Commanding a premium of just Rs. 15,000 over its standard manual counterpart, the Venue IMT is here to expand the horizons for convenient clutchless driving. We get behind the wheel of the new Hyundai Venue IMT to see how it performs in the real world.
In 2019, the share of automatic passenger cars against manual models stood at 17.3 per cent, as per estimated industry figures. For context, this percentage stood at just 1.4 per cent in 2011. So the growth of automatic car purchases has been significant in recent years. And it was one particular car that kick-started this revolution, the Celerio AMT. Research from CRISIL and Deloitte state that it was indeed the Automated Manual Transmission that democratised the automatic transmission for the masses. And rightly so, today an AMT model costs anywhere between Rs. 40,000 to Rs. 60,000 more than their manual counterparts. Whereas, the premium for proper automatic transmission models usually stands in the range of Rs. 1 lakh - 1.2 lakh.
Strangely, while all major mass-market carmakers in India adopted the AMT gearbox across a variety of sub-4 meter models, India’s second-biggest carmaker Hyundai stayed away from it until 2018 when it launched the Santro AMT. But even then, it’s still the only Hyundai AMT on the market. Instead of leveraging the cost benefits, Hyundai has been offering every type of proper automatic transmission across its model range. While that is a good thing, without a doubt Hyundai has been missing out on the cost benefits of AMT automatics being leveraged by its rivals.
An ace up the sleeve
Hyundai though has now revealed its ace up the sleeve, its brand new IMT semi-automatic gearbox which is designed to make convenient driving even more accessible.
IMT stands for Intelligent Manual Transmission and in essence, it works similarly to an AMT gearbox. So in essence, like an AMT, the IMT involves the standard Venue 1.0 turbo’s six-speed manual gearbox which has been fitted with a Transmission Control Unit (TCU) and a hydraulic actuator (much like an AMT), in addition, there is also something called an intention sensor.
To put it simply, when the gear lever is even slightly moved when the car is running, the intention sensor detects the movement and sends an electronic message to the TCU, the TCU then sends a message to the hydraulic actuator to build hydraulic pressure in order to engage the clutch. This then allows the driver to change gears manually. Sounds pretty much like a regular manual. Except that the driver now doesn’t have to depress a clutch pedal, because there isn’t one!
Yup, this is a two-pedal car like any other automatic, except that you still have to use your left arm to change gears.
How is it better than an AMT?
Well for starters, the Hyundai Venue IMT commands a premium of just Rs. 15,000 in comparison to the Rs. 40,000 - 60,000 premium of an AMT (over manual counterparts). And because you can drive it like a manual, the typical AMT head bob during gear changes is missing. Of course, out of habit, getting off the throttle slightly during a gear change helps for butter smooth and jerk-free gear changes. And here is where the IMT feels superior to an AMT as there are no jerks during a gearshift. But then again, you have to know that you need to lift off slightly in an AMT every time you want an upshift, if you do this the transmission upshifts seamlessly. Still, the IMT responds in a smoother manner to gear changes than an AMT.
What’s more, the IMT system like the AMT allows the car to return identical fuel efficiency figures as its manual counterparts - making it more efficient than conventional automatics.
How does it feel to drive?
Since the IMT system is brand new, allow me to tell you how to use it. In order to start the car, the gearbox has to be in neutral. There is no clutch pedal, so depress the brake pedal and hit the engine starter button and the car comes to life. While still standing on the brake pedal, move the gear lever into first gear and as you gently let off the brake pedal (just like an automatic) the car will creep forward. This is a boon in traffic as you can simply leave the car in gear and drive it like an automatic in stop/start traffic. The Venue IMT can begin forward motion in first and second gear, but no higher.
Once you gain initial momentum and need to upshift, simply move the gear lever from 1st to 2nd, 2nd to 3rd and so on, it’s that simple! And out of muscle memory, you will be lifting off slightly during upshifts (as you would in a manual), this only makes the drive experience smoother. I have to say that the Venue IMT feels really convenient to drive in the real world. And because it’s essentially a manual gearbox underneath, it allows the engine to rev just as freely as in a manual model. What’s more, it’s easier to manage the Venue turbocharged petrol’s turbo lag below 2,000rpm as you can downshift more easily.
Smarter than a manual
The IMT system is not just more convenient than a manual, but it’s also smarter as it comes with hill hold and hill start assist. So you don’t have to worry about rolling back or forth during uphill starts. Hyundai has also decided to offer these driver assistance systems as the IMT gearbox does not allow you to slip the clutch, so it’s imperative for hill hold and hill start assist to be present. But this also means you can’t launch the car for aggressive standing starts. The upside of this though is longer clutch life over a standard manual as you also can’t slip the clutch while being in a higher gear in traffic.
Not all smooth sailing
It sure seems like the IMT system is perfect. The pricing is brilliant and it makes driving more convenient than a manual. Definitely not as convenient as a proper automatic but then again it doesn’t command that kind of price premium either.
But you see there is a catch. Like an AMT gearbox, the IMT too does not like to be rushed. In a manual car, you can suddenly carry out a quick downshift for quick overtaking or enthusiastic driving. This is something you cannot do as smoothly with the IMT. If you suddenly tug at the gear lever, it feels heavy and unwilling. Gearshifts at this point also feel heavy, rubbery and notchy. You can sense that all the mechanicals inside (intention sensor, TCU and hydraulic actuator) cannot keep up with the quick movement and take their own time in engaging the clutch.
So, like every other type of gearbox, the IMT too has its downsides.
A winning stroke by Hyundai?
In everyday driving, people really don’t care about enthusiastic driving and quick shifts, all they want is a convenient car to drive. On this account, the Venue IMT shines. It takes the stress away of having to constantly clutch-in and out in our ever increasing traffic conditions and lets you drive it like a regular automatic in stop/start congestion. And when you get going, you can change gears more conveniently than a manual. All of this convenience for a minor Rs. 15,000 premium sure seems like a winning formula.
How prospective customers respond to it, of course, we will have to see for ourselves. But from where I see it, Hyundai has really expanded the access to convenient driving with the new IMT system. And I have to say that it stands as a great option alongside all the other types of automatic transmissions. Choice, after all, is a wonderful thing!
Also read - Hyundai Venue IMT and Sport variants launched