Here's why the manual transmission still matters

Jason/Aug 02, 2020 09:00 AM

Just a few days back, my colleague Arif opined that the world doesn't need manual cars anymore. Chaos ensued, tables and chairs were thrown in the office (some were thrown in Adrian's direction too, for saying this). After the dust has settled, I'm happy to report that we're all still friends and colleagues (I was forced to type this). 

Jokes aside, I am only too aware of the passage of progress, and Arif does have valid points about the need to continue moving forward. Electric cars and autonomous driving is indeed the future, because in all probability, they won't feature manual transmissions of any kind. It's inevitable, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I would like to stay in the 'now' and appreciate the manual transmission, while it is still with us.

I want to firmly and passionately come out in defence of the manual transmission. Some might accuse me of being a dinosaur, and I don't expect any less. After all, I'm a bloke who traded in a scalpel-sharp dual clutch transmission in favour of a good-ol' stick shift. Here are reasons why there's still plenty of life left in manual transmissions. 

Simplicity/Reliability

Three pedals and a gearknob, is there a more satisfying combination?

Three pedals and a gearknob, and it has been that way since the first manual transmission was introduced in a car. Sure, synchromeshes made manuals a bit easier to drive, but the mechanical basis of this 'box has been the same throughout the history of mankind, and will remain largely the same in the future. With manuals, it's always evolution rather than revolution.

Photo credit: Training Systems Australia

This means, the manual transmission is a known quantity and is easy to run, from a maintenance standpoint. You dont need any special tools, or special skills to maintain or repair it. Because of it's simplicity, it's also usually lighter in weight.

Compare that with the current crop of automatic transmissions that are becoming increasingly complex and technology-laden, and you can see where this is going. A manual transmission can happily go on for multiple years and still be reliable, I'm not sure I can say the same about the newer automatic 'boxes.

Relevance

Ferrari 575M with an open-gated manual, magnificent

I still shudder at the sight of seeing a Ferrari 575M Maranello decked out in an open-gate metal shifter. The legendary Japanese sports cars (like the Honda S2000, FD Mazda RX-7, R34 Nissan Skyline GTR, A80 Toyota Supra) you see now going for crazy money? Most, if not all of them are equipped with a manual box', and these cars are every bit as relevant now as they were then.

What do they have in common? Manual gearboxes

The FK8 Civic Type R, Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ, Mazda MX-5 and now the A90 Toyota Supra (pray hard, guys) are just some of the luminaries fighting the good fight for manuals today. Cars like these are still being equipped with a manual 'box because there are still people who will buy them, despite dwindling demand. 

Control

Yes, purists bang on about control, but what is control? For example, if I'm driving an automatic transmission, and I'm flat-out on track (not on public roads) in 3rd gear, attacking a turn. If I hit the engine's redline, the 'box will just upshift for me (even in 'manual' mode), without me telling it to! And yes, it has happened before, both on upshifts and downshifts (where the TCU doesn't allow me to downshift rapidly to 'safeguard' the engine).

No chance of accidental upshifts here

If I want to bounce off the rev limiter, I should be able to. I, the driver, should be the one who decides when I want to shift gears. I don't need a computer program to decide which gear I should be in. Moreover, that will teach a manual driver to be more aware of the gear shift points on his/her car. So, the 'manual' mode in your automatic transmissions are just an illusion of control. 

Engagement/Satisfaction

Mazda MX-5: Fun without going bonkers-fast

The automotive world has become increasingly obsessed with laptimes, shift-times and who has the biggest gun in their armoury. Let's face it, modern performance cars have gotten so fast, you can't have fun with them unless you're ready to lose your license.

The manual transmission is the antithesis of this obsession. You don't even need to drive stupidly fast to derive satisfaction from a manual 'box. Can anything be more gratifying than nailing a proper heel-and-toe downshift? I'd wager that the answer is no, nothing is. 

So, while the DCT-equipped car in front of my is pulling yards ahead of me, gears changing in miliseconds, I'd still be the one having more fun and interaction (come on, you're pulling paddles behind a steering wheel, how can that be any fun?). I may not be the fastest, but who cares? I'm definitely having the most fun. Isn't that the point?

Conclusion

So yes, I will probably stick with my three-pedalled car for the forseeable future, for as long as my left leg permits it. That's because, deep down inside, I know that even in 10 years' time, my manual car will still bring a big smile to my face, just as good as the day I bought it (traffic jams be damned). Hell, I'd like to teach my kid how to drive it, making him the coolest kid anywhere by default.

A DCT or torque converter equipped car? Well, there will definitely be a newer, faster, more efficient, more fantabulous transmission in its place in 10 years. And that's just that. Manuals? They're evergreen, and they'll be exactly the way they are now from now to eternity.

Yes, I know enthusiasts always clamour for manual cars but never actually buy them. Well, time for you guys to put your money where your mouth is, because the manual transmission, I fear, will be going the way of the dodo. Cherish it while it's still here, savour every gearshift, every clutch kick, every throttle blip.

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