It's a bit like Spinal Tap's amplifiers going up to 11. The new trend in automatic transmissions is to have eight ratios. Lexus started it and now Audi and BMW will follow, since they both source their slushboxes from the venerable ZF company. Word has it that Audi will offer eight gears in the A8, the Q7, and the upcoming A7-the five-door sportback due for a 2011 release. Down the road from Ingolstadt, in Munich we will see this gearbox in the new 5 Series, the 7 Series and the X6. There's a considerable upside: A transmission with eight gears rarely has to hunt for the right ratio, consumption and emissions are more favorable (14 percent over a five-speeder), and these things shift fast 'n' smooth. But can we stick with eight for a while? Surely we don't need nine gears yet.

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