Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

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Less_is_more
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Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by Less_is_more »

Considering a lightly used F20 with a small petrol engine and wondering what transmission to get.

The car would be bought outright and kept for hopefully ten years, no commuting, mostly weekend and holiday use, mainly medium (30 km) to very long (1000 km/day) drives. I’d like to do some of the routine maintenance myself, the rest at an indie garage.

I briefly drove a friend’s 2015 car with the manual gearbox and was impressed with the automatic rev-matching on down-shifts (after years of throttle-blipping and wincing at clutch wear coming into roundabouts when my partner drives).

However, I’d never seen or heard of this feature before the test drive, so I spent more time figuring out what was going on than checking exactly how it worked. Does it also match revs on the up-shift?

There was nothing wrong with that manual 6-speed gearbox (except the too-high arm-rest bumping my elbow!). I’d be happy with it.

But I’ve heard good things about the ZF 8HP and have some questions:
  1. Does the auto have a higher top gear?
  2. If so, might that reduce engine life by higher cylinder pressures and torque causing more wear?
  3. How exactly can engine braking be done on descents? I’m not very familiar with automatics.
  4. How does fuel consumption compare to the manual, in general use and at a cruise of 130 km/h (80 MPH)?
  5. How much greater are the maintenance costs with the auto?
  6. Long-term reliability / life compared to the manual transmission?
Thanks!

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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by Simon Site Manager »

Auto for me all day long, not sure about the gearing or wear, with so much torque, the engine brakes well. I don't think there is much difference with fuel consumption.
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by jonnie_r »

I was wary of the auto, having had an E46 330d touring with an auto box that was known for problems, but having read a little bit about the ZF8 I was convinced that it was the way to go. I use mine in manual mode a lot of the time, and it's great.

Maintenance wise, BMW say sealed for life, ZF say oil change between 60 and 80k. I'm getting mine done soon once I get it back from BMW for the EGR cooler fault recall, and have had quotes ranging from £550 - £700 at a ZF specialist.

Edit: I intend keeping the car for a while and do circa 30k miles a year. Got it last October with 48k on a 13 plate, and it's now on 76k.
2013 F20 125d

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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by OneTwenty »

Auto for me, and my usage is similar to yours.

I was unsure when buying, but have no regrets at all, awesome box in every way.
66 M240i Coupe, MW, Coral, Auto, Vis/Comfort/Sun, Pro Nav, Heated Wheel/Seats, Elec Seats/Lumbar, Adaptive, Camera/Park Assist, Speed Lim, HK, Split/Fold, WiFi/EBT, F/M

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Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by maverick83 »

The ZF’s top gear will be a lot longer than the manual hence better mpg figures.

On the engine braking, the box will downshift when descending a long hill, sometimes 2 gears or more and will help with deceleration.

Going down a long mountain pass at very low speed - very steep descent - and car in Traction mode I experienced something that I have not before. It felt like the gearbox locked the torque converter in second gear and even down very steep descents the car did not pickup speed.

The ZF is a truly amazing transmission and is definitely not like auto’s of years gone by.

When in Sport mode it even gives a nice “thump” when changing up and downshifts on approaching a corner when braking hard. And silky smooth in normal use.

It will automatically pull away in 2nd gear in very slippery conditions - it knows it slippery by detecting even the slightest wheel slip when pulling away from a stop and next time you do it will be in second. Very handy on icy or snowy conditions.

Later models will even select the correct gear based on the route you’re driving using info from the sat nav, and have coasting whereby it will coast when lifting the throttle.

And on top of it all - its a very reliable gearbox.

Oh and before I forget - you get two types, there is the Auto and Sports Auto, functions described above is on my M135’s Sport Auto.
2013 F20 M135i - Estoril Blue, ZF8HP, Adaptive Suspension, HK, Pro Nav - No Mods

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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by JamesB197 »

Just to add - there are even tuning options available such as xHP, which enable further tweaking of some of the box's characteristics should you so wish.
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by msej449 »

For me, the ZF8 was the auto that switched me away from manuals. After having the ZF8 on my previous 330d I opted for the Sport Auto on my M235i because I felt that while, with the manual, I'd love it 10% of the time and wish for an auto 30% of the time, with the auto I felt I'd love it 30% of the time and wish for the manual only 5% of the time (if that, given the paddle change).

I think there is a tendency to let your manual change skills get rusty, the longer you have an auto, even with paddles. The ZF8 handles most public road situations so well that you can easily end up not bothering to go into Sport+/Manual mode much (or at all). So of course, there will be odd ocassions when you feel it's let you down. But for me, these are down to me - I should have taken the trouble to make manual changes, but didn't.

If you do move from a manual to an auto, I'd recommend a phased transition on the new car, where you use the ZF8 in full manual mode initially, then the part-auto mode, and then default full auto mode. This will give you a better idea of how the paddles operate and as time passes, where the auto's real strengths are. This as opposed to driving 'round in default comfort auto mode and then desperately going into manual mode when something untoward happens. [EDIT: I don't mean go into manual initially 100% of the time - more that you take time out to drive in various conditions in manual mode so you get familiar with the gear ratios across the 8 gears. And BTW the ZF8 can jump multiple gears e.g. 1st->3rd, 3rd.->5th if you need it to.]
Last edited by msej449 on Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:33 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by 50pence »

Does the auto have a higher top gear?
- Yes.

If so, might that reduce engine life by higher cylinder pressures and torque causing more wear?
- No, conversely it'll change down when a driver in a manual might not, and it'll cause less wear at motorway speeds. And you still have the option of driving manually if you wish.

How exactly can engine braking be done on descents? I’m not very familiar with automatics.
- It changes down to introduce engine braking, in Sport modes the amount of engine braking is greater as it changes down sooner.

How does fuel consumption compare to the manual, in general use and at a cruise of 130 km/h (80 MPH)?
- It'll vary depending on the engine though the higher top gear ratio will surely mean any auto version will be more economical than the equivalent manual at 130kph.

How much greater are the maintenance costs with the auto?
- As has been said BMW say they are sealed for life though a 75k ish mile fluid change can be performed at a ZF specialist, perhaps offering extra reassurance. And there's no clutch to replace.

Long-term reliability / life compared to the manual transmission?
- Apparently superb. He says touching wood ;-)

The available modes and the characteristics will vary depending on engine and/or spec.

It's well worth having the paddles though the lever can be used to change manually and works well.

Most, if not all, 2015 on LCi models select the gear ratio in part based on GPS route data.

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Last edited by 50pence on Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by padders »

The ZF8 is the best of both worlds. Gears 1-6 are actually shorter than on the manual so it feels like a close ratio sprint box but then you have 2 overdrive ratios one much longer than the manual, meaning that on a motorway cruise the engine can tick over at just 1900rpm or so. In the manual it is at more like 2500rpm. This obviously has enormous benefits with regard to economy. Only a true die hard who loves the interaction and sensation of the clutch and stick you get with a manual could find fault, particularly as BMW manuals aren't regarded to be the best out there. There are other features too, such as coasting, launch control (not all that useful) and block shifting. Personally I would look for the Sport version since that gives you the paddles behind the wheel which add an extra layer of control, they are useful for downshifting if you need more engine braking or upshifting if you want to engage coasting. This box is not like older torque convertor autos, on this the tc is locked up most of time, slip is only allowed at idle or during gear changes so the car behaves very like a clutched manual with regard to engine braking etc (unless you engage coasting that is but that can easily be switched off).

Here are the maximum speed in gear figures showing what I mean about the increased versatility of the Auto (this is for the B47 engined 120i, red line 6800rpm). The manual ratios are actually a lot closer in the M140i incidentally, cruising is even more busy in one of those, more like 3krpm at 75mph:

Auto vs Man (kph/mph)
I: 57 / 35 __ 59 / 37

II: 88 / 55 __ 110 / 68

III: 132 / 82 __ 168 / 104

IV: 164 / 102 __ 235 / 146

V: 215 / 134 __ 301 / 187

VI: 283 / 176 __ 352 / 219

VII: 344 / 214 __ NA

VIII: 442 / 275 __ NA
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by Less_is_more »

Thanks for the replies, all. Gives me things to think about.
jonnie_r wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 7:41 am
Maintenance wise, BMW say sealed for life, ZF say oil change between 60 and 80k. I'm getting mine done soon once I get it back from BMW for the EGR cooler fault recall, and have had quotes ranging from £550 - £700 at a ZF specialist.
See, that sounds expensive! But maybe optional. Why does a fluid change cost so much? Does the transmission have to be dropped out of the car or half-rebuilt or something?
50pence wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:07 am
No, conversely it'll change down when a driver in a manual might not
Good point. Though I’m less likely to lug the engine flat-out in 6th than some. And the auto rev-matching on the manual makes down-changing to overtake easier than throttle-blipping while checking mirrors, indicating, and changing lanes. That’s a perfect example of where the manual’s auto rev-matching is a nice feature.
50pence wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:07 am
Most, if not all, 2015 on LCi models select the gear ratio in part based on GPS route data.
That’s a cool trick.
padders wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:10 am
meaning that on a motorway cruise the engine can tick over at just 1900rpm or so. In the manual it is at more like 2500rpm. This obviously has enormous benefits with regard to economy.
That might be so but it’s not obvious to my mind that the benefit is enormous. Modern engines breathe well and often don’t have conventional throttles (so there are lower pumping losses at low load). I’d be interested in figures comparing consumption between 1900 RPM (I make it closer to 2000 RPM at 130 km/h from your figures below – thanks for those) and 2500 RPM at the respective loads required for 130 km/h cruise.

At what minimum speed on a windless level road does the ZF 8HP cruise in 8th? I guess it depends on the engine, car weight, tyres, and a host of other factors from ambient to engine temp, but give me an idea if you can. Will it cruise in 7th at some speeds? And if so, does the 7th also lock up the torque converter then?

I guess at high enough speed it will also cruise in 7th to generate enough power?

I’ve ridden motorbikes and driven small cars long enough to cure me of the low-RPM fetish that many drivers have. Low piston speeds at cruise are generally good, but a small engine at high RPM may have lower peak piston speeds than a large one at lower RPM. And ideal engine RPM is not as clear-cut as people sometimes think. An engine at low load and full operating temperature may have effectively zero wear even at fairly high RPM, because all bearing surfaces are fully hydrodynamically lubricated.

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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by padders »

Less_is_more wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:55 am
padders wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 10:10 am
meaning that on a motorway cruise the engine can tick over at just 1900rpm or so. In the manual it is at more like 2500rpm. This obviously has enormous benefits with regard to economy.
That might be so but it’s not obvious to my mind that the benefit is enormous. Modern engines breathe well and often don’t have conventional throttles (so there are lower pumping losses at low load). I’d be interested in figures comparing consumption between 1900 RPM (I make it closer to 2000 RPM at 130 km/h from your figures below – thanks for those) and 2500 RPM at the respective loads required for 130 km/h cruise.

At what minimum speed on a windless level road does the ZF 8HP cruise in 8th? I guess it depends on the engine, car weight, tyres, and a host of other factors from ambient to engine temp, but give me an idea if you can. Will it cruise in 7th at some speeds? And if so, does the 7th also lock up the torque converter then?

I guess at high enough speed it will also cruise in 7th to generate enough power?

I’ve ridden motorbikes and driven small cars long enough to cure me of the low-RPM fetish that many drivers have. Low piston speeds at cruise are generally good, but a small engine at high RPM may have lower peak piston speeds than a large one at lower RPM. And ideal engine RPM is not as clear-cut as people sometimes think. An engine at low load and full operating temperature may have effectively zero wear even at fairly high RPM, because all bearing surfaces are fully hydrodynamically lubricated.
AFAIK B series BMW engines do have throttles, even though some throttle control is done by Valvetronic. The B58 certainly does. I was working off 75mph hence my lower figure for RPM. It is a fact that the auto cars use less fuel than manuals, though that may of course be test dependant.

The B58 engine cars have torque to spare so can use 8th from around 42mph upwards, mine happily cruises in 7th at 30mph which is around 950rpm. This may differ in the lower power models but even then I would expect 8th to be utilised from ~45mph and 7th from ~35mph. AFAIK the box can lock up in all gears. I am not sure what you mean about cruising in 7th to generate power. If you accelerate the box will kick down, if you cruise at a steady state it will use 8th unless you lock it out using S or M mode.

It's not the drivers who long for low revs, it is the engineers who have to respond to increasingly tight emissions and consumption constraints. High torque at low revs is the most efficient path for both, hence the near universal adoption of turbos.
Last edited by padders on Wed Sep 16, 2020 3:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by Less_is_more »

padders wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:15 pm
The B58 engine cars have torque to spare so can use 8th from around 42mph upwards, mine regular cruises in 7th at 30mph which is around 950rpm.
Pretty impressive.
padders wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:15 pm
This may differ in the lower power models but even then I would expect 8th to be utilised from ~45mph and 7th from ~35mph. AFAIK the box can lock up in all gears. I am not sure what you mean about cruising in 7th to generate power.
Okay. I just mean, if you cruise at higher and higher speeds, eventually the transmission will have to select a lower gear to generate enough power, since 8th is a tall overdrive. In other words, top speed would be achieved in some gear lower than 8th (maybe 6th at a guess?). Therefore, maybe a 200 km/h cruise would require 7th. Or whatever.

Thanks for your help. This auto gearbox does sound nice. Wonder if it’s worth getting instead of a fresher manual car, since that seems to be my choice. Budget cap of €20k in France, where used cars hold their value far better than in the UK.

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Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by maverick83 »

With my experiece my car will go into 8th gear at 41mph - and revs will be ar 1000rpm or there abouts at that speed.

I have certainly felt it lock-up from 2nd gear upwards.

The car wil stay in 7th in Sport Mode. It will hit the 155mph limiter in 6th @ around 6900rpm and 5650rpm in 7th and hapily cruise at the speed limiter in 8th @ 4500rpm
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by padders »

maverick83 wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:40 pm
With my experiece my car will go into 8th gear at 41mph - and revs will be ar 1000rpm or there abouts at that speed.

I have certainly felt it lock-up from 2nd gear upwards.

The car wil stay in 7th in Sport Mode. It will hit the 155mph limiter in 6th @ around 6900rpm and 5650rpm in 7th and hapily cruise at the speed limiter in 8th @ 4500rpm
The M135i and all the pre-LCI cars uses the 8HP45, the gearing on the 8HP50 used on the M140i and all the LCI smaller engined cars is longer still so would be at 3800rpm at the 155mph limiter. The lower gear ratios are pretty similar but 7th and 8th are taller on the newer box which has a wider overall spread.
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Re: Manual or ZF 8HP for long-term owner?

Post by 50pence »

Less_is_more wrote:
Wed Sep 16, 2020 11:55 am

I’ve ridden motorbikes and driven small cars long enough to cure me of the low-RPM fetish that many drivers have. Low piston speeds at cruise are generally good, but a small engine at high RPM may have lower peak piston speeds than a large one at lower RPM. And ideal engine RPM is not as clear-cut as people sometimes think. An engine at low load and full operating temperature may have effectively zero wear even at fairly high RPM, because all bearing surfaces are fully hydrodynamically lubricated.
I'm with you on that, rather like cycling where there is much more strain on the joints labouring in a high gear than spinning your legs more freely in a lower gear.

My car will pull cleanly from below 1000rpm, and in auto [D] and Comfort mode will often change up so as to cruise at whatever speed at 1000rpm or less. I'll therefore often allow it to rev a little more freely by selecting a Sport auto setting of which there are two options - Sport mode changes the revs at which it changes up and down the gear in Drive [D], and moving the gear lever to the left select Sports Auto [S5], all I'll use Manual [M5] (in both cases 5 being the gear ratio in use).

One point of note, as I recall kickdown over rides the Manual lock up on all of the smaller engine cars whereas on the six cylinder engines it's totally down to the driver. I found this frustrating on a 320d auto hire car I had in the Alps last year, when I was in Manual and tried to use the torque it would sometimes drop a gear or two when I wasn't expecting it.

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