At a recent meeting of the New England Motor Press Association, Mazda representatives were briefing organization members on the just-introduced (at least in North America) Mazda2 subcompact. It was noted during the presentation the four-cylinder engine was mated to a 4-speed automatic transmission. That's right, not one of the latest 6-speed or similar transmissions developed to maximize mileage you usually find in new vehicles today. This fact was brought up in the Q&A session that followed as to why newer technology wasn't used.
The logic behind choice of the transmission is a lesson in engineering design optimization.
One of the primary goals in configuring the car was absolute minimum weight so that a lower horsepower engine could be used (for economy) and still result in sporty driving—what the company calls "zoom zoom." Grams were shaved from the vehicle, right down to the magnets in the audio system speakers. The resulting car weighs 2,359 lb with a 1.5L, 100 hp engine.
Engineers determined that an advanced automatic transmission, such as a 6-speed, coupled to the lower horsepower engine would find the transmission "hunting" (or shifting) for another gear quite frequently—so as to produce annoying operation or an unpleasant driving experience.
So sometimes what might be an obvious, optimized solution may lose out to "practical" considerations.
What's your opinion on such design choices? Or maybe you have a personal experience to relate. Why not comment and let your fellow Automotive Designline readers know?