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Offline Aircon

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>From the Los Angeles Times

With the Nissan 370Z, heel-and-toeing goes the way of the fox trot

The latest Z car gives the few remaining practitioners of the downshifting maneuver nothing to dance to.
By DAN NEIL

December 5, 2008

The heel-and-toe downshift -- whereby drivers "blip" the gas pedal with the blade of their right foot, revving the engine, while keeping pressure on the brake pedal with the ball of the same foot -- is becoming a lost art, a performance-driving shibboleth known to few and practiced by fewer.

This tap dance allows drivers to match the engine's speed, the rpm, with the rotational speed of the lower gear selected; otherwise, when the clutch is let out, the engine braking effect causes the car to stumble and slow down.
If a car is already just hanging on, at the limits of tire adhesion, a badly muffed downshift will take weight off the rear end and cause a spin. As phenomenally brilliant a driver as I am, even I have experienced this a few hundred times.

Once, all drivers understood heel-and-toe. Manual gearboxes were "unsynchronized" and so, if you didn't rev-match the gears, you'd grind them marvelously. You also had to "double clutch," but that's another story.
Heel-and-toe was cultural currency and automotive literacy, the stuff of plot points on the old radio cop drama "Calling All Cars." It was to driving what a proper fox trot was to the summer cotillion. Then synchronized manual transmissions became common and automatic transmissions commoner still.
Today, only about 15% of the license-holding public knows how to drive a manual-transmission car. I'd estimate that only 1% know their heel from their toe.

Within the last decade or so, ultra-performance street cars with Formula One-style sequential gearboxes have dispensed with the foot-operated clutch altogether (Ferrari, I'm looking at you). During downshifts, the car's computers blip the throttle and electrically actuate the clutch mechanism in hundredths of a second for perfectly smooth, flawless rev-matching the likes of which Fangio could only dream of.

Then came paddle-shifted automatic transmissions that were nearly as efficient as sequential boxes but effortlessly smoother. And then cybernetically controlled dual-clutch gearboxes, such as the ones in the Bugatti Veyron or the new Porsche 911. Not only did fewer drivers need the heel-and-toe technique, there were fewer reasons to learn. Heels and toes were being lost like fingers at an Ozark sawmill.

And now it's time to say the final misty and maudlin words over heel-and-toe. The 2009 Nissan 370Z is the first car to have a computerized rev-matching system -- called, awfully enough, "SynchroRev Match" -- in a conventional, H-pattern manual transmission. Gone now is the secret decoder ring of fast driving, the sacred handshake of the Clutch Brotherhood, the Esperanto of in-car footwork. Sic transit gloria heel-and-toe.

This is the first major overhaul of the Z car since 2003, and Nissan has moved all the needles in the right directions. The car is shorter (by 4 inches), wider, lower and lighter (by 95 pounds), stiffer and more powerful
(332 horsepower from the 3.7-liter V-6, up 26 hp from the previous car's 3.5-liter). The base price holds steady at about $30,000 while the full glam of the leather-lined, alloy-wheeled, Bluetoothed Touring package with Sport options comes in around $36,500.

With its cantilevered roof, whiskered catfish mouth, zircon-like headlamps and roped shoulders, the new Z looks like the old car and the Nissan GT-R have been slammed together in the Large Hadron Collider.

This is a righteous little sport tourer, nicely balanced and tighter than Rick Wagoner's smile. And yet, in the long telescope of automotive history, the new Z car would be but a footnote -- a capable and conscientious updating of a successful car -- but for the rev-matching innovation.
Optional with the Sport package, the feature will, I predict, make its way to other manual-gearbox cars, in and outside of Nissan's line. In 10 years, every stick-shift-stirred car will have it. Toes, heels, adieu, adieu.

I grudgingly concede, rev-matching works beautifully. You can be full on the boil in fifth gear coming into a corner, get hard on the big brakes and walk down the gears -- fourth, third, second -- and before you can release the clutch, the engine soars with rpm as the computer algorithmically ciphers the exact revs to match the gear speed. YUNGgggg, YUNGGGG, YUNNGGGGGG!!! . .
. You can't trick it and you can't beat it to the punch. Release the clutch and the uptake is buttery and slick, a dynamic nonevent.

You can switch off the system and practice heel-and-toeing on your own, but you will find the machine executes downshifts better, and you will be left inconsolable with your obsolete skill.

So what? After all, I don't know how to change a tubed tire. And I couldn't get a Model T out of neutral if you held a tommy gun to my head. Techniques change with technology.

It's just that heel-and-toeing makes drivers an integral, biomechanical part of the drivetrain, adjudicating between the engine and the rear wheels. You feel and appreciate the machinery. You vibe to the buzzy pulse of the engine through the blade of your foot and the shifter in your right palm. As a matter of driver involvement, heel-and-toeing is a hedge against boredom, and boredom is forever the enemy in sports cars, followed closely by inattention.

So what if I can wear my big, heavy Allen Edmonds shoes instead of my Piloti driving slippers? I like my driving shoes. So rev-matching is faster and more efficient. So is euthanasia.

Another sodden blanket of technology has been thrown between me and the road. Another window opened to the klutzy, unweaned poseurs. More enabling of the inept. Progress.

Bah. I wash my heels and toes of the whole thing.
I love my car. Buy your own



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