MT vs DCT vs AT: Why manual transmissions are becoming unicorns

Shaun · Apr 21, 2020 11:56 AM

As much as enthusiasts such as myself lament the inevitable demise of manual transmissions (MT), there is simply no business case for manufacturers to continue offering a manual option. Instead, dual-clutch transmissions (DCT) or traditional automatic transmissions (AT) are taking over their place.

Admittedly, I have defended manual transmissions since the birth of YouTube comment section, not that I participate in them, it's only mental replies. But no longer am I oblivious to the preferences of the majority of drivers.

Driving is, sadly, a chore for many people and a manual transmission only serves to make driving more laborious. Sometimes after a long day at work, you just want to relax in your own space and cruise home. That is completely understandable.

For us enthusiasts though, we would wax lyrical about the engagement a manual transmission provides, how rewarding it is to shift perfectly, and that ultimate speed doesn’t matter. The thing is, we are in the minority and the reality is that wallets speak louder than keyboards.

What's replacing manual transmissions?

If we look at the top end of the spectrum, there are no supercars with a manual transmission anymore. Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLaren, and the rest employ DCTs in their cars for 2 main reasons – the clientele doesn’t want a manual and DCTs are faster.

DCTs can be as efficient as manual transmissions and it shifts faster than any human can. Which is why the application of DCTs in performance cars makes perfect sense.

However, in everyday driving, DCTs will struggle to creep in traffic and on hills. It's an inherent characteristic of DCTs to judder at low speeds. Software and programming can mitigate it, but it's still not advisable to creep excessively with DCTs. 

Volkswagen's 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DSG)

It explains the change from DCT to AT in some high-performance cars like the F90 BMW M5 and B9 Audi RS4, which are cars likely to be driven daily. With the advancement of AT with the lock-up clutch and whatnot, it can feel as direct as a DCT and shifts almost as quickly.

The 8-speed ZF transmission in the F90 BMW M5 is a gem, it has none of the DCT jerkiness at low speeds but shifts like a DCT.

So, are DCTs getting replaced by AT?

In supercars, DCTs are expected to stay because buyers are not known to drive them on a daily basis and it still has the edge in shift times.

What’s going to happen to MT?

Porsche is still in the game to keep manual alive. They recently introduced the 718 GTS 4.0 with a 6-speed manual. Although it’s probably because they didn’t want to spend all that money on R&D for the 4.0-litre engine to be used in only one model – the 718 GT4. But I see it as an absolute win.

Toyota and Subaru have confirmed the successor of the 86/BRZ, which may be arriving next year. Toyota will likely call it the GR 86 and a manual option is almost certain.

The niche group of enthusiasts among us are grateful for cars like the Honda Civic Type R, Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, Mazda MX-5, and Renault Megane RS in Malaysia. But the number of us who actually buys them isn’t enough for manufacturers to justify continuing the pour of money and resources into making these driving machines.

So, if you love manual transmissions, vote for them with your wallet to keep them around as long as possible. That is, before the electrified future arrives.