Move over man buns. These are here to stay.
It’s one of the more controversial changes in cars in the last few years: the disappearing gear shift lever.
You might even miss that protruding handle that makes it impossible to ‘slide’ over to the driver’s seat from the passenger side. The one that caused numerous design workarounds to incorporate cup holders and change bins. It can make it nearly impossible to plug in a USB or power adapter if the ports are between the gear shift and the bottom of the center console (forget about spilling a soda on it and furiously trying to mop it up before it becomes a sticky magnet for crumbs and dust and can never be cleaned).
But technological advances in our cars have evolved and the gear selector no longer needs to be a lever. These days, they are all electric. And designers, thinking about how you really use your car, decided to embrace it. If you see an old school gear shift in a new car, don’t be fooled; more traditional and macho-feeling shifters (even the ones that give a satisfying ‘thunk’ when you shift into gear) are really electric shifters dressed up with a mechanical, nostalgic feel.
Form finally catches up with function
Not long ago the gear shift lever had a functional need for being where it was; it was one of the few operations that truly put us in charge of the drive. When the transmission could be automated to shift gears itself, we were still in charge putting the car into drive. This made drivers feel in control of the car—hey, I just shifted gears! Both manual and automatic shifting required that same physical act that put a smallish human in charge of a two-ton beast.
If men can be macho in a bun, they can be macho with a dial gear selector
Shifting gears was the thing that made us feel at one with machines yet in control. The thing that let us challenge the road and feel powerful and confident. So, you can see why drivers lament its departure.
It can make a car feel sort of neutered. But I feel liberated. Because here’s what you get in the trade:
1. Gear shifts, like everything else in your car, are smarter.
Everything else in your car is electronic and thus, can likely be updated with a software update, can integrate with other systems and more. You push a button or dial a rotary for sport drive, eco drive and off road ability; why should your gear selector still be a relic from the 1970s?
2. Dial shifters mean more space for stuff.
The elimination of the mechanical shifter means a lot of space has been freed. This results in more, or more convenient, cup holders, a cubby under the center console, wireless charge pads, more USB and 12V ports, slide out drawers, pockets on the side of the center console, change boxes and more.
3. Always know where you stand.
As counter-intuitive as it may seem, you don’t always know which gear you’re in by looking at the shifter. I always look for a light on the dashboard, too, to know which gear I’m in (because there’s nothing like plowing into your garage door when you think you’re in drive but you’re actually in reverse). The dial shifter solves that: Dial ‘R’ and you’re in reverse. Dial ‘D’ and you’re in drive. Dial ’S’ and you’re in sport. Simple, sublime and confident.
4. Dial shifters add to the art of a car’s interior
I will always love Chrysler for putting a dial shifter in the value-priced Chrysler 200 (which is ending its run and we’re going to miss it!). A premium feature in a car loaded with premium features, Chrysler led luxury auto makers in admitting that they could rethink the shifter and come up with something that is more pleasing, easier to use and more functional.
In fact, after issues with the standard shifter in its Jeeps and other vehicles, FCA, the parent company of Chrysler, is adding dial shifters to even more models.
Jaguar Land Rover took the dial shifter idea a step further with one that rises up from the console when the ignition is started. It magically appears from the flat console surface and asks to be turned. When you turn the car off, it descends back into the console, leaving a completely flat surface for your laptop, lunch or just a beautifully clean surface (like my kitchen counter should be).
Ford Fusion has added a dial shifter for 2017 and it’s a beauty. In the center of the selector dial on the Fusion Sport is an “S” button. Push it to put the car into sport mode and turn the Fusion into a lean, taunt anxious little sedan.
So next time you get into a car with a dial gear selector, take a deep breath and enjoy the liberation.