Transmissions are not black boxes of mechanical wizardry. They help transfer and manage the power from the engine to the wheels, and the number of gears they contain has little to do with how powerful or fast a particular model is. Slate seems to have missed that memo.
An article about the Bentley Flying Spur crash at the US-Canada border asked, “Why would an automaker manufacture a car with so much engine power that it requires an eight-speed transmission?” Um, because that’s not how transmissions work?
When this article surfaced on Reddit yesterday, commenters had a field day. Our favorite? “If a CVT has infinite gears does the car have infinite power?” The answer? No, of course not. The Nissan Versa will never be the world’s fastest car, even if it has an unlimited ratios. Not even an upgraded engine from Nismo will make that happen.
NASCAR now mandates a five-speed sequential gearbox, recently sunsetting the four-speed H-pattern, and those cars can easily reach 200 miles per hour. Every new Ford F-150 packs a 10-speed transmission, but it’s not gunning for any high-speed records, and we’re doubtful the 261-mph Bugatti Chiron with its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is scared of the Blue Oval.
The Flying Spur packs a twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 engine, making 542 horsepower. While it can reach a 198-mph top speed, it’s not directly because the transmission has eight forward cogs.
Transmissions help harness the engine’s power and ensure the right amount of it efficiently goes to the wheels. Too much or too little torque can make driving a car difficult at any speed, with the gearbox ensuring the driver has the right amount of power to safely pull away from a stop or pass a slower vehicle on the highway.
The gears help manage the engine’s output for various driving situations. It’s why automatic transmissions downshift when a car goes up a hill, effectively using the engine’s available oomph to navigate the incline.
Most importantly, more ratios let a car run more efficiently. A Bentley like this, with a powerful engine, uses the top few cars to let the engine turn at a lower RPM while cruising on the highway, reducing fuel consumption. It’s about efficiency, not power, Slate.
If you want to talk about excessive speeding, rising vehicle deaths, and the encroaching surveillance state, that’s a different conversation that has no bearing on the number of gears in a car’s transmission.
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