Controversial! Manual Transmissions are Over-Rated

By: Anthony Fongaro

Original Post:

*Note: this isn’t my opinion. This article is more to spark a discussion. I love #savethemanuals. With that, please enjoy a controversial article.

Some people are fans of electric cars. Others regale the days of the glorious V12s which are now few-and-far in-between. The same goes for interiors. While the days of analog gauges, non-infotainment systems, and simple controls hearken back to an easier time, trends are making those just memories. Most people, car lovers or not, accept changes to vehicles. Fuel economy, safety, performance, and technology are constantly evolving. However, there is one aspect of vehicles that isn't sport or performance-based that needs to go away. The manual transmission. 

If you’re reading this and are a #savethemanuals fan, you probably hate me for talking about ditching the manual transmission. I’m sure the comments are not going to be the most positive. Granted, my thought process of manual transmissions is not new. Performance companies such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren don’t have manual transmissions anymore. There is a reason why there has been a campaign for over ten years called #savethemanuals and fans rejoice when a car has either a standard or optional manual transmission. 

Should they be completely taken off the map? No. I believe sports cars and performance vehicles should still have the option of a manual transmission. The Porsche911 and 718 range and Toyota’s 86 both have a manual as optional or standard. Even “hot-hatchbacks” such as the Honda Civic Type R and the VW Gold GTI/R have manuals, with the manual being the only transmission for the Civic Type R. Do they expect to sell a lot of them? Transmission wise, no, but owners of this type of vehicle want to shift the car themselves. I will admit that cost and upkeep of a manual is cheaper before you count replacing the clutch.

This brings me to a few different complaints. First, “I feel one with the car.” Excellent! But I feel one with a car that has an excellent automatic or dual-clutch transmission. Inexpensive cars such as a Nissan Versa or Honda Fit seem ok with a manual, but what’s the point then? Feeling one with a car that’s $14,000 doesn’t seem to make sense. If you’re spending that much for a new car, why not get a more fun or practical car with a manual if that’s all you want? To me, feeling one with the car means I know what’s going on constantly with the tires, suspension, and brakes. I also do know what’s going on with my transmission because of complaint number two.

“Rowing gears”. You start out at first gear, accelerate while shifting to a certain gear, and go down to second gear when you turn a corner. That’s what I did in my Volkswagen GTI with the DSG gearbox. For me, I didn’t really “row gears” the same way you would in a manual, but I did get to choose which gear I wanted to be in. Choice is what manual only drivers like. They can be in the tallest gear such as 6th or 7th and drop instantly to 2nd for a tight corner. Slight problem with that. Thanks to advanced automatic gearboxes that are constantly evolving, vehicles with automatics can shift manually. Not just let the car rev a little bit, but let the car stay in one gear all the way to the top of the rev range. Thanks to paddle-shifters, shifting can feel more fun and like a race-car.

Speaking of race-cars, complaint number three is “manuals are quicker around a track compared to an automatic.” There is some truth to this but remember the types of vehicles we are talking about. This isn’t about a BMW M4 or a Porsche 911. These are vehicles that probably cost under $50,000. We are talking vehicles like the Honda Accord. Can you take a manual or an automatic Accord around a track? Sure. It would be hilarious to see a brand-new Accord go against another brand-new Accord, but it would be pointless. You don’t buy these to go on a track. 

So, with the complaints out of the way, why do I think automatics are better? They’re fast. There is a reason that high-performance vehicles are ditching the manual for the automatic. Even in mundane vehicles, clever automatics such as dual-clutch automated manual transmissions can be faster than their manual counterpart. Driving in rush hour traffic or through a city is easier with an automatic. You can change gears the way you want and once driving becomes frustrating, switch the car into Drive and you’re set to go. With technology advancing, the automatic transmission is also evolving. Granted, I still don’t like the CVT transmission.  That said, we now have automatics with more gears, faster shifts, and better fuel economy. When was the last time you saw a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid with a manual? 

Before I end, I have to say this: this article only applies to car owners in the United States. If you travel out of the country frequently, you will certainly be in countries where you need to know how to drive a manual. Otherwise, the manual transmission is already going the way of the CD changer. It’s just unnecessary to have to shift gears yourself if the car isn’t made for performance. Granted, with the rise of electric vehicles, we soon may see a #savetheautomatics as a hashtag. 

What is your opinion? Are you livid with me bashing the sacred manual transmission and will only drive manual? Do you care what transmission you have, or do you only drive automatic? Leave a comment below and follow us on social media. 


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