While our friends on the other side of the pond can readily order up an A4 Avant with an honest-to-goodness manual transmission, those of us in America are stuck with a six-speed Tiptronic as the only available means of changing gears. Fret not fellow driving enthusiast, I’m here to tell you that the current iteration of the Tiptronic that debuted in 2009 with the introduction of the B8 platform is not your Daddy’s slushbox.
Almost every die-hard car enthusiast prefers a manual transmission. One needs to have the utmost control of their vehicle when driving spiritedly and rowing one’s own gears is high on the list of priorities in that vain. Personally, I always prefer a car with a good ol’ fashioned clutch pedal to its one-foot cousins but sometimes it just isn’t an option. In the case of Audi’s A4, low availability of manual transmission cars in dealer lots across America can either force you to order your vehicle from Deutschland and wait the 3 month lead-time or compromise your sporting instincts by instant gratification from current inventory. It can be decidedly worse for those that prefer a little more cargo space in their A4 with the Avant model.
While it was not my intention to buy a Tiptronic, circumstances made it a reasonable compromise and in the past two months that I’ve spent with my 2010 A4 Avant, I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised. I expected to hate my slow-shifting wagon but it’s proven to me that in the automotive world, just as in the computing world, positions and opinions should be re-evaluated from time to time because products and technologies evolve.
Such is the case with the transmission that Audi utilizes and calls Tiptronic. I should note that Audi does not make nor develop traditional manual and automatic transmissions for their cars and are instead usually outsourced to fellow Germans, ZF Friedrichshafen (DSG gearboxes are a different story). The B6/B7 platform Audi A4 Tiptronic transmission was a ZF 6HP19 model that also was utilized on the BMW X3 and 3-series models as well as in the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. This model of 6-speed automatic transmission was widely used across the Audi line-up. Having done some shopping a little while ago for an inexpensive, used A6, I can tell you that it was a bit fail-prone in its later years of use. Besides this issue of reliability, shifts were typically lackluster, sometimes taking as long as 800 milliseconds to accomplish.
The current transmission from ZF that Audi is mating to their lower-end Tiptronic models is the 6HP28. A variant of the same transmission is also used in the current model RS6. Besides slightly better fuel economy and the ability to handle more torque, it also offers quicker shifts down to 200 milliseconds which is argued as the threshold for a driver’s level of perception. Of course, nothing about the 6HP28 is as glitzy or as glamorous as an S-tronic (Audi marketing speak for DSG or direct shift gearbox). It still has a torque converter which will rob your vehicle of a few extra ponies at the wheels. It also can’t compete with the sub-20ms shift times but, on its own merits, how does it stand up in real-life use?
As I said, I braced myself for the worst but got a very different experience. When plodding along normally at enough throttle to maintain speed, shifts are smooth and you may even actually not notice them if your thoughts are otherwise preoccupied. Under heavy throttle, this smart transmission tightens up. Shifts significantly firm up and present themselves with an often welcome jolt. In manual mode, commanding shifts with your paddle shifters, you could be forgiven for thinking that the vehicle you’re operating actually contains an S-tronic. Shifts are incredibly quick for what one has come to expect out of the slowest transmission option. I’ve owned a TT with an S-tronic in the past and I have to say, the Tiptronic is undoubtedly smoother in comparison and more adaptable to variable throttle control. It’s almost the best of both worlds.
Another thing I’ve noticed on my new Avant is that when downshifting with the paddles, the engine rev matches very quickly yielding, once again, a very smooth transition. I’d guess that Audi has programmed some throttle control in to make downshifting less of a time consuming process. This feature has also been implemented in various other manufacturer’s cars, most notably the new Nissan 370z. The effect of both this great downshift ability plus extremely-quick-for-a-slushbox upshifts, is that it creates an experience that makes me now somewhat proud to note my Avant is a Tiptronic.
Audi isn’t resting on their laurels, as they rarely do. The 2011 model sees the introduction of an 8-speed ZF sourced automatic to replace the nicely performing transmission I’ve just gone on about. Orders have just begun being delivered. Time will soon tell if they have improved on the 6HP28 by adding two cogs or if 8 gears is just too many, regardless of how smooth the shifts are. For the years to come though, I’m confident that I won’t come to regret purchasing my B8 Tiptronic and you shouldn’t be afraid to embrace the Tiptronic either.
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Matt is a Systems Administrator and automotive enthusiast with a decent car history prominently featuring 7 Audis and 5 Mustangs. He is excited to be an occasional guest poster here at Nick’s Car Blog and his Twitter account is mattlqx.[ad#Post Links]