At the 2020 Auto Expo, Kia India had showcased the Sonet Concept. The Kia Sonet is expected to make its arrival in production form by the festive season this year. At the time of the concept’s unveiling, Kia had announced that the car will come equipped with an innovative Intelligent Manual Transmission or IMT gearbox which will offer clutchless shifting with the control of a manual shift lever. While this might sound like another branding exercise to rename the Automated Manual Transmission(AMT), that it is not the case. During an interview with our Editor Arpit Mahendra, Kia India’s Head of Sales and Marketing, Manohar Bhat stated that the system is not an AMT and explained briefly how the IMT exactly differs from the traditional automated manuals we have become used to in recent times.
Bhat explained that the system allows the driver to change gears manually, but without the need to use a clutch pedal. He said, “Unless you experience the system, it is a bit difficult to explain it in words. But, imagine a system in which you have the manual gear stick as it is… To engage the gear, you would normally have to press the clutch, now imagine that the clutch [pedal] is not there, leaving your left foot to rest on the floor. There is no clutch to be pressed, you only have to change gears with the lever as you normally do.”
While Bhat didn’t elaborate any further, we tried to dig a little deeper into how the technology works. Our sources say that the system will feature a traditional H-pattern manual gear lever like a manual transmission with two-pedals (throttle and brake pedal) like a vehicle with an automatic transmission. What we know so far is that the system uses sensors to monitor the engine speed as well as the gear lever and automatically engages the clutch when needed. While Kia claims the system is “Clutch-less”, they could be referring to only the clutch pedal being deleted from the driver’s footwell, while a mechanical clutch in the drivetrain is still present internally, of course, which is being operated electronically.
Bhat claims that this helps reduce the stress on the driver’s left foot especially in heavy traffic conditions. Additionally, he says that the enthusiastic drivers can enjoy changing gear having the feeling of a manual shifter without the worry of having to press the clutch pedal with your left foot. He also mentioned that the system will provide “very high fuel efficiency”.
A system of this nature is not the first of its kind. Back in the late ’90s, now-defunct Swedish carmaker, Saab tried something similar. Saab was a company known for quirky innovative technologies, like the Saab Sensonic transmission in the Saab 900 that also provided a manual shift lever without the need for a clutch pedal as an option. They even made a car with a joystick instead of a steering wheel called the Saab 9000. But unfortunately, it was way ahead of its time and none of them caught on.
The issue with the clutchless, manual transmission in the Saab 900 was that while it did give the pleasure of not having to press the clutch, it was quite difficult to drive and required getting used to. But it seems that with the use of modern technologies and innovation, Kia or in fact the Hyundai Motor Group has been able to revive the concept and make it work in the real world. The system is already being offered in Europe with the latest generation Hyundai i20 hatchback which is also expected to be launched in India soon. But how the Kia Sonet with the IMT clutchless system works in the real world is something we will have to drive and find out to draw our final conclusions.
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