For many years, automotive shifters came in only a few types that drivers were restricted to. You have no choice than to pick between manual and automatic, and the shifter was either on the floor or on the column.
Manual vehicles had an H-pattern, automatics had their gears in a line, or gated, but almost always in the order of park, reverse, neutral, drive, and low. While there could be minor deviations, that was basically how things were.
With the advent of new powertrain designs and the proliferation of electronics, automatic shifters designers finally have the freedom to experiment and play with how we shift gears. Manuals have generally remained the same, except for the addition of gear ratios but the automatic shifter has evolved into many forms.
Here are the new weird automatic shifter designs that are available for you to drive.
A Shifter Design All Its Own
The shifter in the BMW i3 is mounted to the steering column at an angle, like a stalk. It also rotates fore and aft, a bit like a rotary knob, but oriented differently. This design hasn’t been seen in any other car and this may have something to do with the strange shape. We may as well call it the i3 shifter.
Push Button Shifting
The layout of this design isn’t actually that revolutionary. Push buttons have been in existence as far back as the 1950s, when Chrysler added buttons to the dashes of some of its models.
It didn’t catch on then, but today push buttons are back. They are now a staple of modern Aston Martin cars and Lincoln. Brands such as Acura, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, GMC, and Honda all have models current or upcoming that employ some kind of button to work the transmission.
The nub shifter is something that really became common with the second-generation Toyota Prius, and was carried through to the current model. It’s basically a smaller, modernized version of the classic gated shifter lever.
One of the other notable vehicles to use this system is the Nissan Leaf, which uses a mouse-like nub as opposed to the slightly more normal looking knob in the Prius.
The monostable shifter, particularly the joystick style is another popular modern gear selector that can be seen in a BMW 5 Series. BMW uses it in nearly every model, and General Motors is beginning to use a similar design in vehicles such as the Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Bolt EV.
Audi uses a more conventional looking version of this shifter, and Chrysler products did for a while, as well. This automatic shifter offers a combination of familiarity, in that you still use a shift lever, but also modernity, since it works more like modern electronics.
Unfortunately, because you can’t tell what gear you’re in from the shifter’s location, people often failed to put the car in Park. This happened enough with Chrysler vehicles that the company had to issue a major recall.
Rotary Dial Shifter
This shifter became common when Jaguar introduced it on its XF sedan. However, other automakers have employed more basic versions.
Ford added a rotary shift knob to the new Ford Fusion, and Chrysler has used it in several of its products. However, some of those Chrysler products, as well as Jaguar and Land Rover models with rotary shifters are being investigated for possible roll-aways.
The Mercedes-Benz shifter stalk is really close to being a traditional column shifter. It is however different in some key ways. Size-wise, the Mercedes design is smaller than the robust levers of old, it also stays in one place rather than moving to a new position for each gear, and forgoes the P-R-N-D-L layout.