What do Lexus paddle shift switches do?

Tucked behind the steering wheel of all hybrid Lexus IS, NX, GS, RC and RX models is a pair of silver paddle shift switches. Positioned within immediate reach of the driver’s fingertips, the paddle on the left is engraved with a ‘-’ sign and the one on the right is engraved with a ‘+’ sign.

Pulling on these paddles enables the driver to take greater control over the automatic transmission. Why might this be necessary, and in what circumstances might you want use the paddles? To answer these questions, let us first get a deeper understanding of the vehicle’s transmission.

Lexus E-CVT

All Lexus petrol-electric hybrid models are equipped with our electronic continuously variable transmission (E-CVT), which has an infinite number of gear ratios at its disposal. The system controlling this transmission constantly analyses prevailing conditions to select the optimal gear ratio for that precise moment. When that moment passes, it moves seamlessly and imperceptibly to the next ratio.

Lexus E-CVT and hybrid

This imperceptible transitioning between infinitely variable gear ratios is a key element in delivering the refined driving experience valued by Lexus customers. But we are aware that some drivers might miss the stepped sensation of fixed gear ratios being engaged, as there usually is in cars with traditional transmission types.

This is where the paddle shift switches come into play. Activating these paddles generates a feeling similar to the manual changing of gear ratios and is designed to enhance driver engagement.

Lexus paddle shift switches

Using the paddle switches brings the E-CVT into a manual override mode that provides a six-step sequential function. It is a system designed to provide a more linear match between increases in engine and vehicle speed.

Each of the steps is not a fixed gear ratio but a shift range selection that narrows the operation of the transmission into six predetermined areas. Changing from one step to another alters the level of engine braking and grants the driver the flexibility of operating the car in the shift range of his or her choice.

It is a system designed to provide a more linear match between increases in engine and vehicle speed

By manually selecting a lower shift range with the paddle switches, the driver can access greater accelerative force than is normally possible in a higher shift range. It can also increase engine braking force under deceleration by raising engine revolutions.

For example, the driver may want to use the paddles to manually hold the engine in a set range while negotiating a long, sweeping bend, or introduce increasing levels of engine braking when approaching a roundabout. Adding a measure of engine braking could also help the driver maintain a comfortable pace when descending long hills, although this method is actually less efficient at regenerating electrical energy for the hybrid system than using the foot brake.

Selecting shift ranges in the ‘D’ position

To enter manual mode when the transmission is in ‘D’ position, simply pull the ‘-’ paddle. The initial shift range (from D2 to D5) is displayed in the instrument cluster and is automatically set according to the vehicle speed.

After the manual mode is activated, all steps from D1 to D6 become available, and can be selected by pulling the relevant paddle shift switch. However, the programme is designed to protect the engine from straying beyond the rev limits of each shift range. In such circumstances, the system will automatically select a gear that is more appropriate to the vehicle speed.

To return the transmission to its automatic ‘D’ function, simply pull the ‘+’ paddle until the shift range number disappears from the instrument cluster.

Selecting shift ranges in the ‘S’ position

To enter ‘S’ (sport) mode, simply move the shift lever in the centre console from ‘D’ to ‘S’. The initial shift range (from S2 to S5) is displayed in the instrument cluster and is automatically set according to the vehicle speed.

After this manual mode is activated, all steps from S1 to S6 become available, and can be selected by pulling the relevant paddle shift switch or by gently pulling/pushing the shift lever. However, the programme is designed to protect the engine from straying beyond the rev limits in shift ranges one through four. In such circumstances, the system will automatically select a gear that is more appropriate to the vehicle speed.

To exit ‘S’ mode, simply slide the shift lever back into fully automatic ‘D’ mode.

Learn more: Perfect partners – E-CVT and hybrid

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