Monday, January 02, 2006

Jaguar's J-Gate

Jaguar is a car company rich in tradition. From the character to the craftsmanship of the cars, Jaguar is not a company known for deviation. One of the features that has remained virtually unchanged has been the automatic transmission J-gate shifter. Instead of a straight up-and-down shift gate found in most other cars, Jag's heads down but then to the left and back up as you go from D to the manually-selected gears. This design is fairly unique to Jaguar and has been the case for many years. However, I have read countless reviews of Jaguars in magazines and newspapers over the years, and not one has praised this design. Every word I have read about this layout has been negative.
In January of 2002 I had an opportunity to spend a week with an XJ8 and it's J-gate shifter. I was absolutely thrilled to be driving a Jaguar, so the shifter was not the first thing I noticed. However, after spending a few days driving the car I realized that it was hands-down the best automatic transmission shifter I have ever used. I liked it so much that I re-read one of the Jaguar reviews in a magazine I had handy to make sure I had read it correctly. Sure enough, this shifter which has been the bane of seemingly every magazine editor that had ever used one was my number-one favorite. The movement of the shifter through the gate was very smooth, and it clicked assuredly into every notch along the way. The magazine editors frequently gripe about the difficulty they have moving the shifter along. I find that the distinct notches make it easy to tell which gear it is in. Where they found the J pattern to be difficult to master, I found it intuitive as it followed the natural arc of my hand and arm.
I honestly do not know what all of the complaints were about, as I have never had the shift pattern of an automatic transmission much affect my driving experience, but what really surprises me is how much I prefer Jaguar's approach where the popular opinion seems to be the opposite.

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