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New innovations from Toyota, Mercedes, Alfa and Lotus

By autotech-nath on July 7, 2022


You might think that a company offering manual gearboxes is not worth mentioning. Yet, it seems as though the tales that prophesied the death of stick-shift have rung true. Some ICE models have ditched manuals completely. This was made especially clear, when Toyota launched its first global Gazoo Racing (GR) model in 2019, with the 3.0-litre (and later 2.0-litre) GR Supra models being available solely with eight-speed automatic transmissions. Not everybody was happy about it.

Since then, Toyota reports that it has listened to sports car fans and customers, by introducing a six-speed ‘intelligent’ manual gearbox. The company claims that it is engineered to “delight drivers, who love the control and rewards offered by precisely timed manual shifts”. Presumably, this means that the engine software will mask sloppy pedal control, by matching crankshaft and input shaft speeds automatically.

Only the BMW-derived 6-cylinder version (seen also in the Z4 M40i) will benefit for now but Toyota claims that it has not just bolted an existing German longitudinal transmission to the engine. Yet, it appears that is exactly what the company has done, because modifying the BMW-derived gear sets, driveshafts, fiddling with software and removing certain elements do not a new gearbox make.

Even so, Toyota is expanding manual gearbox availability to all three of its European GR models: the GR Yaris, GR86 and, of course, the GR Supra. There have also been rumours that Toyota is looking to create a manual transmission for Battery Electric Vehicles, but it is unclear whether it will reach production. If it does, that really will be a technical oddity.


The importance of ADAS calibration becomes especially pertinent, when the hardware is employed for automated driving, rather than for information and emergencies. Mercedes-Benz’s Drive Pilot does just that; utilising ADAS equipment (especially cameras, LiDAR and Radar) that allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel and eyes off the road in certain conditions. This is a considerable achievement, because it is the first production-ready Level Three Autonomous system, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Mercedes-Benz is so confident about the system’s safety credentials that it commits to take legal responsivity for any crashes that occur while the system is engaged, provided that the driver complies with reasonable duty of care obligations. This includes not ignoring system prompts to take back manual control.

Drive Pilot is not full autonomy, however. It works only in limited situations. Currently, Drive Pilot is available only in Germany and, even then, is mapped solely to work on certain autobahn sections. Interestingly, the carmaker is seeking regulatory approval in North America by the end of the year. Whether the system has to be adapted to meet UK requirements, or how our laws will be changed to accommodate Level Three autonomy remains to be seen but legislative changes are afoot.


Traditionally, 48-volts have been employed for mild-hybrid systems, where a belt- driven integrated starter-generator (ISG/ BISG) performs hot engine restarts, provides combustion engine torque assist and recharges the battery. As the system is not high-voltage, mild hybrids tend to be insufficiently powerful to drive the wheels in electric-only mode, until now.

The lesser-powered Alfa Romeo Tonale SUV employs not just a BISG but also a 48v 15kW motor is crammed within the pictured 7-speed Dual wet Clutch automated manual Transmission (DCT). To supply sufficient current to produce the relatively puny 20 horsepower, the architecture must handle around 300 amps. One has to wonder, therefore, why Tonale does not employ higher voltages. Cost and repair simplicity may be reasons, as well as the limitations of its relatively elderly platform, with origins stretching back to 2005, which is not designed to accommodate a bulky battery pack. Only a 0.8kW battery is fitted, which is small enough to slot between the front seats. The relatively small battery, coupled with being rated at only 48-volts, limits electric-only drive to moving off from stationary and low-speed manoeuvring. High voltage systems give a longer electric range and can operate at higher speeds.

Other Stellantis models inherited the same 1.5-litre Firefly engine and running gear before the Tonale. These include the Fiat 500X and Tipo Hybrids, plus the Jeep Renegade/Compass e-Hybrids. However, the engine is in a more powerful state of tune (160 horsepower) for the Alfa-Romeo. Like Toyota hybrid ICEs, it employs the Miller cycle, with a high 12.5:1 compression ratio. The GDI system operates up to 350 bars and, interestingly, the turbocharger’s variable vane geometry motor is powered by the 48-volts circuit.


The Emira is to be the last petrol-powered Lotus, before a new series of all-electric and Chinese-built models appear. The latter situation is unsurprising, since Geely Automotive bought a majority stake in the firm five years ago. While a V6 Emira is available, Lotus claims that the 2.0-litre inline-four turbocharged GDI is the most powerful road-legal four-cylinder engine available. Developing up to 208 horsepower per litre of displacement, Lotus did not have a hand in its development, for it is an AMG M139 unit. Featuring also on 45AMG versions of CLA, A-Class, and GLA Mercedes-Benz models, the engine could not be simply dropped into a relatively-lightweight Lotus bodyshell.

While changes made to the power plant are surprisingly few, essential modifications were vital to suit the mid-mounted location. The Lotus installation employs different engine mounts, air box, catalytic converter, exhaust, cooling system and driveshafts. The main major engineering revision involved altering the gearbox casing. To engineer what Lotus calls ‘Lotusness’ into the German running gear, the company has engineered a new engine management system. Although no other physical changes were made to the engine; even the turbocharger is the same as the Mercedes-Benz intended – which is probably a good thing.



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