Engineering Talk #5 A Manual for Anyone

A manual gearbox has always been part of the Type R blueprint and the new model’s offering is better than ever.

THE TYPE R TRADITION

Today, many performance cars are equipped with computer-controlled dual-clutch transmissions where there is no clutch pedal. But a pure manual transmission is still seen as the mark of a pure sports car because it gives the driver much greater control compared to any form of automated gearbox.

The team behind the Civic Type R’s transmission, led by Akira Nakamura, wanted to continue the Type R’s tradition of offering a manual transmission but also offer with it some of the features which make dual-clutch transmissions appealing to non-expert drivers.

MANUAL LABOUR

This is because of the extra workload imposed on a driver by a manual explains Nakamura, “The driver has more freedom, but has more work to do, so generally speaking driving a manual is more difficult. The driver has to not only press down the clutch and change the gear, but also control the engine revs at the same time. For experienced drivers this is the fun of driving a manual car, but for novices, or someone considering learning how to drive, this may make the car difficult to drive properly."

Controlling the engine revs is key to smooth gear changes and this is particularly vital on a racetrack where failing to do so can upset the car on the entry or exit to a corner by causing the weight to transfer suddenly and unstick the tyres. Expert racing drivers tackle this with a method called ‘heel and toeing’ where they blip the accelerator with the outside of their right foot as they use the main part of it to brake while changing down a gear.  

SMOOTH SOLUTION

Nakamura’s team developed a system to do this automatically, Honda’s Rev Match control. Nakamura explains how it works and the benefits, “By pressing the clutch pedal and operating the gear lever, engine revs are automatically controlled. This frees the driver from matching revs, and realizes consistently smooth and quick gear changes.”

As simple as it sounds, the system was difficult to perfect in a way that allowed for different abilities according to Nakamura, “Ten people drive in ten different ways, and everyone has their own driving habits. It wasn’t easy accommodating to everyone’s habits. Some drivers would shift down from 5th to 2nd and over-rev the engine, while others would stall the engine because they change gears while the engine revs are too low. To give hints to such drivers, we came up with ideas such as the rev match control system would not operate if, for example, it determined the driver would over-rev the engine, so as to make it difficult to shift gears.”

Electronics of course were only part of making the gear-change as involving as possible. The feel of the lever moving between ratios, the weight and action of the clutch, even the polished alloy used for the gearknob and where it is placed in relation to the driver all contribute to the feeling of control and confidence felt when charging through the gears in the new Civic Type R.