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Old 07-30-2002, 05:31 PM
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A purist review of SMG II

This is EXTREMELY long, but very interesting

Taken from http://www.leo.nutz.de/m3smgopinions.php3

Quote:
Webmasters note: This review was compiled from test driving SMG II.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is an INSANELY long article. Enjoy!

If you just want the bottom line here, without all of the story behind it, scroll down to the heading called "THE FINAL ANALYSIS". For me, that's the bottom line on SMG II, and everything between here and there is the untold story.



ABSTRACT
I am fundamentally opposed to automation coming between me and my driving experience, but, according to everything I've read, SMG II has the potential to add more to the driving experience than it takes away from it. At the risk of sounding immodest, I am already adept at performing all of the gearbox-related tasks that SMG II takes over: double-declutching, heel/toe, etc.; performing these tasks myself is central to my enjoyment of driving, and indeed they are essential for my racing. But there's no way I could possibly do those things with as much speed AND precision as SMG II does. Therefore, my article discusses the human side of the SMG II interface from the perspective of someone who would not ordinarily need or want it, if it were not for the promise of reaching a totally new plateau in driving experience and technique.



FOR THE PURIST: STICK OR SMG II?
When it comes to driving, I'm a certified, licensed Enthusiast. I also tend to be something of a purist. In the context of SMG II, then, you should know that, for me, the prospect of this technology simultaneously represents Good and Evil. On the Good side, the idea that my everyday driving experience can become more like that of my idols is tantalizing. On the Evil side, the idea that I will be somewhat more physically disconnected from one of the most intimate elements of the driving experience is frightening.

At long last, my 18-month wait has come to an end, but how does the driver's driver decide whether to give up the stick? Certainly not based solely on someone else's opinion! In the following discussion, I hope to provide what is perhaps a fresh perspective on SMG II, certainly one that I have not read about elsewhere, and one which perhaps you have not either. I had been reading everything I could get my hands on about SMG II for the last few months, and then I took a couple of test drives. The test drives really surprised me, with both Good AND Evil, but very few of the expected Evils were Evil, and some of the expected Goods were not all that Good. There were even a few new surprises and some take-home lessons for further thought. All will be revealed in good time, but not before the story is told properly...


SMG II: "BETTER" ? "WORSE" ? OR JUST "DIFFERENT" ?
The way I view this decision is this: if SMG II adds more to the experience of driving than it takes away from it, I'll be overjoyed. If not, I'll be miserable, and looking for a way to unload $XX,000-worth of marketing hype. But BMW is a smart company, and it has not been until now, with revision II of the SMG, that they have actually stuck their necks out to push this technology. If SMG II is as slick as BMW say it is, then I should have no problem giving up my stick. If the "II" implementation of SMG is as good as I think it SHOULD be in order to justify giving up my stick, then piloting an automobile will then have truly changed as of the 21st century. What a fabulous time to be alive!

Ordinarily, a quick test drive would provide many answers, but in the U.S. this is impossible because there simply are no SMG II cars to drive. SMG II has not been a U.S. option on the M3 until November production, so those of us with an interest in SMG II and an order slot in November, December, and January have come to a rather awkward realization: that our 18-month wait for the opportunity to order this car has been blessed with the opportunity also to order SMG II, but without the ability to test drive it first...

Depending on whether you approach driving as an activity or an art, your initial reaction to this dilemma might be any of the following:

"Who cares?"

"SMG II sounds cool to me! Just order it and be happy!"

"Hey, this will give me an opportunity to become more involved in the shifting process!"

"If BMW says it's great, then it must be. Don't complicate it!"

"I have so much money and so much time on my hands that, heck, if I order SMG II and it's not right for me, then I'll just sell the pig and wait another 2-3 years for another opportunity to buy another one with a stick."

If your first reaction to this dilemma is any of these, then you shouldn't even bother reading this article; I didn't write it for you. On the other hand, if your position resembles mine, then you already have the notion that SMG II could be unbelievably fantastic, but you are deeply concerned that, if it's not implemented 'just-so', the whole car could be ruined by it.

So how does a driver's driver decide whether to give up the stick? Certainly not by listening to someone else's opinion!

How many (U.S.) BMW dealers do YOU know of that actually employ *drivers*?

How many $60K decisions have you made in your life, based SOLELY on marketing literature?

How many times have you tried to squeeze out those last few drops of information by going to the source, only to find that you already know way more about the subject than the employed 'experts'?

These questions, and many more like them, are the source of considerable frustration for me on a regular basis, and not just with BMW cars. So I bought a cheap ticket to London and test-drove a couple M3s with SMG II, to find my own answers to questions nobody else seemed to be asking or answering.

My central question was: is SMG II better, worse, or just *different* from a conventional gearbox?, and what are some of the things that could be really annoying for the skilled stick purist?

- Does SMG II reduce the driver's level of involvement with the car? Is there a "disconnectedness" about it?

- Does SMG II add anything new to the driver's level of involvement with the car?
(Probably true for Joe Automatic; possibly true for the average guy sitting on the fence between automatic and manual; probably a whole new frontier for the just-getting-by stickshift driver; but what's in it for someone who REALLY prefers a stick, but who might be open to a truly Formula One-style alternative, as long as it's as well-implemented as the marketing folks claim?)

Before I reveal the results of my testing, here's the Cliff Notes version of my driving background. This should give you a better sense of "where I'm coming from," so that you can judge whether or not my impressions from the test drive are likely to mirror yours, or even whether my expectations and impressions are at all relevant to you. (They may not be.)

I've been attending BMW Club driving schools on and off for the last 14 years or so, I've been through the Skip Barber 3-day Racing School (Laguna Seca). I raced last year as an amateur in two race weekends in the Skip Barber Amateur Racing Series (Western Division, both weekends at Laguna Seca). I take my own car ('99 328i Sport) out to a local track (Colorado) a couple of times a year. I get the odd speeding ticket, but never get into accidents. And despite my appetite for regular doses of elevated G-forces, I only rarely draw protest from lambs with whom I politely share the road (somehow these people got through the U.S. Driver's Licensing system). In other words, in the Grand Prix of Everyday Life, I keep a pretty low profile but usually end up 'in the Points.'


WHAT I EXPECTED SMG II WOULD BE LIKE
Overall, I expected shifts to be FAST, as in Formula One "fast," 80ms "fast," "fast" like a clutchless upshift on a motorcycle. I expected that when I requested a shift, it would performed instantaneously; that the tactile response of the paddle/stick and the resulting shift would be connected as if they were one in the same action. This is the way it is in the race car, and this is the way I presume it is in a Formula One car, based on what Formula One cars sound like. However, this was *not* the way it felt, and this surprised me. Many people have stated that SMG II shifts faster with higher RPM, but, without knowing what 0.08 seconds really feels like, it's hard to imagine what "something-less-than-80ms" feels like, and how that compares to the subjective perception of "instantaneous".

What DID it feel like? Well, of course, that depends on the Drivelogic mode (A or S) and what the driver is doing at the time. Before I describe those various feelings, I need to lay some more of the foundation:

There are essentially four ingredients to any manual shift: clutch work, throttle work, stick work, and brake work (downshifting, heel/toe, etc.). Each of these pieces has a beginning and an end (in some cases, several of both), but the beginnings and endings are so intertwined and overlapping that it is difficult to intellectualize the flow with words. Thankfully, with practice, our blessed nervous system manages all the sequencing and timing with such fluidity that we, the drivers, simply experience the process as a fluid maneuver, and we celebrate the results when it is executed to perfection. What begins as a horribly awkward, complicated process, eventually resolves into a brilliantly choreographed sequence.


WHAT WAS SMG II LIKE TO DRIVE?
There's Good News, and there's Bad News. First, the Bad News:


THE BAD NEWS
Driving SMG II for the first time made me feel like a complete novice behind the wheel. Gone were the smooth, flowing transistions between gears, which I had been practicing for the last 17 years. In their place instead were these awful, awkward lurches when shifting, the kind that make your forehead bang the dashboard during gear changes. And although I was the driver in the driver's seat, I might as well have been the passenger riding with a crudely skilled driver; my head and neck utterly unable to anticipate when the shift would be complete, ostensibly because they did not know.

So what was happening here? SMG II is supposed to be smooth, much more so than its predecessor, and nobody on the Internet or in the media has uttered a word about lurching shifts. My homework explicitly prepared me NOT to expect the smoothness of a torque converter, but I also did not expect so much deceleration between shifts. This was not at all what I expected, certainly not "instantaneous", and not even close to what Formula One cars would appear to feel like. How dare BMW even ATTEMPT such a comparison! Even in S6, shifts at lower RPM were too slow and lurchy.

So what's the deal?

This was not simply a matter of choosing the wrong mode, S1 or S2 or S5 or S6. Nor was this a matter of any problem with the car or the SMG. Rather, this was purely a matter of expectations (mine) and the information on which they were based.

I hadn't yet uncovered the secret to SMG II.

It was also a function of engine RPM and throttle position.

We've all read that SMG shifts faster at high RPM. What we haven't read is HOW DARN SLOW it shifts at lower RPM. Or so it would seem...

(But wait! There's more!...)

Before I go further, I should take a moment to make one thing very clear: there is NO SUBSTITUTE for an SMG II-actuated shift at redline, no matter what gear you choose. It is positively one of the coolest elements of the experience. As you approach max RPM, the shift lights begin their little dance, so you command an upshift. The instant you do this, the nose of the car dips by what feels like an inch, and then immediately rears back up to claw its way back to redline. All of this happens with a tiny tug on the paddle, or a snickety ratchet of the shifter knob. In this case, Leo and Andreas are spot-on: you DO NOT lift in this situation.

It is here where the mechanical dynamics of the engine are such that 80ms shifts are possible. Near redline, revs fall quickly enough that the clutch only need be disengaged very briefly, so briefly that the perception of lurch is replaced by one of Formula One-like spontaneity, producing an almost-continuous application of full power across multiple gear changes. Simply awesome.

But how many of us A) jump into a Dealer's demo car and wind-out every gear like this, and B) how many of us do this in our OWN cars every time we go somewhere?! In 'real-life', we spend the bulk of our time obeying the laws of physics, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the laws of the road. In other words, it is a realistic possibility that you will be driving at something LESS THAN full throttle, and, if not, it is realistic to think that you might shift at something LESS THAN redline! (Through all of this, I take for granted that it is every enthusiast's goal to be smooth.) It is under these specific circumstances where I ABSOLUTELY REFUTE the notion that it is not necessary to lift; You simply CANNOT be smooth with SMG II under these circumstances unless you do.

Why?

Going back to the earlier description of shifting choreography, driver's take for granted the timings of various events during the shifting process, ones which, to further the point, their passengers cannot. The driver knows exactly when the throttle will be lifted and the clutch depressed, and so the muscles in his/her neck react with the precise timing required to balance the inevitable deceleration that accompanies every shift. And the smoother the driver does all of this, the less the neck has to work. This goes double for the passenger, whose neck is not connected to the driver's brain, and thus not privvy to the same timing cues.

And there's the rub: with SMG II, the driver's brain is not connected to the one doing the shifting. I imagine that with time, the driver can become accustomed to the timing of things, a little like one does with a regular automatic with torque converter, but to consider simply "getting used to it" as the answer is missing the point. Simply "getting used to it" serves only to satisfy the *driver's* feeling of smoothness while driving, to say nothing of the passenger's while being driven. No amount of practice by the driver in learning the timings between (driver) action and reaction (by SMG II) alone will help smooth the ride for the passenger, at least not unless the driver learns how and when to lift.

To master SMG II, in addition to learning the new timings of action and reaction, the driver is, in my opinion, well advised to take a deeper look at one critical component of the shifting process: the bleeding of throttle as the shift point approaches. This is the single most important thing I learned during my test drives in London, so it bears restating: CONTRARY TO WHAT HAS (or conspicuously has not) BEEN WRITTEN ON THE 'NET, ALTHOUGH IT IS *NOT A REQUIREMENT* THAT YOU LIFT THE THROTTLE FOR EACH UPSHIFT, IF YOUR GOAL IS TO BE AS SMOOTH AND AS BALANCED AS A SKILLED STICK DRIVER CAN BE, THEN IT IS ABSOLUTELY MANDATORY! (The exception here is at max RPM, discussed earlier.)

To explain what's going on here, you only need consider what's going on in a conventional manual gearbox as a shift ocurrs. For the purpose of this discussion, the only part that matters is the bleeding of the throttle as the shift point approaches. Bleeding the throttle in this case comes naturally as part of the shifting sequence. It's one of those elements that develops naturally over time with practice, and it is one of those techniques which are conspicuously underdeveloped in new stick drivers, who tend to be quite jerky to ride with. I'm willing to bet that you already employ this technique every time you shift in a manual car, you just don't realize it. If, after a quick assessment of your own habits, you find that you don't, I would encourage you to experiment with it as a possible addition to your repertoire. You'll be a smoother driver for it.

But, somehow, for the driver, the presence of an automated clutch and shift actuation system like SMG II causes even the well-trained brain forget the throttle-bleeding step. This is probably so because the sequence of activities and their pathways have totally changed. The driver's left foot is no longer involved in the process at all, and so none of the cues and triggers that depend on it function normally. To make matters worse, if you use the paddles instead of the stick, your shifting hand is involved in a completely different way than you've rehearsed all your life. What you're left with is a whole new frontier to explore: the interplay and timing cues for throttle pedal and shifter.

In fact, I'll say it again a different way: THE CRUX OF THE BISCUIT WITH SMG II IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THROTTLE AND SHIFTER, AND THE DRIVER'S ABILITY TO ADAPT TO A TOTALLY NEW WAY OF MANAGING THEIR INTERPLAY, ONE WHICH IS FUNDAMENTALLY THE SAME AS A STICK, BUT WHICH IS NOT AT ALL FAMILIAR TO A SKILLED DRIVER.

80ms shifts at max RPM are quite the opposite. So why doesn't SMG II shift at 80ms in S6 no matter where you are in the rev range? Why is it only at the extreme RPM range that 80ms shifts are possible?

I don't pretend to have any special engineering data from BMW, or any expert testimony in the mechanical dynamics of spinning componentry, but I have a few educated guesses. First, revs fall more quickly at high RPM, so the amount of time the SMG must wait before reapplying the clutch and throttle is brief. At lower RPM, there is more time to kill, so SMG has to wait longer before reapplying power. But this itself doesn't fully explain the lurching I described earlier. I think it is the fluid dynamics of throttle response which does...

If the driver does not lift as the shift point approaches (as a conventional stick driver would), then the SMG has quite a lot of lifting to do IN ADVANCE of disengaging the clutch and selecting the next gear. Since the driver is not consciously commanding this lift, the driver's mind does not anticipate it, resulting in the perception of a long shifting delay and a rather uncomfortable lurch.

Consider the following 2nd-to-3rd gear upshifting scenarios:
- gentle acceleration through 2nd to 4500RPM, upshift to 3rd, gentle acceleration in 3rd
- gentle acceleration through 2nd to 4500RPM, upshift to 3rd, hard acceleration in 3rd
- hard acceleration through 2nd to 4500RPM, upshift to 3rd, hard acceleration in 3rd

In the first scenario, SMG II is gloriously smooth, ostensibly because there is very little lifting to do. The transition between gears is almost impercetible.

In the second, SMG II shines because gentle acceleration requires only a slight lift before the upchange, and the sudden subsequent acceleration is expected, given the explicit driver input (mashed throttle during the upshift, with no over-rev and no clutch slippage).

The third scenario is the one around which this whole discussion is centered.

For a vividly graphic example of what I'm talking about here, see this video clip on Leo's site:
http://www.leo.nutz.de/bmw/leo/a1_beschleunigung.mpg

Pay special attention to the shake of the camera as the shifts are executed, and to the key fob dangling from the ignition. These elements give the only visual cues to the abrupt lurch during the upshift. Admittedly, I don't know the RPM at which these shifts were executed, but as I do not see shift lights, I think it's safe to say that they were executed at something less than max RPM. And, even if we are indeed watching those fantastic high-rpm shifts I mentioned earlier, the video clip still serves a purpose in visualizing the lurch I describing at lower RPM, regardless.

That basically concludes THE BAD NEWS section, and it's really not bad news at all. Everything else SMG II does is very intuitive and well executed. If there were any other unexpected surprises during my brief experience with SMG II, they were ALL related to the management of throttle and shifter, so I consider those as being covered by The Bad News.


THE GOOD NEWS
Wow! Talk about COOL! SMG II is going to offer so many things to so many people, I don't know where to start!

For people who have never been able to free themselves from the slushbox for lack of training, experience, too much traffic, whatever, but who have wanted to enjoy the sport of a manual nevertheless, SMG II is for them! They already possess the training necessary to make it work, but must now be aware that the torque converter is now located in the right foot, and not under the chassis.

For people who already like to drive a stick, but who have never had the opportunity to learn heel/toe, double-clutching, throttle blipping, etc., never mind all that crap! BMW have come out with an instant fix called SMG II. You're there, and in style, baby, because you can now do it better than the vast majority of drivers out there, and faster than ANY human ever will with a clutch pedal!

For the driver's driver, the "purist", if you like, the decision about SMG II is far less clear-cut. I consider myself a member of this group, and the decision to order my car with SMG II was excruciating. In fact, if I were required to base my decision 100% on my test drives, I don't think I would have ordered it; I wasn't totally sold on it.

But the reason I did order it was (you're not going to believe this) ultimately based on someone else's opinion! Actually, that's not entirely true. A digression is in order...

After my second day of test drives I still wasn't convinced that SMG II was all that BMW promises, at least not for my taste. It was all a little bit weird: It was really cool in a lot of ways, but I was definitely not able to totally shake that disconnected feeling. One of the senior salespeople at the dealership walked onto the lot and asked me what I thought (he knew that I had flown over from the U.S. just to drive this car, so there was an elevated sense of suspense, I guess ("crazy Yank?")).

I told him that what I thought I really needed was more time in the car. He said I probably needed about 1000 miles, which he of course couldn't offer. Instead, he offered to take me for a ride and show me what he'd found over his months with SMG II. Off we went.

The first item on his agenda was essentially the treatise I've given here about lifting the throttle pedal. We established a rapport between our driving styles, and I was easily convinced that his driving priorities were similar to mine. Within 5 minutes I was able to see how smoothly he was able to drive, and how fluently he was able to communicate with the car. This was the first time the SMG II felt natural to me in anything but pedal-to-the-metal situations.

Having quieted my fears about lurching, I also brought up another issue I had with SMG during my short experience: when coming to a roundabout, downshifting from 5th to 4th was smooth, and from 4th to 3rd was smooth, but when whenever I downshifted to 2nd, I always felt like the clutch was reengaging too late, causing a little bit more engine drag than was necessary. He was able to duplicate the situation and solved it on the spot with a little feathering of the throttle at just the right moment. (Ah-hah! Heel/toe is NOT dead with SMG II!)

So, for the first time in this whole process, I got a clear indication of what was possible with SMG II, and how my initial objections could be overcome with some small adaptations. I ordered my car with SMG II because a) I believe I will learn to communicate with it as fluently as I do with my current manual car, b) when I do, my car and I will communicate on a level we have never done before, and c) I will use this communication style to learn new driving techniques that have, until SMG II, been either impractical or impossible.


CONCLUSION
In everyday driving, it is common to use a lot of throttle for brisk acceleration, coupled with a mid-rev-range shift point for good road manners. Drivers of manual gearboxes who manage to do this smoothly do so by progressively bleeding throttle as the shift point approaches, such that the amount of throttle pedal travel and rearward G-loading are gradually minimized up to and including the moment of upchange. SMG II presents a new interface and an entirely new set of rules in this regard because the penalty for NOT lifting is never assessed. In other words, if you drove a stick in the above scenario WITHOUT lifting, the engine would rev UP as the clutch was depressed, instead of RPMs falling as they should to accept the next higher gear. SMG makes it impossible to make this mistake, and instead corrects it without the driver's explicit instruction. This sort of behind-the-scenes correction is EXACTLY the kind of thing that the purists would point out as being a fundamental reason for NOT ordering SMG II.

I beg to differ. SMG II is the next level, not a gimick. It's different from what we're used to, and many techniques that skilled drivers have worked long and hard to perfect do not necessarily apply without alteration. To dismiss SMG II on the basis that it disconnects the driver from the experience is to deny one's own responsibility for learning new skills. Only after a given dissident purist has actually taken the time to (re-)learn how to drive with SMG II would I even consider their opinion that rowing a gearbox manually is more fun. After all, what purist WOULDN'T want to be able to left-foot-brake AND heel/toe at the same time? (Ok, maybe we need to separate track-going purists from street-only purists...) This, and some other advantages SMG II has over a traditional 6-speed are discussed next.



SO, IF YOU ARE SO COMFORTABLE WITH THE ADVANCED TECHNIQUES OF USING A MANUAL GEARBOX, THEN WHY DO YOU WANT ANY HELP FROM ELECTRO-HYDRAULIC GIZMOS LIKE SMG II?
For the week or so before my test drives, I began driving my own car with special attention to how SMG II might change things. A recent article in the Roundel described SMG II as being effortless and nimble through traffic, instantaneous for overtaking. I began to notice really how much time it takes to shift a car manually. Of course, you don't mind all this time when driving a manual transmission because you are completely immersed in the various stages of the task. The car makes a perfectly smooth transition from one gear to the next, through a process that begins and ends with the throttle, all of which seems to take almost no time at all.

The naturally-ocurring trade-off between speed and precision naturally tends toward fast, sloppy shifts, or precise slow ones, but humans don't execute fast, precise shifts, 100% of the time. I began to conceive of how SMG II could put all of this under my control with less effort, and with both more speed AND precision. I began to realize how much more time I would have left over to concentrate on other elements of driving, elements which perhaps have remained underdeveloped for lack of available 'cycles' to invest in their rehearsal.

A prime example of this is threshold braking from a high rate of speed to slow for a 90-degree 2nd gear corner...

(This portion of the discussion makes the most sense when considered in a racetrack environment, where threshold physics are regularly involved; it obviously breaks down in the context of normal street driving (YMMV).

Take a moment to consider all the stuff that's going on for the driver during such a maneuver:
- braking at the threshold of lockup
- downshifting
- double de-clutching
- throttle blipping
- maintaining directional control
- judging changes in distance and speed
- deciding when to turn-in
- conclude braking and downshifting
- transitioning to throttle through the corner

With a traditional gearbox, the driver's most significant challenge is to balance the braking with everything else. The huge difference in physical effort required to carry out braking, as compared to everything else in the process, is, I think, what makes it so challenging. Today's Formula One driver spends the bulk of his attention managing the steering wheel and the brake pedal. Can you imagine how much more precise you could be with your braking, turning, and throttle pick-up routines if you didn't have to dance over so many pedals with such widely various pressures? And don't forget your hands dancing from wheel to stick, either!

And, as if the point were not already made strongly enough, consider this: a Formula One car's threshold of lockup under braking changes as the car slows and aerodynamic downforce is decreased. Imagine adding THAT balancing act to your repertoire; it must be like juggling dinner plates with one hand, and feathers with the other!

OK, if you're with me so far, your powers of visualization are giving you a glimpse of how much more precise your car control could be if SMG II really delivers on the promise to reduce the number of things you have to juggle, especially under pressure:
- Your brake foot will never again slip-off a wet brake pedal during heel/toe
- You can absolutely focus on threshold braking, without interference from heel/toe
- Left foot braking is now practical
- Seeing and following the correct line are now more probable on any given attempt
- Clutch wear is dramatically reduced
- ... others not yet realized? ...

(DISCLAIMER: I do NOT advocate left-foot braking on the street! In fact, I don't even mean to suggest that you try it next time you get out to the track. Your clutch foot is accustomed to pressures which, if applied to the brake pedal, will do nothing but get you into trouble. Much as it takes a GREAT DEAL of practice to learn to double-(de)clutch, so too it is with re-educating your left foot. Driver beware!)

Returning to the concept of time, one of the best street-driving examples of how much time it really takes to shift a manual gearbox is given by the following example:

Imagine you are cruising along a three-lane {roadway|highway|freeway|motorway|autobahn}, with all three lanes going in the same direction. You are travelling in the middle lane and approaching a car ahead. You make the decision to overtake that car, so you check your mirrors to make sure the overtaking lane is clear. But in your mirror you find another car approaching, so you have to make a go/no-go decision.

You calculate that you have a very small window of opportunity (admittedly, most drivers in the US are idiots and forego this calculation), during which there is still time to execute the "go" decision. But will you be in the correct gear in time to overtake without snubbing the approaching driver?

During the week before my SMG II test drive, I took note of several times when I had to abstain from some of these types of overtaking opportunities becuase there simply wasn't enough time to dip the clutch, go to neutral, engage the clutch, blip the throttle, dip the clutch, downshift, engage the clutch, and tromp the throttle without also welcoming the upcoming car up my backside. I realized that this was probably another place where SMG II would shine.


THE FINAL ANALYSIS
In the final analysis, then, my decision to order SMG II was not a reflection of my attitudes about the manual gearbox. I hate automatic transmissions because they don't shift when and how *I* want them to. They shift according to some very basic variables, which rarely coincide with my intent, so they frustrate me. But that is not to say that a manual gearbox is any more fundamentally "correct", it just gives me the element of control I demand. Plus, since I've been doing it for so long, subjectively it doesn't take any more effort to drive than with an automatic.

But I do not derive any particular sense of pleasure from pushing a clutch pedal, and I'm not sure ANY purist really does either. A clutch pedal is simply an interface between the driver and the system. I also don't find the act of pulling or pushing a lever through 8 inches of travel particularly fulfilling either. BUT NEITHER OF THESE STATEMENTS IS MEANT TO SUGGEST THAT I AM AMBIVILENT ABOUT SHIFTING! To the contrary, these words are meant to strip the MEANING we apply to interacting with these devices from the physical acts of manipulating them. Think about it: rowing a shifter is not driving, and neither is pushing a clutch pedal. If you mounted these devices to your desk and acted like you were driving, would that give you any pleasure? Show me a 'Real Man's Purist' for whom this would be pleasureable and I'll suggest psychotherapy.

Rather than interpreting the physical acts of manipulating these devices as being the Purist's true source of pleasure, I hasten to suggest that it is in fact the FLUENCY these devices afford the driver in the act of communicating with the transmission, which provides the true sense of pleasure.

My conclusion is, therefore, that even the most vigorously "pure" 'driving artiste' has more to gain from SMG than they have to lose from giving up their stick, as long as they are prepared to shelve their egos for long enough to make some additions to their driving repertoire. Once they do, they will enjoy a style of communication with their car that has never before been possible, leading to a driving experience FAR MORE PLEASUREABLE AND INVOLVING than the 'more traditional' way of doing things.

In fact, I'm so sure of this that I'm betting my long-awaited dream car on it.

__________________________________________________ ___________
Andrew BW Colfelt
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Old 07-30-2002, 05:49 PM
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Plaz Plaz is offline
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Re: A purist review of SMG II

Quote:
Originally posted by nate328Ci
This is EXTREMELY long, but very interesting

Taken from http://www.leo.nutz.de/m3smgopinions.php3

Holy verbosity, batman!

In other words, "Mikey Likes."
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Old 07-30-2002, 05:52 PM
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Some of the technical reasoning WRT change in states at WOT vs partial throttle and speed of engegement, etc. seem somewhat arbitrary (and admittedly so, although he seems to delve into it more deeply than anyone who has no engineering info should, IMO). But overall, it looks to me like a fair assessment of SMGII as it pertains to someone in the 'average enthusiast' level (many of us here)
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Old 07-30-2002, 07:03 PM
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SMG vs. Step.

Very interesting. If you haven't driven the '02 330ci w/ Steptronic, do yourself a favor and try it out. If the automatic doesn't shift when you want it to do so, with some practice use the manual shifter. The latter will do a quicker job than clutch w/ CDV attached. Am I right on this? I also get behind stick cars who start off in first and take forever to accelerate and/or to get their car going in second. Quite a long pause. Also when in a panic they miss a shift and on and on. I have done this myself on occasion with a stck and felt like an idiot at the time. I like the Step compared to the automatic I had on my 528. In closing, I had a ride on the Moroso racetrack in a 360 Modena with the paddle shift. It was smooth and the ride was fairly violent, so I did not critique the driver, but he sure was smooth and very fast. Of course this was $280 K machine or better. Each to his own and have fun.
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Old 07-30-2002, 08:52 PM
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I've driven a number of step cars and found them nothing but frustrating. The only automatic I've ever driven that I don't find thoroughly frustrating is the S55 AMG. And that's mostly because it has massive torque reserves that sort of make up for it.

Have you ever driven a car with a CDV? I probably am one of the better qualified here to comment on that... Shifting speed was hardly affected at all by removing the CDV. The only place it makes any difference is off the line and in "power-shifting." Off the line, I can launch marginally harder than I could before I removed my CDV. Powershifts grab very slightly more quickly. However, with decent driving technique, a CDV will not affect performance substantially. The CDV impacts driver FEEL, which is a totally different ballpark. If feel impacted performance so much, the E46 would be dog slow.

The key with stick launches is to do them properly. A stick can be incredibly slow off the line if launched wrong. Drive a WRX if you want a truly dramatic example of this. Plenty of people screw up launches, plenty of people also take them easily. Driving very gently in a stick will probably be slower than with a slushbox. Properly driving fast, however...

That said, SMG II is AWESOME for track drivers. IMHO, there's no question on this one. My left leg gets sore if I don't use it, though, so the left pedal is a necessity as far as I'm concerned.
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Old 07-31-2002, 12:18 PM
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Wow, what an amazing analysis. Good stuff.

Almost makes me want to "learn" how to drive with SMG. However, I'd like to hear a couple other enthusiasts back this wacko up. Either that or I need a 10k mile test drive too.
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Old 07-31-2002, 03:08 PM
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No thanks on the SMG...

I like to have the control that comes with PARTIAL clutch depression to limit the revs on the engine... I can slow down the car by easing up on the clutch and not even touching the brake.

SMG can't let me do that.
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Old 03-29-2005, 12:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hercules
No thanks on the SMG...

I like to have the control that comes with PARTIAL clutch depression to limit the revs on the engine... I can slow down the car by easing up on the clutch and not even touching the brake.

SMG can't let me do that.
That´s really poor driving...
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Old 03-29-2005, 05:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tierfreund
That´s really poor driving...

Mmmmm, I love the smell of burnt clutch in the morning. Smells like victory.
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Old 03-29-2005, 06:33 PM
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alot of ppl said their clutch needs to be replaced prematurely on the SMG models, etc.. and lots of problems of it stalling, going into neutral while on hwy.. etc...

smg sucks then!! it's about $300 more than steptronic here in Canada, i'm still deciding..step or smg

no manual, i've driven manual for 3 yrs already
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Old 03-29-2005, 06:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by excel
alot of ppl said their clutch needs to be replaced prematurely on the SMG models, etc.. and lots of problems of it stalling, going into neutral while on hwy.. etc...

smg sucks then!! it's about $300 more than steptronic here in Canada, i'm still deciding..step or smg

no manual, i've driven manual for 3 yrs already
SMG's are prone to please the former clutch drivers more often than the automatic drivers.
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Old 08-16-2005, 11:25 PM
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Hey, lookie what I found - glad I stubled onto this thread - thanks Nate for posting it back then
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Old 09-30-2006, 08:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hercules View Post
No thanks on the SMG...

I like to have the control that comes with PARTIAL clutch depression to limit the revs on the engine... I can slow down the car by easing up on the clutch and not even touching the brake.

SMG can't let me do that.
But why would you want to do that? Brakes are designed for slowing the car and also easily replaceable. Its not like we drive old cars with 4-wheel drum brakes where such tactics were necessary (my old Camaro had drums on it when on I bought it).
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Old 07-31-2002, 03:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Hercules
No thanks on the SMG...

I like to have the control that comes with PARTIAL clutch depression to limit the revs on the engine... I can slow down the car by easing up on the clutch and not even touching the brake.

SMG can't let me do that.
Your clutch hates you.
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Old 07-31-2002, 03:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Plaz


Your clutch hates you.
It's a love-hate relationship :P
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Old 08-01-2002, 12:16 AM
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Great review! I personally spend a lot of my extra time on the track (in the Vette, not the 330!) and I would love to have something akin to SMGII in it.

I fully agree that driving is about smoothness and finesse with the inputs - whether they be paddles and throttle or a clutch, shifter, and throttle. Rowing the gears and depressing the clutch is not something I consider mandatory to my experience, although I feel more empowered as a driver having learned how to heel and toe and row smoothly up and down the gears.

Given the chance, I would switch to something like SMGII without hesitation, given what I've read so far. The best thing for me would be the additional "cycles" it frees up for me to use to concentrate on other tasks. Like that 140 MPH down to 45 MPH downshift and threshold brake into turn one at VIR.

Thank you for posting your review - excellent reading and we all appreciate the input, even those of us who don't agree with it.

(BTW, I would never use the clutch to pull revs off the engine - thats what the brake is for, and replacing brake pads is a whole helluva lot cheaper than replacing your clutch )
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Old 08-01-2002, 02:18 PM
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Wow. Great review. What's fascinating to me is the huge difference between the BMW SMG-II and the Ferrari equivalent.

I had the good fortune of driving a friend's F355 with the paddle shifters up and down a twisty mountain road. It was amazing and completely unlike the SMG-II experience. Shifting was perfectly smooth under both light and hard acceleration. I could downshift under braking without upsetting the chassis (I've never really learned to heel-and-toe -- small feet so being able to trail-brake was fun) and puttering around town in automatic mode was as smooth as any automatic I've ever driven.

I think the good/bad news with the Ferrari version is that you really don't need much skill to smoothly manage the engine. I didn't try anything blatantly stupid but if you shift anywhere near the normal rpm's, the thing shifts smooth as silk, no throttle lifting required.

If I could get that system on a car I could afford , I'd do it in an instant. While I think that in some ways I wouldn't be quite as "involved" in the driving, the system would let me drive the car so much better than I can drive a manual right now that it would be worth it. Not to mention the convenience in stop-and-go traffic.

But it sounds like BMW has got a ways to go before it gets to that point.

Less temptation to line up for an M3 I guess ...

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Old 10-02-2006, 02:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcc View Post
I had the good fortune of driving a friend's F355 with the paddle shifters ... Shifting was perfectly smooth under both light and hard acceleration. I could downshift under braking without upsetting the chassis ... puttering around town in automatic mode was as smooth as any automatic I've ever driven.

I think the good/bad news with the Ferrari version is that you really don't need much skill to smoothly manage the engine. I didn't try anything blatantly stupid but if you shift anywhere near the normal rpm's, the thing shifts smooth as silk, no throttle lifting required.

If I could get that system on a car I could afford , I'd do it in an instant. While I think that in some ways I wouldn't be quite as "involved" in the driving, the system would let me drive the car so much better than I can drive a manual right now that it would be worth it. Not to mention the convenience in stop-and-go traffic.
After reading this, I would have to ask you, why not just get an automatic? If silky smooth shifts is a priority for you, and you're willing to give up some "involvement," I would think a Steptronic transmission is your ticket. They even have paddle shifters for Step now.

I'm not trying to be a wiseass or denigrate your opinion. I believe everyone has a wide range of priorities that affect their choice of transmission, and I simply want some more insight into yours.
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Old 08-02-2002, 05:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by PhilH
Wow, what an amazing analysis. Good stuff.

Almost makes me want to "learn" how to drive with SMG. However, I'd like to hear a couple other enthusiasts back this wacko up. Either that or I need a 10k mile test drive too.
OK, goes. For background, I have never owned a car that had an automatic. I have never owned a car that was not performance oriented. I DO know how to double clutch and heel & toe. I have done driving schools from 125cc shifter karts to rally driving to Skip Barber in Formula Fords. And I own an '02 M3 SMG with over 5000 miles on it. I have put over 400,000 miles on manual transmission cars.

The long artilce is pretty much right one. SMG is not a manual and it is not an automatic. But like a maunal you have to learn how to drive it. I normally drive in S5 (actually I ONLY drive it in S5 ). WIth some practice you can make perfectly smooth shifts in S5 at any load/throttle opening/RPM. If you just pull the paddle, some shifts are not as smooth as an EXPERIENCED driver can do a manual transmission. Just as this author says, you need to learn the subtleties of this transmission.

When I first drove if (with much trepidation as I was picking it up) I liked it. The more I drive it, the more I appreciate it. The factor of accelerating for a lane change is spot on. It is great to be able to tap the downshift paddle twice at cruise to do a perfect 6 - 4 downshift as you nail the load pedal and flat out accelerate. All while looking, steering, and signaling.

Even as long as that article is, it still doesn't fully convey the long term experience of SMG.

As for the post that they would not get it because they can control RPM by slippign the clutch, WHY? The only reason to do that is if you screw up your rev matching. And SMG doesn't screw it up. But anyway, if you just lift off the gas and coast, then downshift at low RPM with throttle closed, guess what? SMG will slip the clutch for a smooth deceleration, for every gear except 1 and 2. Why? I have no idea, but 3 - 2 downshifts and very slight or closed throttle always seem to cause a sharp deceleration, unless you feather the throttle as in article. Again, you just have to learn how to drive this transmission.

Bottom line, I love it and would not go back. If I had only one car, it would be SMG.

BTW one thing many people who have ot spent time with it seem to decide they are going to do is to use an A mode in traffic. There is no reason to. The reason an automatic is nice in trafic is no cltuch pedal. Since the SMG has no clutch pedal, and shifts just take a flick of the fingers, I find S5 works just as well in heavy traffic.
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Old 08-02-2002, 08:55 AM
rwebbe rwebbe is offline
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SMG vs. Step vs. Stick

After all the pontification on subject I am sold on the SMG w/o even driving a car equipped with same. For street use, I am happy with the Step in traffic. You do lose power from slippage. How a guy can hold a license in the fine State of Maryland with an M3/SMG is beyond me. May be he is a trooper or local/county officer who can get away with it. Have fun, don't get hurt.
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Old 03-22-2005, 07:13 AM
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Hi Andrew,

thanks for your very thoughtful and elaborate write-up !
I just got my new M3 SMG and fully share your observations, exspecially the surprise that the shift-time is not at all as fast as I expected, epecially at relaxed engine speeds...
However, afte a few weeks of getting used to, I must say I much better understand the system now and it really DOES have all the qualities, which I was hoping for..

Re. your opinion on the advantages of "lifting-off" slightly especially when accelerating harder, I have not really tested it enough to have a conclusion.. Just a question on the timing..WHEN do you actually lift-off..Is it a fraction of a moment AFTER selecting the next higher gear on the selector..? Some people from my BMW dealer tell me, that staying on the throttle results in a more "robust" upshift (eventhough probbly not as smooth..).

Thanks for your insights !

Cheers,

Thomas
(Singapore)
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Old 03-24-2005, 11:47 AM
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Uncle Fester Uncle Fester is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tompat
Hi Andrew,

thanks for your very thoughtful and elaborate write-up !
I just got my new M3 SMG and fully share your observations, exspecially the surprise that the shift-time is not at all as fast as I expected, epecially at relaxed engine speeds...
However, afte a few weeks of getting used to, I must say I much better understand the system now and it really DOES have all the qualities, which I was hoping for..

Re. your opinion on the advantages of "lifting-off" slightly especially when accelerating harder, I have not really tested it enough to have a conclusion.. Just a question on the timing..WHEN do you actually lift-off..Is it a fraction of a moment AFTER selecting the next higher gear on the selector..? Some people from my BMW dealer tell me, that staying on the throttle results in a more "robust" upshift (eventhough probbly not as smooth..).

Thanks for your insights !

Cheers,

Thomas
(Singapore)
Man, how much does the Singapore government let you have one of those for !! When I lived there the tax and CoE were crazy.
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Old 03-25-2005, 12:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 330soon
Man, how much does the Singapore government let you have one of those for !! When I lived there the tax and CoE were crazy.

Hi,

Well, it's certainly kind of crazy..overall, you pay about double as what the car would cost example in Germny (COE's are now about SGD 20.000) .. however, I don't regret it at all... With this car, even a trip down "Orchard Road" is an outstanding experience... How long did you live here..?
singapore has probbly the highet car prices in the world..but overall, it's a great place to live...
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Old 03-24-2005, 11:22 AM
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- A precise and positive shifter adds to the driving experience; a rubbery shifter detracts from it.

- A progressive clutch w/ clear engagement point adds to the driving experience; a vague clutch detracts from it.

As good and comprehensive as the review is, if you agree with the above two statements, you probably would not agree with the author's conclusion.

He specifically stated...
Quote:
But I do not derive any particular sense of pleasure from pushing a clutch pedal, and I'm not sure ANY purist really does either. A clutch pedal is simply an interface between the driver and the system. I also don't find the act of pulling or pushing a lever through 8 inches of travel particularly fulfilling either. ...
I disagree, and I'm sure there are many others who are with me. Even when I test the shifter in a stationary car inside a showroom, a good shifter makes me think "this feels good." According to his opinion I should seek psychotherapy.

I believe this guy is more of a track purist, which I can't afford to be both time and money-wise.
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Old 03-25-2005, 12:42 AM
philippek philippek is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jspeed
- A precise and positive shifter adds to the driving experience; a rubbery shifter detracts from it.

- A progressive clutch w/ clear engagement point adds to the driving experience; a vague clutch detracts from it.

As good and comprehensive as the review is, if you agree with the above two statements, you probably would not agree with the author's conclusion.
That's an interesting perspective, and I generally agree with you. But if I may summarize his point in my own words:

"I will choose the mechanism that allows me the greatest degree of control over the vehicle, regardless of the motions which I must make to operate it. Maximizing control is the ultimate goal."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jspeed
Even when I test the shifter in a stationary car inside a showroom, a good shifter makes me think "this feels good."
I'm totally with you there. But this review has made me think about how I define driving. I've been a diehard 3 pedaler forever, but he's made some solid points you have to consider.
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