The Koenigsegg gearbox is the Innovation of the Year

The Koenigsegg gearbox is the Innovation of the Year

When was the last time you had a good idea? And by that we mean a great idea, a master of imagination and endless possibilities. Christian von Koenigsegg has experiences like this more often than you can cut your nails. But he also works differently from us. When push comes to shove, he doesn’t back down. He blossoms, without fear of what it will cost or doubt if it will succeed.

For Christian’s latest incarnation, he outfitted his own Lightspeed nine-speed automatic transmission with software, actuators, and a shifter; until something looked, felt and acted like a manual transmission. Why? For the Jesko-based CC850, a 3.7 million Euro retro tribute to Koenigsegg’s first production car, the CC8S, he and his team wanted an analog feel, à la the original six-speed manual gearbox.

Fine: hire a good distributor and get something that can handle the 1,385 hp and 1,385 Nm of your 5.1 liter biturbo V8. That’s how most would handle it. But for CvK that was not acceptable at all.

Christian von Koenigsegg about the gearbox

‘First of all, you wouldn’t have the option of driving in fully automatic mode, which is now possible. And secondly, you will have to have a flywheel on the engine, which will mean the death of its present great freedom of raising and lowering. A conventional gearbox would also be heavy. It would also lead to more homology work, because now we just have to show that training with a “guide layer” on it also works.’

Look, it all doesn’t seem so illogical anymore, does it? But how does it work? To answer that question, we first have to look at how the machine that creates the foundation works.

This is how Koenigsegg’s special gear works

With six forward gears on two separate axles, each with its own clutch, and a seventh reverse gear, it basically works a bit like a derailleur on your racing bike. Connect the clutch to each axle and each of the three gears on one axle combines with the gear on the other side to create a unique ratio – nine ratios in total.

An added benefit is that the whole thing is smaller and weighs two-thirds of what a comparable dual-clutch automatic transmission weighs. What ESS does is add electronic coupling and switching – everything by wire – and fun software that makes the system do manual things.

Koenigsegg CC850 interiorKoenigsegg CC850 interior

Life purpose: find someone who looks at you the way our man looks at that open career change pattern

Depress the clutch pedal with your left foot and all seven clutch packs open. Put it in the first position and the coupling on the first axle closes in preparation. Let go of the pedal, the clutch on the second axle engages and away you go… Just like you have a manual transmission. All that remains to be done is to create dynamic feedback on the pedals and levers, so that everything feels like you would experience if it were all mechanical.

And because you have nine ratios to play with, but six openings in the open gearbox, the ratio can be different for every driving situation. For example, in Track mode the first gear is longer and therefore more active.

Transmission requires some thought from the driver

The mental step you have to take is to accept the fact that it is closer to true manual transmission than you might think. You operate the buttons with your left foot and the lever changes gears. It only happens through proper electronics instead of moving hydraulic fluid or moving metal parts.

What’s even more impressive is that all the quirks and features of a traditional manual gearbox are built in; release the clutch very quickly and the car stalls. You can slip the clutch and you can’t put down gear if the revs are too high. Getting the bucket to work perfectly is a prize you have to earn, not a given.

The Failure of the Year award goes to… ourselves

When we enthusiastically demonstrate the system to a group of onlookers on the postcard-perfect 17-Mile Drive in Monterey, California, we slip the clutch as if it were our first driving lesson and stop the engine. The pain.

Our apologies: this was an early version of the system, without power feedback on the pedals and levers. And trying to find balance with an engine that builds its revs like a superbike on nitro, with feather-light pedals where you don’t feel out of place, is like arguing with kitchen knives.

Koenigsegg CC850 wheelKoenigsegg CC850 wheel

It was also a low-speed demo, so while this was the first time anyone outside of Koenigsegg had driven the CC850, we still can’t say how the car will perform at any kind of limit – that’s for another time. But that gearbox? Yes, it feels like a manual transmission, it works like a manual transmission… It is a manual transmission.

The CC850 captivates and inspires you

Even when it bothers you a little, you can feel the principles by which this magic works. We haven’t gone more than 60 kilometers per hour, we haven’t even begun to explore the incredible potential of this car, and yet you are already completely absorbed in the process. We read the road better, we listen to the feedback the car gives, we plan downshifts and we focus like a laser on the shifting process: we want to improve it.

Even at this snail’s pace, a manual transmission doesn’t usually reveal itself that easily, which translates into an old-fashioned feel, even if the technology that makes it possible is more modern.

The Koenigsegg CC850 drives aheadKoenigsegg CC850 drives ahead

A slightly detuned Jesko V8, but 1,385 hp is still 1,350 more than you can use here.

‘There are a million more things we can do to make driving easier, using over-the-air updates for example. But I prefer to put more energy into it to make sure that you can’t ignore the real feeling,” says Christian.

We ask him where that comes from, that belief that ideas are possible, that they will work in practice. “Oh, that will involve taking up the gauntlet for 30 years, facing the unknown and continuing until it works.” I don’t follow any religion, but I have learned to believe over time.’

TopGear Awards 2023TopGear Awards 2023