Note: Since I wrote the review below of the UUC vs. RE SSK's I have installed the AutoSolutions Ultimate short shift kit in my car. While my opinion regarding the comparison of the RE and UUC shifters below has not changed I now believe that the AutoSolutions is the BEST SSK for the M3 bar none and it is the SSK now in my car. I've also had the opportunity to drive a car with the B&M which I feel is on par with UUC but not in the same league as AutoSolutions. For a full review of what I feel is the best SSK on the market: AutoSolutions Ultimate SSK Review.
So in the ring we have the two 400lb gorillas of the short shift market - Rogue Engineering vs. UUC. These kits seem to dominate the e46 M3 marketplace and have both gained a strong reputation and a loyal following - I would say with good reason in both cases. Some (including those who's opinion I respect) have said that you cannot fell the difference between the two shifters - having had both in my car I would rather strongly disagree with that assessment. I can most definitely tell the difference between the Rogue and UUC SSK's. Both are good but there is a definite difference so read on!
Just to set things straight I have no affiliation what so ever with either UUC or Rogue Engineering - I'm just a curious sort with a masochistic bend for installing short shifters.
As an added twist the Rogue SSK in this review is the newly redesigned Octane kit. This SSK differs from the kit most of you are familiar with in that it includes a new carrier and a bent shift lever as opposed to the original kit that utilized a straight lever and the stock carrier. The UUC SSK in this comparison is the Evolution II with the bearing upgrade. Both shifters were tested in the same car with the following related modifications: Rogue Engineering Transmission Mounts and Royal Purple Syncromax Transmission Fluid. The car had 13K miles on the clock at the conclusion of the comparison and I had driven the car for about 8K miles with the stock shifter before replacing it with UUC's SSK. The UUC SSK has been in my car for 4K miles and I test drove with the Rogue SSK for a little over 1K miles. I have done numerous autoX events with the UUC and 2 with the Rogue SSK. I have not had the car on the track with either SSK (only with the stock unit). The UUC adjustable height lever was set to its lowest position for this test. The Rogue SSK was a pre-production unit.
To get a few things straight right off the bat - there is no real loser in this comparison and most of what I have to say relates to preference rather than actual design flaws of the shift kits. I will also say up front that both SSK's are 100% better than the rubbery, vague, long throw stock shifter.
Another thing that most people fail to realize in their mud slinging affairs at internet message boards is that 90% of what is wrong with the way the stock car shifts CANNOT be remedied with a shift kit. The main complaint of "notchiness" is NOT in the shift lever - there is absolutely nothing a shift kit can do to get rid of it (or induce it for that matter). A shift kit can be engineered to veil the notchiness in the system but it will do so at the expense of other things. The "notchiness" is in the Getrag D transmission itself and NOTHING you attach in front of it will ever reduce or alleviate it - SSK's can simply mask or "color" it - if you don't believe me you really do not need to read the rest of this comparison.
Now to answer another question: Those who know me know that I have been a proponent of the UUC SSK for some time and that I have had one in my car a while. Why on earth did I get the Rogue SSK and take the time to do this comparison? Well, actually, I called Rogue with some questions regarding torque values for their transmission mounts (which I would highly recommend, but that's a whole other write up) and ended up spending close to an hour on the phone with Ben Laiw (the owner and head product developer at Rogue Engineering). We managed to meander onto the subject of shift kits and the whole UUC vs. Rogue "debate." I told Ben about this site and he suggested that I try their shifter - my curiosity got the best of me and a Rogue Octane was on the way to me.
As an aside, Ben is an incredibly knowledgeable and interesting guy. He spent quite a bit of time discussing why he did certain things a particular way when it came to the new version of the Octane shifter and how he felt it made it better than either the current (old) Octane shifter and the UUC Evolution II, etc. (and yes I know who designed the UUC shifter, thanks). I've only spoken once with Rob Levinson at UUC but had a similar experience with him - both are great guys who seem to have a passion for refining what already is a very good car.
On to the facts at hand:
What do you get for the your money:
The UUC SSK is comprised of a new shift lever, 2 aluminum bushings, 2 plastic washers, retaining clip, carrier cup, tube of grease and a set of bearings (if you get the bearing "upgrade" kit).
The Rogue Engineering SSK comes with a new shift lever, new carrier, WSR (weighted selector rod - to replace the stock unit), carrier retaining clip, 4 plastic washers, 2 retaining clips, and a carrier cup (you have to supply the synthetic grease).
The workmanship on both kits is exceptional and there are no apparent quality differences in the construction or finish of the parts.
UUC SSK comes in at $225 with the bearing upgrade kit and the new Rogue SSK is $315.
Since the UUC shifter does not require swapping out the carrier and selector rod the install is MUCH easier. Though still a pain in the ass, someone with a bit of experience can probably install the UUC kit in a little under an hour. The Rogue SSK requires the removal of a bunch of parts underneath the car, including the mid pipe and the transmission brace. This is not really a lot of fun and takes at least twice as long to do as the UUC install. If you want all of the dirty details on how both go in see the DIY section of this site for detailed descriptions of both installs.
Both installs can be done by a competent home mechanic with plenty of time on his/her hands and the right tools. Both require working by feel for parts of the job as much of the stuff you work on is hidden away above the transmission housing. This is particularly true of the Rogue install as it pertains to the carrier and the front end of the selector rod.
The shift levers:
The UUC lever differs from the Rogue unit in its ability to adjust for height - allowing the user to set it anywhere from about stock height to about ¾" below it. UUC's lever also has a stainless steel ball machined into the lever itself. Rogue's lever is shorter than UUC's but due to the fact that the carrier raises its position in the car it sits tad bit higher than the UUC does at its lowest position once installed. Rogue uses a synthetic ball pinned to the lever. The lower opening (for the selector rod) has a synthetic insert in the Rogue lever vs. a machined steel opening in the UUC (in which the bearings a situated). Both levers are shorter than stock and use heavy upper steel sections rather than the thin walled cover over a rubber insert that the OEM lever utilizes. Both look to be better made than OEM as well.
Rogue uses a longer lower section (below the ball) to offset for its raised mounting position in the raised carrier and to shorten the shift than either UUC (which is also longer than OEM) or OEM. The upper section is thus shorter on the Rogue shifter than both UUC and OEM (UUC is again shorter on top than OEM). To rehash on basic physics, the shorter the upper section and the longer the lower section - the shorter the shift and the higher the required input to move the lever.
The selector rod:
UUC simply reuses the OEM selector rod. This is where the principle difference lays with the Rogue SSK - the WSR (weighted selector rod). The WSR replaces the OEM rod and adds 426 grams (that's close to a pound for the unwashed among us) to the weight of the stock unit. The rod is a 3 piece affair with a large and heavy center section and pins installed at either end to connect with the transmission and the shift lever. Workmanship is again exceptional.
UUC again reuses the stock unit but replaces the plastic cup with a new one. The new version of the Rogue Octane provide a new carrier used to raise the pivot point of the shift lever in order to compensate for the extended length of the lower section of the shift lever - again as a way to reset the alignment of the mechanism. The new carrier is an OEM piece with the cup section removed and replaced with an aluminum cup of Rogue's own design as well as a new plastic cup insert.
The rest of the hardware for both kits look to be exact replacements for OEM pieces. This includes washers, clips, pins, etc.
Both SSK's put the knob at about the same height in the cabin though the Rogue sits about 1/4" taller. The Rogue SSK appears to provide a slightly shorter shift than UUC (less than ¼" difference from in gear to in gear front to back). The Rogue SSK sits about a ¼" further forward than the UUC kit and this change remains for the whole shift pattern. This also bears out the lever design differences and the way that the new carrier relocates the pivot point on the Rogue unit. There is no way that you could tell which of the two shifters is in the car from simply looking at it.
A dry run through the gears:
This is where the difference between these kits starts to become very obvious. The Rogue shifter feels significantly heavier to the touch than UUC. With the transmission in neutral, moving the UUC lever requires almost no effort where as the Rogue kit provides a good bit of resistance. Once in gear both shifters feel very solid and locked in (unlike the noodle-like OEM shifter). From neutral into gear feels heavier with the Rogue shifter than with UUC and both are about the same in terms of "notchiness." Getting into reverse, 1st and 2nd is easier with UUC than with Rogue, 3rd and 4th are about the same and 5th and 6th feel more natural with Rogue than with UUC.
Going for a drive:
Both shifters work very well on the road and I did not have any serious problems with either unit. The Rogue shifter does not seem to transmit as much transmission noise up through the system as UUC. I can't really complain about either making noise in either case though I could hear some synchro noise when downshifting to first while still slowing to a stop with UUC but not with Rogue. There was no difference in vibration transmitted up through the lever with any of the shifters.
The Rogue shifter makes every shift feel deliberate and complete, the shifter snaps into place with greater authority than UUC and it feels a little less notchy when actually shifting from gear to gear. On the other hand the shifts with the Rogue SSK feel heavy and slow. UUC's shifter fells like its feather weight in comparison, it takes much less effort to initiate the shift and to get into the next gear than Rogue but it does not snap into place with the same satisfaction as provided by the Rogue unit. This then is the crux of the matter between these two systems: And the culprit is the WSR.
To backtrack a bit to what I said at the beginning of this rant, the "notchiness" is not in the shift lever and cannot be removed by the SSK it can only be masked so to speak by adding contraptions that provide weight to the system thus using the inertia created by the movement out of gear and through neutral into the new gear to mask the "notchiness" felt with the OEM shifter. To make matters worse, by shortening the throw you increase the amount of "notchiness" actually felt by the user thus requiring more work to mask it than with a stock length throw.
The WSR adds almost a pound of weight to the bottom of the shift linkage. Once all of this weight is moving in the direction of the new gear it provides an enormous amount of added inertia to overcome the crappy feel built into the transmission. A great and simple example is to imagine punching a punching bag with just your fist and then doing so again with a 1lb weight in your hand. To throw the two punches at with the same speed requires significantly more effort in the weighted scenario than in the just your closed fist version BUT assuming the same speed, you will hit the bag much harder than with just a closed fist. So it takes more to initially throw the punch but the end result is far more energy being transferred to the bag. On the other hand you cannot punch as fast with the weight in your hand so there in lays the tradeoff. And this trade off exists in spades when using either the WSR or a very heavy shift knob.
Another thing is that the "notchiness" in the system is most pronounced when the transmission is cold and tends to smooth out there after. When cold you can feel the difference in the two shifters but as the transmission warms up the difference become less and less apparent until it basically disappears. The thing that remains is the heavy, slow, deliberate feel of the Rogue shifter as opposed to the light and quick feel of the UUC.
This simply becomes a preference thing in the end - Rogue has a more refined feel as a whole but the slow shifts it induces and the heavy movement of the lever drove me nuts. UUC is a bit more abrupt but the shifts can be made in a lightning quick fashion (as compared to OEM and Rogue) and nothing really beats that satisfaction of running up through the gears with a snap into place at the end of each shift. UUC's shifts feel almost effortless while the Rogue shifter requires a conscious effort to initiate.
I would argue that without the WSR the shifters would feel basically identical to each other. I did not try the WSR with the UUC lever. I don't think that the feel of the UUC shifter would be dissimilar to the Rogue unit with the WSR in place as described above. I did try both shifters with both the stock knob and a UUC RKIII (the aluminum version). I preferred the UUC SSK with the RKIII and the Rogue SSK with the stock knob. This is also a telling difference - the RKIII weighs around 7.5oz as opposed to the 3oz or so for the stock knob. The 4 odd ounces make a nice change to the UUC shifter (help with "notchiness") but only exacerbate what I did not like (the weight) with the Rogue unit.
So the big question: Which shifter is still in my car? UUC. Why, well as outlined above I love the short, crisp, light and quick shifts the UUC kit offers and while the Rogue kit feels a bit more deliberate with every shift it also requires a deliberate effort to make the shift in the first place - something that I could not really live with. I want the shifter to simply do what it is supposed to do with as little attention paid to it as possible. The slight additional refinement of shifter feel that Rogue provides just does not offset the lightning quick shifts of the UUC. Not to harp on this but when I first installed the Rogue shifter I had to retime the clutch and gas inputs to accommodate the way the shifter worked. I ground gears a couple of times because my brain had assumed that the shift was complete and I started to let out the clutch while the shifter was still in the process of going into gear. Conversely, after installing the UUC SSK back in the car I jerked the car around for a day or so since I was waiting too long to let out the clutch and give it gas - funny how the mind adapts to these things.
In conclusion I would argue that either one of these kits will make the owner blissfully happy as attested many times in the under informed pissing contests at message boards all over the internet. Both are head and shoulders above the OEM shifter. In the end others may choose the Rogue SSK for precisely the reasons that I did not keep it while those who express the same requirements as I do will probably like the UUC SSK better. So is one better than the other? Well, yes to me the UUC is better - but there is a very heavy emphasis here on "to me" and I cannot infer that others will feel exactly the same way. When I spoke to Ben Laiw about my experience with both shifters we agreed that the feel induced by these shifters is a matter of priorities. Those who track, autoX, drive like mad men, etc. I would presume to prefer the UUC kit while those looking for a heavy, deliberate feel to their shifts will prefer the Rogue version. Like everything else in life it's a trade off. There is no way to externally change the way the transmission itself feels so everything in front of it is simply a band aid on a poor design - how the band aid is applied makes a difference in how it goes about covering up the shortcoming of the transmission and that my friends is a matter of preference.