Make Mine a Manual
Our Senior Writer makes the case for manual transmissions.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: August 14th, 2012
ave the Manuals. That's been the rallying cry among serious gearheads of late, as the manual transmission continues what appears to be a long slide into the dustbin of history.
Automatics have long been more popular than manuals, and improved technology has taken away two of the primary reasons that stick-shift drivers were holding out: fuel economy and performance. On top of that, dual-clutch automated manuals have given drivers the chance to shift gears without having to resort to using an actual clutch pedal.
Give me three pedals and a real gearbox any day.
I acknowledge that some dual-clutch manuals are fun to drive, and I concede that in stop-and-go traffic, an automatic brings more comfort. But that being said, I am going to have to go old-school on this one. Give me three pedals and a real gearbox any day. No paddles, please.
A lot of folks don't understand the preference for manuals among serious car nuts. Sure, they say, driving a stick might make for more fun at the track, but all we do these days is commute. Who wants to spend two hours a day or more in traffic in a manual transmission, never getting out of second gear?
That's a valid point, but I'd argue that the involvement that comes with a true manual transmission outweighs any inconvenience. That's why I prefer driving a stick.
Plop me behind the wheel of a car with an automatic—even a fancy dual-clutch unit with paddle shifters—and I feel like I'm commuting, not driving. Shifting gears myself gives me a feeling of involvement that no automatic can match.
I've found other advantages to driving a manual as well. Short-shifting (shifting earlier than I need to) and skipping gears has helped me wring slightly higher fuel-economy out of cars. I've fought off fatigue while driving a stick because of the need to shift gears (not that driving while sleepy is a good idea, but when you're 19 years old and commuting back and forth to college, you do what you gotta do).
Here's another stick-shift advantage: have a dead battery and no jumper cables? Try a push start (get the car rolling in gear by pushing it and then dump the clutch). Want to slow down but save your brakes? Downshift and engine brake a bit.
Distracted driving is also less tempting in a manual-transmission car. Sure, one should never text and drive, and eating while driving can be problematic, but try doing it in a stick. The temptation to drive with one hand and use the other to fiddle with your phone or hold a drive-thru cheeseburger is quickly reduced, if only because it's much harder to juggle that many things at once.
Maybe the problem in the stick-shift-versus-automatic debate isn't the transmissions themselves, but the larger car culture. As noted above, we don't really drive anymore, we commute. Driving at 20 miles per hour on a straight road isn't much fun.
Not only that, but outside of the gearhead world, car culture is shrinking. It's not just the millennials who'd rather be playing with their smartphones who are causing the concern. Car culture just isn't what it was in the '50s and '60s, for a variety of reasons. Blame the malaise era of the '70s. Blame traffic gridlock. Blame cars that are increasingly difficult for do-it-yourselfers to modify. Whatever the reason, the car culture has shrunk. Our cars were once mobile extensions of ourselves. Now they're rolling offices, or moving living rooms.
Creature comforts aren't a bad thing—I'm not one of those automotive Luddites who wishes to return to the simpler times of decades past. I'm cool with backup cameras, Bluetooth, USB ports, parking-assist systems, the whole deal. I can live with those things, and in some cases, I've come to appreciate them. Living in the city, for example, I find backup cameras helpful when parallel parking. And as a music fan, I'm glad I can plug my iPod into a USB port or stream music from my iPhone.
One area where I will not budge, however, is with the transmission. While stick-shifts don't make sense in all cars (high-end luxo barges are fine with automatics), I'd like the choice to row my own gears in more than just the sportiest cars. I know manual-transmission take rates are low in most cases, but I wonder if more customers who opt to shift their own gears if they had the choice to in the first place. And don't get me started on OEMs who only offer manuals in the most basic models, while denying buyers who want more luxury features the choice to go manual.
Sure, shifting your own gears can be annoying at times. But I'd rather be a little inconvenienced at times in order to feel like I'm accomplishing something behind the wheel. Otherwise, I might as well take the train.