Tech Reviews

The Cheapest Way To Improve Your Shifter Feel: Steeda Autosports Review

Cars are considered technology, and The Slanted features tech reviews, so to me this is a perfect opportunity to showcase some tech outside of electronics. Computers, tablets, and video game consoles are all great, but I’d be surprised to find anyone who doesn’t agree that the automobile is one of the most impressive pieces of tech in the last century. And since yours truly used to publish the weekly lead up to Forza Motorsport 4, “Fastest Lap,” on Gaming Examiner, I think it’s high time we get some car related goodness on here.

I recently was able to purchase the car I’ve been pining after for nearly my whole life; a Ford Mustang GT. After nearly a decade of saving, I bought a 2015 Mustang GT with the performance pack. While the car has been everything I was hoping for, it certainly isn’t perfect by any means. This especially is true for the transmission and transmission related parts, probably considered the weak link in the Mustang for the last few years.

The MT-82 transmission is not BAD per se, but when placed alongside the incredibly polished interior of the 2015 and the brilliant independent rear suspension, the MT-82 just seems out of place…almost like it was easier and cheaper just to toss in the transmission from last year’s model. I personally was hoping for the Tremec-TR6060 from last year’s GT500, but I suppose beggars can’t be choosers.

Almost immediately, I had issues with the way the car shifted. Nothing was so bad that I regretted my purchase, but I’m no stranger to a stick shift, and something was just “off.” The shifts felt mushy, they didn’t click into the gates smoothly (a small series of clicks as opposed to one clean click), and there was WAY too much play in the movement of the shifter, even while in gear. Overall, the shifting experience just felt “cheap,” which yes, I admit, in the past this would have come as no surprise.

Steeda Review

I’m sure any Audi fan would absolutely agree that American cars just weren’t known for high quality craftsmanship. This year is all about being different, though. This year’s Mustang is the first to be sold globally, and the level of class and refinement reflects this. This year’s Mustang can finally stand toe to toe with BMW and Audi and not look woefully out of place. Because of this, the wonky feel of the shifter just didn’t work with the rest of the car.

In my quest to improve the feel of the shifter (without dropping thousands on a brand new transmission and MGW/Barton shifter assembly), I turned to the online forums, and this is where I met up with Steeda Autosports, a leader in Mustang upgrades and parts since 1988. Steeda and I share the same goals (along with thousands of other forum members); to not only make our beloved Mustangs better than they could possibly be, but to improve on systems that may have been a bit lacking from the factory. For me, this started with the shifter.

Enter Steeda with their shifter base bushing bracket, transmission mount bushing insert, and tri-ax short throw shifter.

Combined, these three parts are the best bang for your buck if you’re looking to improve the performance of your shifter. With prices at $74.95, $114.95, and $29.95 respectively, you can improve the feel of your shifting for $219.85, which is an absolute steal when you consider competitors such as MGW and Barton go for around $400-$500.

My contact at Steeda was sincere when he said that Steeda wanted to offer customers an opportunity to upgrade their shifter without having to purchase an entire transmission mounted assembly for half a grand. Job well done so far, Steeda.

The shifter base bushing bracket was the first to go in. I implore anyone with a 2015 Mustang to look into this upgrade. The OEM shifter bracket is made from a cheap, squishy rubber and a thin, pliable aluminum frame. When I pulled this bracket out, the entire thing bent between my fingers, and I wasn’t even using that much force!

Imagine how the existing bracket held up when I was performing more aggressive shifts; no wonder the shifter kept jiggling around and had an insane amount of vibration. The Steeda replacement bushing, on the other hand, is made of a solid, dense, high quality polyurethane, while the bracket itself is made from an aerospace-grade aluminum. In short, it’s solid and doesn’t bend under pressure or move around.

Removal of the OEM bracket was a cinch. It was as easy as propping my car up on jack stands and using a 10mm socket (with extender) to remove the bracket. I have relatively big hands, but removing the pieces was no problem, even with the bulk of the transmission and driveshaft blocking my path. Reinstalling the new Steeda bracket, on the other hand, was a major pain (through no fault of the bracket itself).

My hands were simply too big, and the angle of my extender meant I couldn’t get the nuts to screw into the bolts straight. After nearly an hour of losing my temper, I finally recruited my wife and her tiny hands to crawl under and get those nuts on. After that, I just gave the nuts a good tightening, and off I went for a test drive.

The difference was noticeable immediately, though I want to be clear that there isn’t a significantly different feel. This bracket isn’t meant to dramatically change the way your shifter performs; rather, think of it as a way to simply firm up what’s already there. Prior to the swap, I sometimes had issues shifting from 2nd-3rd and 4th-5th while driving at faster speeds. For whatever reason, in those conditions, I would get “locked out” of 3rd and 5th.

I had press the clutch a number of times and really jiggle the shifter and force it into the gate. Obviously this wasn’t ideal, and after removing the OEM bushing bracket, it was clear why this was happening. With the thin bracket and flimsy, squishy bushing, it made sense that the entire transmission would shift around during the heavy vibration of spirited driving. I’m no noob to stick shifts, and it was good to know that it wasn’t ME that was mussing up those shifts, but rather the entire assembly becoming momentarily misaligned. Yeesh.

The Steeda bushing bracket did not eliminate movement completely, but certainly helped a lot. To firm things up even more and eliminate even more unwanted movement, we turn to the Steeda transmission mount bushing.

While the shifter bushing bracket replacement firmed up with spot where the shifter assembly mounts to the transmission, the trans mount bushing firms up the spot where the transmission mounts to the cross member. Basically, each piece firms up a spot on different ends of the transmission, giving you as much stability as possible (for a remote mounted shifter assembly).

The installation for the trans mount bushing was super easy, even easier than the shifter bracket. All it involved was removing six bolts holding the cross member in place, propping up the transmission with a jack, greasing up the Steeda bushing insert, shoving it into the existing hole for the factory rear trans bushing, and reinstalling the cross member. Done. Took me less than 20 minutes. It took me longer to jack up the car than to install this part.

After the trans mount bushing was installed, I took her out for another spin. Any vibrating and jiggling that remained after the shifter bushing bracket (there was very little) was basically gone after the trans bushing.

There was a tiny bit of additional NVH, but certainly not anything so bad that I regretted putting the pieces on. Additional NVH makes sense; it would appear that the flimsiness of the OEM pieces was because Ford wanted to cut down on harshness and make a more comfy ride.

Unfortunately, that sacrifices firmness and created those issues I spoke of earlier. For those who don’t mind a minimal increase in NVH, you’ll find yourself with a significantly more stable shifter/trans assembly. And as far as the additional noise and vibration goes, I felt it the most in my seat and the shifter…all good things, in my opinion. It makes me feel more “connected” to the car, and more Mustang noise can only be a good thing.

The only thing left to do for even MORE crisp shifts was to install the Steeda tri ax short throw shifter. Before we continue with this portion of the review, let me clarify something. I KNOW that MGW and Barton have superior shifters. This is evident in just the construction of those units.

They mount directly to the transmission as opposed to the OEM remote mount that is used, so things are just more stable. I also know, however, that I do not have $400-$500 to spend on improving the shifter at the moment. That’s why the Steeda short throw shifter was so incredibly attractive of an option.

It was only $114, and uses the existing factory mount to the transmission, and retains the reverse lockout (something I’m actually a really big fan of). Steeda has offered consumers an “in between” option for those that want to upgrade their OEM shifter but don’t want to blow half a grand on a full assembly like MGW or Barton or even the Ford Racing short throw shifter (still in the upper $200s).

Steeda claims a 15% shorter throw with their shifter, and while I don’t have a way to actually verify that, I can say that the shifts are noticeably shorter. How much shorter, I don’t know, but it’s something that is 100% noticeable. The shifter sits a bit lower than stock, and banging through gears is nice and crisp.

The best way I can describe it is like this: with the stock shifter, when shifting into the each gate, you would get a rapid “click click click” sound as you engage each gear. With the Steeda short throw, you get a simple “clack,” almost like a bolt action rifle.

It feels less like you’re forcing and coaxing the shifter into each gear, and more like it just wants to go in. I have no basis for comparison, but I would say other than even shorter throws, unless MGW and Barton’s shifters can also do my taxes for me, I think I made an excellent choice for the price..

Between the three pieces, the short throw shifter was the most difficult and time consuming of the installs. Mind you, it was not HARD necessarily, just be prepared to have a couple of hours free and a boatload of patience. Oh, and do me a favor; if you’re going to be installing the shifter, please ignore all the install videos and instructions and remove the exhaust and driveshaft.

All the videos say you don’t have to, but the driveshaft blocks EVERYTHING. Unless you have freakishly tiny hands, you’re in for a bad time. The amount of time and work to remove the driveshaft and sections of the exhaust are minimal compared to the headache you will endure if you try to work around these part trying to screw tiny nuts and bolts that are out of reach. I learned this the hard way, and the next time I am going under, I’m removing that stuff first.

After installing all three pieces and driving around for a bit, it’s surprising to me that Ford was ok with the feel of the stock shifter assembly. For those who are only familiar with the stock shifter, things might feel a bit iffy, but nothing too crazy.

Once you’ve tried an alternative, however, it’s clear that there are MUCH better options out there, many for very reasonable price. This trio of Steeda products is one such option. For only $220 total (TOTAL!) you can significantly improve the feel of your shifts. Sure, a bit of work is involved, but Steeda provides all the instructions, and as long as you have the time and patience, this is an extremely easy task.

Each piece on their own makes a noticeable difference, but combine all three for the best results. It’s a small price to pay for a much better shifting experience.

more info can be found at steeda.com