The Hyundai Venue’s Auto-Clutch Manual Transmission is so good, it’s like magic. I recently got to drive and experience the Venue IMT/ACMT first hand.
As someone who’s very calculated when using adjectives, this may look like a paid endorsement. But, when something is so good, it should get all the praise it deserves. I recently got a chance to drive and experience the Hyundai Venue with the auto-clutch manual transmission. Hyundai’s auto-clutch manual transmission (ACMT) or IMT if you prefer the marketing lingo, is indeed revolutionary.
Allow me to explain how I got to this conclusion starting with explaining how it does not work.
Disclaimer: Since you’ve already seen the Venue on the road, I’m not focusing on the Venue’s pros and cons, features, design and engine performance here. This review is strictly about the Venue turbo’s (IMT) auto-clutch manual transmission, which is a new piece of tech for India. Since the Venue and Sonet share the powertrains and transmissions, you can expect the Sonet turbo petrol with ACMT to work in a similar fashion as stated in this review.
Hyundai have ZERO influence on the contents of this review. I’ve tried my best to paint an unbiased picture of the Venue’s ACMT/IMT transmission from an auto enthusiast and an average car buyer’s perspective. I have answered all the questions I had before getting in the driver’s seat. If I missed something, please submit your questions in the comments section below and I’ll do my best to satisfactorily clarify your doubts.
I wrote the following article some time ago. Kia Sonet Could Bring Clutchless Manual iMT With Turbo Hybrid – Reading Between The Lines
Given my understanding of manual transmission and the existing auto-clutch solutions, I assumed that the Hyundai/Kia auto-clutch manual transmission (ACMT) would disengage the clutch (same as pressing the clutch pedal) when the foot was off the accelerator. I was wrong.
Disengaging the clutch allows a vehicle to coast and cover longer distances and helps with the fuel efficiency by eliminating engine braking. So, there wouldn’t be any engine braking while coasting in-gear. I was wrong there too.
Since Hyundai/Kia have so far only offered this auto-clutch manual transmission with the mild-hybrid tech, I was also expecting to see some electric help to further boost the fuel efficiency figure. My educated guess was educated but still a guess as this didn’t happen either. The Venue and Sonet are getting the ACMT with non-hybrid turbo petrol engines.
Feeling The Pain
Just before I got to drive the Venue ACMT, I was crawling in the Lajpat Nagar, Delhi market towards my phone’s service centre. Needless to say, I was hoping to find a parking spot closer to my destination. COVID or not, it’s tough to find a parking spot within 100m of your destination here. Or maybe I don’t know this place well enough. Whatever the case, a couple of missed turns while navigating on Google Maps landed me in the residential part of the area. I ended up spending close to 1.5 hours in no higher than 2nd gear modulating the clutch of my compact diesel hatchback.
Compared to an automatic, if a full manual takes 100% of additional work, then the clutch pedal alone takes about 75% of the effort while crawling traffic.
Since I mostly drive on highways, I needed this painful experience to fully appreciate the convenience of not having to constantly modulate the clutch. But I was expecting to climb up a learning curve.
What Learning Curve?
The Venue has a nicely angled dead pedal. My other petrol automatic car has taught my left foot to stay put once it finds that comfortable spot. So, I didn’t attempt to press the (non-existent) clutch pedal with the brake while cranking the engine. While shifting to first, I consciously remembered that this car doesn’t have a clutch pedal. Once I got to 3rd and began slowing down, out of habit, my left foot budged just a bit when I had to shift down to 2nd. That’s it. This didn’t happen again once.
If you get a chance to test drive this transmission, I can assure you that you’ll be accustomed to it before you get out of the driver’s seat.
1-Pedal Driving In Traffic – Like An Automatic
With the engine running, I pressed the brake pedal, shifted to 1st and released the brakes. The Venue Turbo started crawling – with zero accelerator input.
I brought it to a full stop before attempting to get rolling in the second gear. It slipped the clutch just a bit but started moving without any sign of protest. So, expect some additional clutch wear and tear if you intend to always drive off in the 2nd gear. But, for convenience of not having to shift up, I see myself doing this at least half the times. Unless I want to quickly close a gap, I wouldn’t mind a 20-25% drop in clutch life for the convenience of not having to constantly toggle between 1st and 2nd gears.
Once more. I stopped. This time I put the car in 3rd gear. Along with some loud beeps, the MID told me to shift down and didn’t even attempt to engage the clutch.
To sum up this part, it feels as natural as an automatic to drive the ACMT in 1st gear with just the brake pedal. It’s also possible to drive away in the 2nd gear with just one pedal and let the electronics deal with slipping the clutch. But, the acceleration isn’t as quick as there’s some electronic clutch modulation going on under the hood. You could speed up the process of rolling off in 2nd gear if you give it some gas. Perhaps the extra torque from the turbo petrol engine is helping it drive off directly in the 2nd gear. I can’t imagine rolling off this smoothly in the Venue 1.2L non-turbo even if it got an ACMT.
Rolling Off On An Incline
The system completely leaves the braking and acceleration duties in your hands (feet). So, to get moving forward on an incline, you’ll need to use the brake and accelerator simultaneously. You could use the hand brake or the foot brake. For
Starting It Up In Gear
You can, of course, stop and park it in gear and use that additional braking to prevent rolling off. However, it’ll only crank if it’s in neutral. If it’s in any gear, you’ll get a visual (MID) and aural (beeps) reminder to switch to neutral. For a nominal gradient, there’s sufficient torque in the first gear to start rolling without using the accelerator pedal at all.
How To Change Gears?
At first, I was changing gear as I would in my full-manual transmission car – minus the clutch pedal part. I release the accelerator before changing gears. It works just like that when you’re driving the ACMT too. Release the accelerator, change gear and accelerate again. The clutch disengagement and engagement is quick enough to make the whole experience as natural as I’ve come to experience if I were managing the clutch.
I once tried changing gears without releasing the accelerator. It still worked. The system disengaged the clutch between shifts and the revs climbed just a bit during the shift. Because of this, there was some clutch slipping to match the engine and wheel speed for the selected gear. Lifting off the accelerator gave better results and quicker clutch on and off.
How Does It Know When To Disengage The Clutch?
Honestly, I don’t know how this trickery is happening. They say it has an intention sensor in the gear lever. In reality, I discovered that it’s disengaging the clutch as soon as the gear lever started moving out of its selected slot.
Can You Rest Your Hand On The Gear Lever?
Since the sensor to manage the clutch is connected to the gear level and is automatically actuated, it is, in theory at least, possible to disengage it accidentally. I usually rest my hand on the lever until I have reached the top gear and I’m ready to cruise. In my experience, it never surprised me. It only disengaged the clutch in preparation of a gear change when the lever moved far enough out of its gate and had enough force to move to at least neutral. So, I was resting my hand on the shifter without any problems.
Does It Have Engine Braking?
Yes. It slows down in gear with engine braking but disengages the wheels and the engine as soon as the revs drop too low. There’s also a visual reminder to drop the gear when this happens along with the beeps.
If you’re in lower gears, the throttle on/off driving style is managed very well. The engine braking comes into the picture soon but not instantly. So, even driving in the first gear with short bursts of part-throttle inputs, it was smoother than a full-manual transmission.
Disclaimer: I haven’t driven a full manual Venue turbo, so I can’t comment on how it manages the engine braking with a 3-pedal setup. But, with the ACMT, the transition from accelerating with throttle input to decelerating with engine braking was as smooth as it gets.
Does The ACMT / IMT Stall?
During my short drive, I couldn’t stall the Venue ACMT. When the engine didn’t have enough torque to keep rolling, it disengaged the clutch. So, even if you were in a higher gear and forgot to shift down, it won’t stall. It’ll just remind you to select an appropriate gear based on the engine speed.
Is The Hyundai Auto Clutch Smooth?
As long as I was driving it as I normally do, it was working as I’d expect it to. To test it further, I decided to drop to the second gear from ~60kmph in 4th gear. The car didn’t protest. It didn’t rev-match either. It slipped the clutch while engaging and gave it enough some time to catch up to the wheel speed. But the transition was smooth.
If you weren’t paying attention to the tacho or listening for engine noise, you’d not know when that shift to 2nd happened. While I can rev-match a full-manual transmission, I sometimes miss the timing and unsuspecting passengers experience a head nod. No such problems with the ACMT.
Is the ACMT Good For Chauffeur Driven Use?
Since this transmission’s clutch engagement and disengagement varies so much based on the selected gear, vehicle speed and engine speed, the actuation duration is very different. This difference is there to make the gear changes and throttle inputs as smooth as possible. Perhaps an experienced driver can give you a smooth ride most of the time, but this ACMT promises to do that every single time – without fail. Even if you don’t intend to take the driver seat, this tech will make your drives smoother. So, it’s worth considering for chauffeur-driven buyers as well.
Is the backseat spacious enough for you? Well, that is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
Why Should Enthusiasts Be Excited About Auto-Clutch Manual Transmissions?
If you are an enthusiast and love rowing through the gears yourself, then this tech retains that driving engagement with its standard H-pattern shifter. If you are driving enthusiastically, then you are probably never going to have to slip the clutch. There’s just no point in wasting that energy. You’re either on the brakes or on the throttle all the time and the clutch is only coming into the picture to select the right gear. Even when quickly jumping between gears, the ACMT wasn’t taking any longer than I would to dump the clutch. If there was a difference, it certainly wasn’t noticeable. Rev matching is still possible to speed up the clutch engagement for double-downshifts as you don’t need to take the foot off the A pedal to change gears.
Besides, not having to worry about the clutch leaves you to focus your energy on getting the racing lines, braking and accelerating right. I would thoroughly enjoy a Nios turbo ACMT with stiffer suspensions and a softer rubber on the BIC. It will not satisfy racers, but for an occasional track day, I wouldn’t mind the ACMT at all.
What About Reliability?
The Venue turbo is also available with a dual-clutch automatic transmission for those who’re willing to shell out more than Rs. 1.0 lakh for the convenience. Unfortunately, dual-clutch automatics are yet to establish themselves as reliability kings in the Indian driving and climatic conditions. CVTs, AMTs and torque converter type transmissions have a better track record for consistently offering better reliability.
Worst Case Scenario…
I generally don’t recommend going with a new-generation car for a year after its launch or a car with a first-generation technology. Even though this is a first-gen tech, it’s so simple in its operation that it’s not likely to cause serious financial shock even if everything goes wrong with the ACMT tech. Moreover, the likelihood of everything going wrong is next to zero.
Should it fail, the ex-showroom price difference suggests that it’ll probably cost you around Rs. 20-30k to fix it. That is – #1. if EVERYTHING in the ACMT fails #2. AFTER the warranty period is over.
The only additional cost I could imagine is due to premature clutch wear and tear. However, during normal driving, the clutch engages quickly and the engine is ready to accelerate by the time I’m done shifting. The excessive slipping only happened when I was pushing it out of its comfort zone and doing things I’d probably do no more than once in a 1000 days in my 3-pedal car. Mechanically, the Sonet and Venue ACMT are very safe choices from the reliability standpoint.
Is The ACMT Tech Priced Right?
It’s priced better than right. With the Venue, for almost half the price of an aftermarket auto-clutch solution. And you’re getting a more refined product with a longer warranty and better support.
The major benefits of adding an aftermarket ACMT setup are:
- It’s reversible. So, you can remove the kit and even switch to full manual controls on the fly.
- You can take it out of the car and install in your another car.
What Are The Problems With Venue ACMT?
You can’t dhakka start it. I’m sorry. After a lot of deliberation, that’s all I could think of. There is just no dealbreaker with this tech considering its cost, convenience, warranty, simplicity and negligible cost of getting it fixed from Hyundai if something goes wrong several years down the line.
After driving the Venue ACMT, I was having a hard time going back to my diesel car’s heavier hydraulic clutch. While heading back home, I was beginning to question the need for a clutch pedal. Why should we have to put up with these duties when the electronics could do it for us and do it so well at this price. I could easily imagine this tech ending up in all mass-market cars. An enthusiast and an average car owner will probably appreciate it as much as a cabbie and his passengers.
For severe traffic jams, it’s giving me the convenience of 1-pedal driving like an automatic. For highways and twisties, it’s giving me the engagement and the freedom to select the ratios I want. I would appreciate the smoothness of this transmission even if I weren’t driving. From a budget standpoint, the ACMT is dirt cheap to buy and maintain and it has no adverse impact on fuel efficiency either.
Unlike AMT, I don’t see the inclusion of ACMT diluting a car’s positioning. Just like offering a 3-pedal manual transmission in an Alto and a Fortuner doesn’t have any measurable impact on their sales and buyers’ perceptions.
There’s no question about the success of the auto-clutch transmission. Once you experience it, it becomes difficult to justify the existence of a clutch pedal. The ACMT is equally impressive on the paper and the road. It is equally appealing to the head and the heart. I’m hoping to see it in all Hyundai cars as the standard transmission – from Elantra to Santro. In fact, I’m betting a hundred bucks that this will go mainstream – IF other carmakers can match Hyundai/Kia on the execution and refinement front.
Messing This Up
There are only 2 ways to mess this up and the Korean carmakers can avoid them both.
- The dealers need to pause profiling customers based on the likelihood of buying and be a little liberal with the test drives. If I’m Hyundai, I’d want to get the word out about the Venue ACMT and get as many people as possible protesting against the clutch pedal.
- Hyundai/Kia shouldn’t jack up the price of the ACMT. Please resist the urge to rake in more money for at least a year. If an AMT is only Rs. 15k more expensive, I’d just pick that over the ACMT.
Do you still think I’m unreasonably glorifying Hyundai’s ACMT by calling it magic?