap with a full load and a fume belching diesel that wouldn’t pull the skin off soor milk.
Back then driving was an art and truck drivers were the knights of the road. Fast forward a few years and these arm breaking mechanical rubix cubes called gearboxes were replaced by slick shifters that only required the use of one hand. The world of truck driving was opened up to allcomers – and even wimmin!
Then came congestion, speed limits and delivery bonuses and the noble art was gone. People chose truck driving as a job rather than vocation so trucks had to be made easier to drive.
And while the old hands may recall those halcyon days with a misty eye and sepia tinted memories, there has been an even bigger change. Modern trucks have got heaters, air con, power steering, air cushioned seats, and the power to do the job without the driver having to break out in a sweat.
It may be because van driving has never been that bad that today’s van drivers don’t feel compelled to change their attitudes. Most van manufacturers have tried to introduce them, but the only sector of the market which seems to like them is the motorhome converters. Their customers are all for the easy life. Camping without the tent, and mobility without a caravan.
So what’s gone wrong with the van driving attitude? One reason is that till now, automatic vans have either been too fond of the go-juice or not very nice to drive. The original torque converter gearbox that was adopted by some manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz for their Sprinter worked very well, but at the expense of fuel consumption. Admittedly that has now been sorted but the reputation lingers.
Other manufacturers adopted the automated-change type of gearbox, where the van still had a conventional gearbox and clutch but they were operated independently of the driver by hydraulic actuators. The gear changes were controlled by software.
Twelve years ago when Renault introduced their Quickshift 6-speed semi automatic gearbox, it was claimed that it could save the operator anywhere from 2 to 10% in fuel consumption, but it wasn’t the smoothest changing unit in the world, so there was a price to pay. It was like sitting on one of those nodding doggies in the back window of small cars.
Admittedly things have got better since then, much better, and the latest Vauxhall Movano Tecshift is a perfect example of just how quickly the automotive industry is improving the vehicles we drive these days.
Although the changes are much smoother, they are still perceptible but a good driver can anticipate them and just ease off the gas slightly to allow it time to change before getting going again. Once you get the rhythm it’s fine. But hashy drivers will get annoyed and frustrated.
However, this gearbox will teach them to be more aware of engine and transmission needs and anticipate changing road conditions. That will encourage them to be more gentle, and over the course of a few weeks they will either make him/her change their job or transform them into different people. It will make them a more caring , thoughtful, considerate and kind person, the kind who gives way to hedgehogs on country roads and old ladies in city centres.
This gearbox could in fact make the nation’s van drivers a better species.
And that is the biggest secret to improved fuel consumption. It’s not just the optimum software inspired changes that make the different to consumption it is the attitude of the driver. So while Vauxhall claim that a 2 to 10 % fuel saving is achievable , it can actually be much more than that.
Government test figures suggest an average consumption of 34 mpg for the 2.3 litre engine is the norm, but a driver who relaxes and goes with the flow could get 38 without affecting journey times and blood pressure. In fact, I reckon I could have managed 40 mpg if I had the van longer than a week and got used to it.
The gearbox also has another couple of tricks up its sleeve with a button on the dashboard that should be pressed when the van is loaded (as opposed to running empty). This just eases the strain on the clutch and drivetrain with an easier step-off from rest. Similarly, the gearbox has a softer setting for use in the winter when roads are slippy. Not only does it make the driving safer and easier, it further improves efficiency and there by cost savings.
The Tecshift Option adds around 800 quid to the price and it is well worth considering, but like all modern electronics these days, a little bit of TLC and adhering to dealer’s service schedules are to be recommended.
Otherwise this Movano is just like any other big van on the road. It will carry a tonne and a half easily while providing comfortable cabin quarters up front. Admittedly the comfort factor was enhanced with a few optional goodies. The £1295 Comfort Pack added air-con, SatNav and upgraded stereo equipment with Bluetooth functionality and the worthwhile 450 quid Office Pack provided a Comfort driver’s seat, multi-function ‘office bench’ seat, more soundproofing and storage.
The ingenious easily adjustable and moveable, load-locking bars in the loadspace were an extra £195 and worked well with the side fixing rails and plastic lining at an extra £915. USB connectivity was an additional £85 and ESP on the braking system added another 400 quid. There was no mention of any extra money for the ‘mandarin orange’ paintwork though!
So if you’re in the market for a load-lugger or mobile workshop here’s an option that will make you a better person and your staff better liked. Not only will you feel smug, you’ll feel slightly richer, not just in the pocket, but also in the amount of goodwill you generate amongst other road users.
In just a few months time, you’ll have stopped swearing, will be cuddling bunnies and taking flowers home to the wife – unprompted!
It’s worth a thought.