Kia invented and will soon market, sometime in the third quarter, an innovation it calls iMT, a “smart manual transmission” that actually remains a conventional manual gearbox. The “intelligence” of the solution comes, yes, from the clutch that is by-wire, something that until now we only knew in automatic dual clutch transmissions.
What’s with this special clutch? For starters, it has no physical connection to the left pedal, although it remains there to be pressed. Instead of a cable or hydraulic assistance system reflecting the pedal pressure in the clutch operation, there is a sensor and potentiometer that transmit the signal to the electromechanical system of the gearbox, even transmitting to the driver the feeling that the clutch is “picking up” or “slipping”. And the electronic clutch control, depending on the signal received, opens or closes the clutch.
The heart of the solution is the Mild Hybrid Starter Generator (MHSG), which serves as a support for the combustion engine, starter and alternator, integrated into a 48 Volt electrical system. Which is why this box will be introduced in slightly electrified proposals (mild hybrid), namely the renewed Kia Rio and Kia Ceed, associated with smartstream 1.0 turbo engines or 1.6 CRDi EcoDynamics +.
According to the brand, the introduction of the by-wire clutch in a manual box does not change the driving experience in any way, and the technicians who developed the solution have reached the point of simulating the usual friction of the clutch, offering the driver a gradual sense of drive. But if the user experience does not change, it cannot be said about fuel consumption and emissions. Both are low, although Kia is estimated to save around 3%.
In practical terms, this gain is achieved in all situations where it is possible to “cut” engine, without interfering with safety, in line with what already happens with the system of “sailing”, also known as “coasting”, which happens when in plane or slightly down, the driver removes completely or partially the foot of the accelerator. But in the case of Kia, whenever it is possible to harness the kinetic energy to continue to rotate, the engine is even turned off and the clutch is open (as if it were in neutral). Interestingly, the change in which it follows remains engaged even with the engine turned off. If the speed is too slow, the system itself reactivates the engine so that the driver can mesh another change. Furthermore, simply press the clutch or throttle pedal to re-operate the engine.
This by-wire clutch solution allows a substantially lighter, simpler and cheaper manual box to provide the same type of fuel savings services as an automatic gearbox, whether conventional or double clutch. The 48V electronic clutch will also make it possible to install it in affordable vehicles, as the additional price should not be large, despite the advantages it offers in reducing consumption (which is good for the driver’s wallet) and CO2, beneficial for manufacturers in need of meeting the emission limits imposed by Brussels.