Does Kia’s New Transmission Provide The Best of Both Worlds?

One of the key challenges for car manufacturers is to build cars that take advantage of technological changes to offer greater efficiency and to reduce the burden on the environment while also being fun to drive.

Often, there has been a very obvious trade-off – some of the most efficient cars lack punch and are only really good for city centre driving. 

Kia’s IMT uses a clutch-by-wire to save fuel and reduce emissions.

Equally, the very best cars to drive might be more expensive in terms of fuel consumption and road tax and also leave us with nagging doubts that we aren’t really doing the best thing for the planet.

Kia, like all manufacturers, are working on systems to create a compromise and believe they have hit a breakthrough with a new manual gearbox that utilises an electronic rather than mechanical linkage. 

Their development is the new Intelligent Manual Transmission (IMT), an option being added to the 1.6-litre 48V mild-hybrid diesel powertrain for the Ceed and Xceed. They also plan to add it to the 1.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol version of the forthcoming refreshed Rio and then, in time, other electrified 48v powertrains. 

Traditionally, all cars have a mechanical linkage for the clutch – a system that has worked pretty well for many decades. 

Kia’s switch to an electronic system works with the mild-hybrid’s starter generator to switch the engine off when coasting – but with the chosen gear still engaged. As soon as the accelerator is pressed again, the engine kicks back into life.

Kia claim the system reduces CO2 emissions by 3% and also boosts fuel economy.

Best of Both Worlds?

They also claim that the system delivers the best of both worlds. You have a clutch system that is efficient, that ensures smooth operation of the engine (and of course removing the beginner’s curse of stalling a manual), but is also still enjoyable to drive.

“Manual gearboxes are a real driver for Europe, so we wanted to look at how to electrify a manual transmission,” said Michael Winkler, Kia’s powertrain boss. 

“When we look at the global picture we still see real demand for manual gearboxes, and we saw a real benefit to being able to offer a manual transmission on a 48V electrified system.

“While the system does boost real-world economy, it’s not all about efficiency but comfort for drivers: the 48V system offers a smoother stop-start system, for example. The benefit for customers is they don’t have to do anything different: the system does it automatically.”

Whether the system becomes more common across the full Kia range and then similar options come into being for other manufacturers will be interesting to watch.

Efficiency savings of 3% might not be huge, but every little helps and enabling the ability to coast user the control of the engine is a sensible development – automatics have had a degree of built in coasting enabled for some time now.

There will also be concerns. It is easy to say it retains the feel of a pure manual, but is this the case? Will the process of the engine kicking back in always be smooth, especially if the speed has dropped so that a different gear is required. Kia say this is factored in.

There may also be concerns that another mechanical part of the engine is given over to electronics; the great fear with electronics is that when they fail you can have a catastrophic failure with the car switching off in a way that just doesn’t happen with mechanical parts.

As experts in gearbox refurbishment and manufacture, we will certainly be taking a keen interest in the performance of this new Kia transmission.

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