First Drive: Dacia's Easy-R Automated Manual Gearbox In Detail

Dacia cars with Easy-R gearbox 43 photos
Photo: Dacia
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Dacia, the Romanian brand that commenced a European campaign with great success a little over a decade ago, has once again enhanced its offering.
This time, we are writing about a new gearbox option in the Dacia range, the first “two-pedal” solution ever provided by this automaker on a European level. Dacia calls its product “Easy-R.” The unit is an automated manual gearbox available in pair with either diesel or gasoline engines.

Dacia has been wise enough not to provide the gearbox with the entry-level powertrains, which only provide 75 HP (even less, 73, for the gasoline option). Instead, the Romanian brand offers the new gearbox options with its 90 HP engine options for its Logan, Sandero, and Logan MCV ranges.

The same three models are responsible for Dacia’s current position today. We are talking about Romania’s leading export, and a reputable automaker even when compared to large corporations.

Dacia could not have even dreamed of this without the help of Renault, the French company that acquired it in 1999.

After a long line of careful and wise cost-cutting decisions, Renault managed to make its Dacia arm into a brand that became famous in the mature markets of Western Europe, while still keeping it appealing to its domestic market and in other emergent countries.

So far, no automaker has managed to replicate Dacia’s success in cost cutting that would bring civilized cars at an affordable price in Europe. Sure, the Skoda brand used to do this after it got under Volkswagen’s wealthy arms, but not even they could keep prices as low as Dacia managed to do.

However, Dacia is reaching a slight turning point in its history, where it must cut free from the low-cost roots of its early Renault years and see what it can accomplish with its modern lineup, which features an extremely popular SUV in Europe, the Dacia Duster. In some variants, the Duster is the most powerful production Dacia ever made, while still being one of the most capable off-roaders on the market.

This upmarket strategy lacked an important point - an automatic/automated gearbox. The same request has been circling the Internet for years, and some claimed to have been interested in a Dacia, but eventually chose something else because of the lack of availability of a two-pedal transmission option.

Introducing Dacia’s Easy-R

Easy\-R gearbox exhibit
Photo: Sebastian Toma
Dacia decided to name its first two-pedal solution Easy-R. While some Dacia-based models were sold in non-EU markets with an automatic transmission, the Romanian brand needed something new. So they commissioned an external supplier to take care of things on the technical and software side, while they kept an eye on the price.

The solution was co-developed with specialists at ZF. Instead, the automaker prefers to focus on the fact that it only costs 500 euros more to get this automated manual gearbox instead of a regular row-your-own transmission.

Furthermore, Dacia provides two versions of the same transmission - a five-speed for the gasoline engine, and a six-speed unit for the diesel engine. There are a few minor technical differences between them besides this fact, as the electronic actuator for the gasoline version, as opposed to an electro-hydraulic one for the diesel engine.

Which models will have Dacia’s first two-pedal solution?

Dacia cars with Easy\-R gearbox
Photo: Dacia
Dacia is launching the Easy-R gearbox with three models, the Sandero (including the Sandero Stepway), Logan, and Logan MCV. The three models share a technical platform and have the same front ends, as well as many other parts. As we mentioned above, only the 90 HP engines in these three ranges will get the optional gearbox. Fortunately, customers are not restricted to the top trim level to buy the transmission.

What about the Duster, you ask? Well, Dacia representatives explained that their first SUV is considered for this gearbox option, but it has not been confirmed to get the green light too soon. Dacia has always been cautious about implementing expensive improvements and is all about the economies of scale, so they will first observe the sale of the Logan/Sandero/Logan MCV with the Easy-R gearbox, and then decide on the Duster. Some believe that the SUV in the Dacia range might get a conventional automatic instead.

However, it is worth noting that the representative of the Easy-R department smiled when asked if it was possible to implement the new gearbox into the front-wheel-drive version of the SUV from Dacia. Regarding the four-wheel-drive variant, things might get tricky with development costs, but we will just have to wait and see.

What is the Easy-R supposed to be?

Easy\-R gearbox gear selector
Photo: Sebastian Toma
It is important to understand that this transmission is not a conventional automatic gearbox. Furthermore, the driver must remember that Dacia is a value brand, and has not configured the new transmission for maximum performance or some other extreme behavior. A hill start assist function is included, as well as support for the start-stop technology.

Instead, the Easy-R gearbox is designed for comfortable driving. Fuel economy has also been considered, but transmissions like these do not affect standard figures when compared to their manual equivalents. You might even get a better result than with an identical car with a manual transmission, as the new gearbox shifts smoother than a regular human.

In other words, the new transmission option from Dacia comes as the best-value replacement for a manual gearbox. Those that desired a two-pedal Dacia Sandero for urban driving, or whatever model available with this transmission, now have the possibility to order one and enjoy driving without ever having to press a clutch pedal.

How do Dacia models drive with the Easy-R gearbox?

Gauge cluster of Dacia Sandero 1\.5 dCi Easy\-R while driving
Photo: Sebastian Toma
The first thing you notice is the smooth pull away from zero. The gearbox has a specifically designed function that allows drivers to move slowly (forward or in reverse) without touching the accelerator. Instead, all they have to do is release the brake pedal after a gear has been engaged.

First gear is seamlessly available, while the shifts in second and third can be perceived. Don’t get us wrong, shifting is not jerky or brutal, but you can sense it. Once you get a feel for the car, you will figure out when to lift your foot from the gas for near-seamless shifting. The shift process is pretty quick, but does not match a dual-clutch unit.

At this point, we must note that Dacia’s automated manual gearbox behaves better hand its equivalents from Citroen and Volkswagen, even if we are not talking about cars comparable to the Dacia portfolio.

On the other hand, most human drivers do not manage to shift gears as smoothly as Dacia’s Easy-R gearbox does, especially in the lower gears. The transition from first to second and even second to third using a conventional manual gearbox is well perceived in most cars operated by humans.

Once the fourth gear is selected, you cannot feel the shift unless you are looking at the tachometer or the indicator on the gauge cluster. The manual mode of the gearbox is surprisingly fast, and you can shift your gears a bit smoother than the automated mode. In a way, the automated program is best for city driving, where you sit in a line of cars and slowly move once in a while. Once I got out of the Dacia models and went back to my car in city traffic, I started thinking about that automated manual transmission.

In the case of a hard press of the gas pedal, the kick-down function is activated. It comes with the possibility of changing multiple gears without going through all found in between, and its response is adequate. In a way, this is better than an early twin-clutch unit, as it does not have to go from 6th gear to 5th and 4th to reach third gear. The jump from sixth to third is not lumpy or jerky either.

As is the case with other automated manuals, the Easy-R transmission does not have a "Parking" mode, and you have to select "N" (Neutral) once stopped to shut off the engine. Handbrake must be engaged for securing the car once parked.

So, hats off to Dacia on this one, as this new transmission is better than any CVT or conventional automatic you could buy within the price range of its models. It is even better than some automatics we’ve driven in the past, so good job!

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About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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