These days, almost all supercars have automatic gearboxes. But we’re not talking about old-fashioned slush-boxes - instead, these cars use aggressive, fast-shifting dual-clutch transmissions you’ll want to take control of yourself during spirited driving.
In a lot of supercars, though, this is a problem, as the shift paddles are often rubbish. The Audi R8 is probably the worse offender - as standard, its paddles are the same parts found on an A1, for Pete’s sake. Only marginally less egregious is the set used by the Honda NSX, which are akin to something you’d find on a low to mid-spec gaming wheel.
The paddles on the Ferrari F8 Tributo are far better, but they’re column-mounted, which means they ought to be larger. Thankfully, there are some longer optional carbon fibre shifters, which will make a mid-corner shift a little easier.
If we’re to lump the 992 Porsche 911 Turbo S in with this lot (the engine is in the wrong place, but it’s certainly supercar fast), it’s worth pointing out its paddle shifters do feel quite satisfying when pulled. But, they are weirdly small.
There are some good setups out there, of course. Making up for the miserable plastic tabs used by the R8, the related Lamborghini Huracan Evo has a fabulous pair of column-mounted items. Like the F8 Tributo’s they could do with being bigger, but the paddles look fantastic in the optional ‘forged carbon’.
McLaren’s shifter design is worth a mention too. It joins the two paddles with a ring around the steering column, giving a push/pull setup that lets you use only one side for both upshifts and downshifts. I’m not sure I’ve ever used it thusly, but it’s nice to know you can.
One unexpected vehicle, however, has a pair of shifters up there with the best designs around, while making the parts in the R8 et al look rubbish. We’re talking about the Ranger Raptor.
Ford has gone to unusual lengths to give the Raptor ultimate self-shift satisfaction with the Ranger. Its paddles are made from magnesium rather than plastic, and like the (actually slightly smaller) parts used in the Ford GT, plus and minus symbols are milled through the tops. The backs of the paddles, meanwhile, are ribbed for your pleasure.
The action itself is great, too. The paddles move just the right amount and without any nasty high-pitched clicks, giving a crisp and satisfying up or downshift. The tremendous irony is the Raptor’s 2.0-litre inline-four diesel and 10-speed automatic gearbox combination doesn’t inspire you ever to use the paddles. Even during more dynamic on-road driving with ‘our’ Raptor longtermer (which it’s weirdly happy engaging in), I very rarely bother intervening with the gear changes. With so many ratios and a narrow power band, hunting for the right ratio yourself isn’t an especially effective way of making progress.
They seem a little bit wasted in the Australian-developed Raptor, then, especially as the parts are unlikely to make it into any other models. The Europe-made Ford Focus ST automatic will - as far as we know - use the same dinky little tabs as the 1.5-litre Focus auto, while the US-engineered 10-speed Mustang has its own set.
At least the US-spec version of the Ranger Raptor is reportedly getting a turbocharged petrol V6 - that’s a vehicle which might put these amazing paddles to good use.