What Does 6-Speed Mean?

by Jesse Sears
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In the automotive world, six-speed refers to a transmission with six forward gears. The most common six-speed transmissions are traditional manual units where the driver actuates a clutch with her foot while shifting through the gears. In more recent times, six-speed automatic and sequential-manual transmissions have worked themselves onto passenger cars as well.

6-Speed Manual Transmissions

Traditionally, six-speed manual units have been reserved for high-performance cars. These transmissions feature closer gear ratios than a five-speed manual unit, allowing the driver to stay within the engine's ideal rpm range. Also, the sixth forward gear allows highway cruising without making the engine work so hard. The Mazda RX-8 is one of many such cars that use a six-speed manual. In more recent times, even some mainstream cars such as the 2011 Ford Fusion have offered to six-speed manual units.

6-Speed Automatic Transmissions

Several years ago, automakers began adding extra gears to their automatic transmissions to maintain power and fuel economy throughout the rpm range. Traditional automatic transmissions differ from manual units in that they use a torque converter rather than a clutch in switching between gears. One such six-speed automatic unit, made by ZF, is found in the 2011 Hyundai Genesis Coupe.

6-Speed Sequential Manual Transmissions

A third type of six-speed unit blends traditional automatic and manual transmissions in that it uses either a single or dual clutches when shifting between gears but does not require the driver to use a third pedal. These sequential manual transmissions are usually shifted via paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel in addition to having the capability to operate in full automatic mode. They are ubiquitous on luxury cars and making their way into more mainstream cars as well.

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