Although manual (aka standard shift; stickshift) transmissions are still more popular here than in markets like the US and Japan, automakers on this side of the Atlantic are steadily widening automatic gearbox availability in Europe, particularly when combined with turbodiesel engines.

Renault has just updated its Espace large MPV (minivan) range with new 2.0 dCi 150hp and 175hp diesels combined with the AJ0 flick-shift, six-speed, proactive transmission developed jointly by Renault and Nissan under their alliance.

The automaker said its latest generation technology and the ratios chosen for all six gears deliver flexible performance, low fuel consumption and responsive acceleration. This new evolution of the engine, also recently added to the smaller Scenic MPV range, has been optimised for the Espace thanks to a new torque converter and shorter ratios for enhanced performance, while the oil control system (OCS) permits oil change intervals of up to 20,000 miles (30,000km) depending on use.

The six-speed automatic Espace 2.0 dCi 175hp is  equipped with a particulate filter and offers top level fuel consumption for its category, with combined cycle performance of just 8.2 litres/100km (equivalent to 217g of CO2/km), plus acceleration from standstill to 100kph in 11 seconds.

The AJ0 gearbox is a flick-shift, six-speed, automatic transmission. Its control unit  permanently monitors and analyses a variety of parameters (vehicle speed, engine speed and torque, position of pedals, etc.) with a view to selecting the ideal gear. It also communicates permanently with the ECU to ensure optimal torque during gearshifts.

In automatic mode, the AJO transmission's control unit selects the ideal gear thanks to its auto-adaptive settings which are based on three parameters (driving style, type of road - uphill, downhill or flat - and the driver's reactions in real-time) to favour smoothness without compromising either punch or acceleration pick-up. The control unit is programmed to instantly downshift whenever the driver presses hard on the accelerator pedal ('kick down' function) to deliver extra power when overtaking.

In manual mode, the driver dictates driving style by activating the flick-shift lever. It does, however, also incorporate a number of automatic functions designed to facilitate driving (for example, it automatically engages first gear when the vehicle comes to a standstill) or to protect the gearbox (protection against over-revving).

Special attention has been paid to the gearshift quality of this cable-controlled, three-shaft transmission as well as to combating mechanical friction, resulting in even greater driving pleasure and fuel economy.

Drive is disconnected when the vehicle is at a standstill to minimise residual vibrations and fuel consumption at idle. Meanwhile, the slip function developed for this transmission has led to a significant reduction in the phenomenon of booming at low engine speeds for enhanced driving comfort, especially when reaccelerating.

The spread - the ratio between the first and final gears - is 6.12. Compared with the four- or five-speed automatic transmissions, this gearbox offers two principal advantages: the shorter first gear improves pull-away performance, while the longer sixth gear ensures lower fuel consumption and less noise when travelling on motorways.

Special care has gone into its acoustic performance, too. Booming, growl and whine have been all but eliminated thanks to the design of the casing and the hydraulic converter damping system.

Thanks to its pressure-cast aluminium alloy casing, the AJ0 tips the scales at a low 93kg (without  fluids), while its compact dimensions (length: 385mm) permit the powertrain to be located transversely in the engine compartment. This transmission is lubricated for life by eight litres of oil, is cooled by a water/oil intercooler incorporated in the casing, and can be mated to either diesel or petrol powerplants.

The AJ0 transmission is manufactured at Jatco's Yagi factory in Japan - this supplier is a long-time make of automatic gearboxes for Nissan.

Nissan Europe, meanwhile, recently added a six-speed automatic two-litre turbodiesel powertrain option to its new Qashqai crossover range. This model line, built in Sunderland, north-east England, and exported to Japan and (soon) Australia, replaced the Almera, Almera Tino and Primera late last year.