By on April 6, 2012

A scheduling conflict led me to be booked into a 2013 Mazda CX-5 SkyACTIV. With Jack and Brendan having already driven the car, I’ll spare you all yet another review discussing Mazda’s latest crossover. But a week in the CX-5 raised an interesting question; when are automatics better than a stick shift, even if it’s a vehicle that (arguably) has some appeal as a driver’s car?

The Mazda3 SkyACTIV, as well as the CX-5, both use Mazda’s newest SkyACTIV powertrain. As my review of the Mazda3 revealed, the SkyACTIV powertrain is better suited to the 6-speed automatic, even though the manual is a great gearbox. Driving the CX-5 confirmed this. The CX-5 seems to want to upshift to the highest gear ASAP, but when commuting, I don’t find it so bothersome. The transmission kicks down when needed, shifts are beautifully smooth, and the manual model enables nearly unfettered use of all six forward gears.

The SkyACTIV isn’t the only instance of a two-pedal gearbox being the one to get. The E60 M5 was famously set up to work best with the SMG gearbox. U.S. gearheads complained until BMW relented and offered a six-speed manual. It turned out that the stick shift was a poor choice for the car, no matter how much enthusiast cred it added. Most of the time, I’ll take a stick shift, even though I engage in a lot of stop-and-go driving. But my memory doesn’t extend far enough to remember the muscle car era, when an automatic was often preferred. Best and brightest, fill in the gaps in my knowledge. When is an automatic the gearbox of choice? Or am I just plain wrong?

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123 Comments on “Ask The Best And Brightest: When Are Two Pedals Better Than Three?...”


  • avatar
    CEL

    Two pedals are ALWAYS better than three.I see no reason to have to sit in a position determined by the third pedal and work a leg and arm in exquisite coordination simply to get a vehicle moving. And with the occasional dodgy back I suffer with, getting comfortable is most important. It also means, incidentally, that I can keep both hands on the wheel at all the important times, or I can use one hand to make my feelings known to a fellow driver while still changing gear.

  • avatar
    aristurtle

    Look, the issue isn’t what’s most efficient or what’s fastest or most comfortable. The reason why many of us don’t like automatic transmissions is because we know when we want to change gears, and the automatic is doing it at a different time. This happens basically every time I need to borrow a friend’s car.

    In theory, the ideal system would be a motor that just has sufficient torque all the time, so the gear ratio never needs to change. I think the Tesla Roadster has this, in fact; this is the reason why electric cars are interesting to me. Failing that, I need to be in control of the gear changes. Frankly, I don’t really care if that’s through paddles or a clutch pedal and a shift lever, as long as the paddles are just as responsive as that lever is (they frequently are not).

    • 0 avatar
      Frownsworth

      Well, unless that said motor will redline all the time when you are on the highway, you will still need gears on a motor with constant torque, so you can drive faster/slower than a static gear ratio would suggest. Unless of course, the said motor redlines at 20k and stalls at 300 rpms….

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      In addition to shifting when you want and into what gear you want (I often drive in circumstances when it’s desirable to shift from second into fourth), what I love about a stick shift is the ability to COAST. I do it a lot and enjoy it, not only because of fuel savings but because I spent many years bicycling and so I’m oriented to coast whenever circumstances permit.

      • 0 avatar
        Frownsworth

        Well, you could coast in an automatic too. In fact, most modern automatics are designed to disconnect the gears to let the car coast while driving under no accelerator demand. To verify if your car is coasting in auto, just look at the engine rpm/tach, if its at or near idle, its coasting. Automatics are usually programmed to do this more often when city driving is detected with a lot of slow down/stop/starts and under variable speed conditions. Of course, you can always also shift into neutral to accomplish the same thing manually.

      • 0 avatar
        squozen

        If you mean changing into neutral downhill, that uses more fuel than just taking your foot off the pedal with a modern engine.

      • 0 avatar
        potatobreath

        Yes, fuel injected cars often turn off the fuel injectors when coasting or engine braking downhill, but there’s little fuel to be saved though. In my old 1992 Corolla, I could hear the fuel being turned on and off.

        I’m not sure about modern automatics disconnecting gears when coasting though. I know they shift to the tallest gear possible and lock up the torque converter to cut friction. The torque converter automatically comes out of lockup to keep the engine from stalling.

    • 0 avatar
      twotone

      1. Cop car
      2. Taxi cab
      3. Hmm… can’t really come up with another

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        Truck towing boat up slippery ramp out of lake?

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Cops should be driving manuals. If they cannot hand/eye/foot coordinate well enough to do even that, they really should be put out to graze at the donuts shop for good.

        Taxi cabs are also better driven with manuals, as the kind of autos most have are so darned herky-jerky. And anyone with as much wheel time as a cab driver, would quickly learn to drive a manual smoothly.

        OTOH, technical rock crawling is one area where torque converters beat clutches, by preventing stalls at the absolute most inopportune time.

        Towing extremely heavy in stop and go situations where frying the clutch is a real possibility at pretty much any start is another place where autos are beneficial.

        Driving for time, aka racing, for more than just fun. When done properly, automatics allows for faster driving than manuals, which is why in racing series that allow for them (F1), they tend to be the preferred choice.

        Personally, I prefer the latest autos in really fast cars. I wouldn’t get a Boxster/Cayman S with a manual, as the only reason to get one over the regular, non S, model, would be to go fast enough so that my less than stellar heel-toe would be a real stumbling block. Completely contrary to how Porsche seems to feel, I would much prefer a manual in the Panamera (I’d even take a manual V6 over the auto V8), as it’s a daily driver driven way below the pace where a missed shift can be life altering (or ending); and the PDK (nor any auto) isn’t nearly as smooth as a decently driven manual in a car with a tight driveline.

      • 0 avatar
        outback_ute

        Disagree with you on the cop car bit – they have a lot of other things to do with the second hand that are more important than operating a gear lever

  • avatar
    afflo

    When the primary driver is disabled, or a secondary driver frequently uses the vehicle and can’t/won’t learn.

    I have always driven sticks, excepting one vehicle. I’ll never make that error again.

    An automatic isn’t too bad on the highway, but around town? Shoot me. (yes, I’ve lived in places with heavy freeway traffic, long traffic jams, steep hills, yada yada. I find automatics even more disconcerting in traffic, with the idling engine constantly trying to push me into the car ahead. )

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      My wife cannot drive a manual transmission, thus, she always gets the automatic.

      As for me, I’ll only drive a manual that includes three pedals and a stick. Flappy paddles have no place in my driveway. I’ve never driven in a situation where I thought, “Gosh, I wish I had an automatic transmission right now,” but I’ve sure been in a lot of situations with my wife’s vehicles where I’ve wished her car had a manual transmission instead of a slushbox.

    • 0 avatar
      dima

      well, I used to drive stick for 20 years. My wife can as well, but we are living in Northern New Jersey and comuting to work on 80 east. Driving stick just plain hurt, now it is all automatics. After a wile, you will appreciate the convenience of auto tranny. Do I miss stick, not really, except on nice empty twisty highway.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        I’ve always reckoned that if ones commute is so bad that an auto becomes preferred over a manual, it’s time to get a bike. I simply cannot fathom how anyone can willingly sit in the kind of gridlock that causes manuals to hurt. But I’m in Cali, where the weather may be more bike friendly.

  • avatar
    LeadHead

    I like automatics that have quick, firm shifts and are ready and willing to downshift when called upon.

    Properly sorted automatics can be a lot of fun. There’s just something satisfying about an automatic that can shift hard and fast enough to spin the tires on nearly every WOT upshift.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      I agree. I’ve had three of them. First one was in my ’77 Power Wagon. When I had to have the tranny rebuilt after it died (My fault, the kickdown linkage I made wasn’t correctly adjusted), the owner of the shop I took it to asked me if I wanted to “upgrade it”, and I said yes. I got a trans that shifted great, it would bark the tires on the first to second shift at full throttle, but was decently comfortable when I wasn’t into the throttle too far. The second was the one in my ’79 Trans Am. It died at about the 30K mark, and I asked about upgrades on it when I had it rebuilt. It was even better than the one in the truck, and I loved it. The third was in my ’86 Iroc Camaro. The trans in that car didn’t have any issues, I just didn’t like the lazy shifting and as soon as the warranty was up, I had it worked on. I wish the trans in my ’10 Challenger R/T was half as responsive as any of the three above ones was.

  • avatar

    I’ve driven the Mazda3 SKYACTIV with both manual and automatic transmission, but perhaps not close enough in time to notice the differences you noticed. How did you find the engine unsuited to the manual? The automatic is certainly more innovative, and as automatics go is a very good one. But, for me at least, the manual was much more fun to drive.

  • avatar
    dhathewa

    Derek, what was the fuel economy like?

    As it happens, I have driven this car but in auto mode only (it had AWD). I liked the car very much but I thought the downshifts were more aggressive than necessary. Perhaps I would have liked manual mode better.

    However, I upshift my stick cars very aggressively. If I’m in no particular hurry, it’s not unusual for me to be in whatever top gear is at 30mph (I’ve never had a car that lugged in top at 30). A Ford Fusion I drove recently wouldn’t let me get into top until I was doing at least 45.

    Will this auto let me upshift as soon as I like?

    And, given how good and well-suited the auto is supposed to be, it’s a surprise that the manual (FWD) rates 35mpg on the highway while the auto (FWD) only rates 32. AWD loses another 1mpg.

    • 0 avatar
      tankinbeans

      Top gear 30 mph. My car really doesn’t start complaining until I’m going 25 or lower in 6th, which is just above idle. At that point I’ll stick it in 5th and cruise until I need to pick up speed and then I’ll grab 3rd and go. It’s fun that way.

      I still have all sorts of issues with ht downshifts, but I don’t race and don’t really need them.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    If I had to sit in Philly (or any other metropolis) rush hour traffic twice a day every day of my working life, I’d go with an automatic. But I don’t, so I have the luxury of driving a stick. The other instance of an automatic winning is if the car is so devoid of sporting pretensions you just suck it up and putter along. I’m thinking of minivans (have one of those as well with an auto) and full size SUVs and pickup trucks.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      If you’re sitting in clogged-up traffic, the ideal vehicle still has a manual transmission. It’s just that the clutch is a lever on the left handlebar and the gear shift is next to the footpeg.

      • 0 avatar
        icemilkcoffee

        It’s a segue- but motorcycle transmissions are the crudest and clunkiest things in existence. You can’t skip gears, you can’t be sure if you’re in gear or not, and you can’t shift easily when you’re stopped. Your clutch hand gets tired in stop and go traffic or on hills. Stopping on a steep hilll is a gamble. Woe to you if you stopped on a steep hill and forgot to down shift down to 1st gear before coming to a stop.

        In short motorcycles are crying out for an automatic transmission, even more so than cars.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I strongly disagree: skipping gears is as easy as double-tapping the lever; same as in a paddle-shift car; the clutch lever isn’t any more tiring than the clutch pedal in a car, and after you get used to riding, shifting down to first when you stop becomes as automatic as remembering to hold down the clutch lever/pedal when you stop so that you don’t stall.

        On the other hand, I’d be far, far more worried about the transmission surprising me by picking the wrong gear leaned over on a motorcycle than in a car.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        If it’s even tighter, automatic scooters (and some bikes) are even better. Tighter yet, and a manually (if geared at all) shifted bicycle becomes the choice.

        How anyone can willingly submit to prolonged stop and go in a car is completely beyond me.

      • 0 avatar
        afflo

        icemilkcoffee:
        “Stopping on a steep hilll is a gamble. Woe to you if you stopped on a steep hill and forgot to down shift down to 1st gear before coming to a stop.:

        I’ve ridden some motorcycles where shifting is very difficult when stopped. Usually though, all you have to do is let the clutch out a smidge and roll fore and aft if it won’t go. And as was stated before, shifting down to 1 is second nature for an experienced motorcyclist. Starting on a hill is far easier than in a manual transmission auto, as you can easily hold the bike in place with the rear-brake while manipulating the clutch and throttle (or the front, using a finger or two on the lever).

        The hand fatigue is a matter of fitness and the weight of the clutch spring on that particular motorcycle.

        I would NOT want to be midcorner and have the automatic transmission in a motorcycle decide to change gears on me. Scooters are different as they have CVTs. Also, there are automatic motorcycles out there (Honda DN-01, VFR) and maxiscooters with motorcycle sized engines, but in an arena where it’s hard to get people to buy a vehicle with ABS, to wear even basic safety equipment, or, ya know, be sober when they get on them, and the machismo of the vehicle is such a large factor, nobody wants to be the guy with the automatic!

      • 0 avatar
        potatobreath

        I don’t think the gap between gears in a modern motorcycle automatic are that steep that you would crash or brown pants yourself midcorner. The dual-clutch transmission in the VFR1200 DCT should also give you a super smooth and super quick shift. I’d imagine it’s not much different from taking a DSG-equipped VW around a corner. The wheels.ca review says the shifts are imperceptible during a corner.

        My guess though, since I prefer much smaller bikes and wouldn’t ride something as huge or expensive as a VFR1200.

    • 0 avatar
      potatobreath

      I don’t like using CVT scooters in stop and go traffic. It takes sufficient rpm to build up before the auto-clutch engages and starts sending power to the rear wheel, so I’m much smoother on my motorcycle using my clutch hand, throttle and rear brake. There’s no lane splitting allowed where I’m from too.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        It takes sufficient rpm to build up before the auto-clutch engages and starts sending power to the rear wheel…

        In my humble 150cc CVT equiped scooter riding opinion the clutch is likely out of adjustment. My ride idles at about 1200 rpm and the clutch kicks in at about 2000 rpm and very smoothly. (2000 rpm may sound like a lot but you’ve got to consider the sort of redline these little suckers have.

      • 0 avatar
        potatobreath

        That may be true on bigger scooter, but I’m on a Honda Metropolitan with 49 ccs of fury. Idle is 2000±100 rpm, and the stock clutch doesn’t bite until 3200 rpm to help with takeoff. Consequently, it’s a bit herky jerky in bumper to bumper traffic, especially if the engine hasn’t warmed up yet. Maybe it’s time to move up a scooter size for me.

        I still enjoy being on my scooter more than being stuck in a car on a nice day though. :)

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Automatics rule when launching boats on ramps with a steep grade!
    Two foot action on two pedals is smooth.

    Two foot action on three pedals can be a little exciting unless you like riding the clutch. That would probably add 5000 miles of wear in 5 minutes!

    With an automatic I like that I can set the emergency brake and have it in park at the same time when the trailer is in the water.

    Pulling the boat out is a whole bunch easier with an automatic. Just hold your foot on the brake and drop it in low. Then slowly rev the engine until the torque converter gives you just enough power to allow you to release the brakes and move slowly ahead. Gas it a little more and drive it out.

    Ditto on dropping the boat in.

    • 0 avatar
      dhathewa

      As long as someone’s mentioned trailers… One of the things about the CX-5 that caught my attention is the tow rating of 1 ton. The other 4-cylinders in this class top out at .75 ton, except the Subaru at 1.25 ton, which offers the lowest fuel economy.

      I can appreciate what you say about the ease of getting the boat in and out but I have to wonder if this can be managed with a stick if you use the handbrake. We have a boat and I’m tempted to try it.

      We’re seriously thinking about a new car and, right now, this is the front-runner.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      “Two foot action on three pedals can be a little exciting unless you like riding the clutch.”

      This technique may be before your time, – judicious use of a proper handbrake eliminates the need to ride the clutch.

      Considering that off the top of my head I can count the number of trucks sold today that offer a hand brake on just one finger, makes utilizing that technique a moot point.

      By the way, the Tacoma is the only truck I could think of that still has a hand brake. The “poodle dawgs” who clamor for trucks that resemble cars in the creature comforts department have won.

      • 0 avatar
        supersleuth

        Any vehicle that has 3 pedals should have a handbrake. I’m told that in some European countries you can’t even pass your driver’s test unless you know how to use the handbrake correctly with a manual.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Even exemplary technique will doesn’t overcome the problem of slipping the clutch under heavy load for prolonged periods of time when the tow load is high enough that it takes awhile before the vehicle moves fast enough to not stall in first.

        Extremely low crawl gears help, but for creeping around with really heavy loads, torque converters simply work better than clutches.

    • 0 avatar
      cheapthrills

      Whenever I watch someone fit a trailer into a tight space with 10 minutes of back and forth and back and forth, I assure myself that all my (future) tow vehicles will be automatics.

      Everything else, however, must have 3 pedals. I don’t have kids yet, but I need to start planning how to swap a manual into a minivan.

  • avatar
    mcarr

    The manual is always more fun. Except perhaps in dump trucks, or RV’s.

    No, really, the only time I prefer an auto is in a vehicle that has no sporting pretensions and a big V8. Like a pickup. Although, if any manufacturer offered their full sized trucks with a stick, I’d probably opt for that version.

  • avatar
    Halftruth

    My gripe with automatics is that they give no warning (usually) when they give up the ghost. Not only do I like picking my own gears, a clutch swap is usually at least 2/3rds less than the cost of a replacement automatic equivalent. But.. as Derek asks, when would it be better? In stop and go, definitely.. Rowing the gears in Boston during rush hour simply sucks and alot of times 1st is too low and 2 can be too high when you are in that 5-10 mph zone with everyone breaking and moving at a diff pace..

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Drive in traffic for 3 hours a day and the desire for an automatic becomes obvious. I have a shift car for fun and I would kill myself it I had to commute in it.

    As mentioned in the story by the OP, a manual in a classic musclecar is a heavy beast. But considering it was designed 50 years ago, and had to deal with abuse and monster torque, it gets a pass..

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      Half an hour in traffic with a stick, I’m done. If I had to drive a stick every day, I would hate driving. I have a friend who has done it for 40 years of driving and I don’t know how he can stand it. A stick might be (I have my doubts, since I’ve never driven one more than a couple of days around town) more fun on the highway or a twisty road, but I’ll take the auto, every time, no matter what vehicle it’s in.

  • avatar
    vvk

    Yes, my in-laws’ Buick LeSabre is probably better suited to an automatic. It is the only automatic I actually enjoy driving. Because it pretty much feels like an electric motor.

    • 0 avatar
      gottacook

      Y’know, I have to agree… I’ve driven a friend’s parents’ 2005 (final year) LeSabre a thousand miles up and down from south FL three times in the past 2 years, and it has a surprisingly good motor-transmission combination. But putting it to full use (such as full-power acceleration on a highway) only accentuates the queasiness of the driving experience.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    I admit that commuting through traffic jams in a manual forces you to do more than drink coffee, pick your nose, listen to music, eat a McMuffin, smoke or fondle yourself – but hey, when you aren’t stuck in traffic – manuals are so much more fun.

    Automatics are great for everyone else, but I like being in control. The power! Grabbing your stick and thrusting forward feels – oh, so fine!

  • avatar
    stryker1

    “When is an automatic the gearbox of choice?”
    Almost every time. Boom!

    But seriously, if you live in or around, or anywhere near a major population center (which is most people), then the automatic is the obvious choice. The exceptions would be for your weekend (I.E. Toy) car, or for the minuscule minority die-hard enthusiasts (I.E. B&B).

    It’s fun to think that the world is represented by the denizens of an Auto-Enthusiast website, and that people who don’t want to take the time and aggravation, and cost (if you manage to burn up your clutch during the learning process) of learning to drive a manual are drooling philistines, but c’mon, really? With the quality and variety of modern automatics, I think it’s time we put this old war-horse out to pasture.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Because of the over eager upshifts under low load in autos, the people who drive them end up driving too far behind the car in front in heavy traffic. Meaning fewer cars get to cross per green light. Meaning less total throughput. Meaning, those drivers suck :)

      The reverse is true at below 1st gear stall speed, where autos creeping on the brake tend to pack tighter. But above the point where the auto changes from a one pedal car to a two pedal one, competently driven manuals are superior for traffic flow.

  • avatar
    Marko

    Depends on the car and where you’re driving it.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Right on, and the automatic and the given intelligent of the trans/engine/computer that controls them both.

      My fiances 2005 Vibe base model with 5 speed stick is fine in traffic and fine in back road driving where there are curves and hills and frequent shifting is necessary to keep things fun. Interstate? No way. So little power that the slightest hill has you hunting through the gears and 3rd gear and 5000 rpm is no fun to maintain speed on the modern interstate.

      2012 Impala with the 3.6 and speed auto on the other hand I have found to be a willing partner in long distance cruising. It depends completely on the engine and the transmission.

  • avatar
    DannyZRC

    the SMG is an epic pile of garbage, I refuse to believe the E60 M5 was somehow worse with the manual unless BMW did something horribly stupid.

    As someone has posted before, an automatic can be beneficial in low speed high load maneuvers, but it can be a hindrance in low traction starting.

    Manual is lower ownership cost, so it’s always the “right” choice, but if you prefer the driving experience of the automatic, and don’t mind paying for it, more power to you.

    Same argument applies to crank v electric windows, and like auto trans, most people elect to pay the extra for the luxury.

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      I think Jack would quibble with how much of a “luxury” power windows are these days. As in, please point out the new car, at any price, that does not include power windows, standard.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “As in, please point out the new car, at any price, that does not include power windows, standard.”

        Most pick-ups, Fiesta, Yaris, Versa, Jeep Patriot, Jeep Wrangler.

      • 0 avatar
        stryker1

        That’s not a very long list.
        I think the standard these days is not that you need to go out of your way and pay more for power windows, but that its still, on a limited basis, possible to go out of your way to pay less not to have them.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        Mine. Forte LX, but I don’t care because it’s fun anyway. Fewer regulators to fry out. The last couple cars I had with power windows pooed a couple of them.

      • 0 avatar
        Robstar

        The 2012 Kia Rio I recently drove had manual windows. Ugh.

    • 0 avatar
      DannyZRC

      stryker, I’m familiar with the article you’re referencing.

      may I suggest, however, that the reason that the crank window has disappeared is because more and more people chose to buy electric, and as fewer and fewer hand cranks were being installed the cost efficiency became worse and worse until it disappeared?

      Many cars are no longer available with manual transmissions, similar idea. So few people elected not to buy the luxury, that it finally became cost inefficient to offer anything but the luxury option.

      but things got that way for a reason, and that reason is people opting-in to the features.

      • 0 avatar
        stryker1

        “but things got that way for a reason, and that reason is people opting-in to the features.”

        Sure, but explaining the reason why power windows are standard on nearly everything does not negate the fact that power windows are standard on nearly everything, and therefore not terribly luxurious.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      E60 is faster around Nurburgring with SMG than with manual. That’s what sells prestige performance cars these days, seemingly. Never mind being tossed around like a dingy in breaking seas just to get out of your garage. The experts say that my car goes faster than yours around some mythical track in Germany, darnit.

  • avatar
    toadroller

    To me, it just seems like you drive a manual while you merely ride in an automatic.

    There’s joy in simply shifting from second to third in normal driving situations. When I’ve driven many different rentals with manu-matics, I play with it for a while, but there’s no joy in shifting, and back to fully automatic it goes.

    Would that my trusty old A8 had a manual. Conversions can be done with parts salvaged from S4s, but at 5-6k, that’s more than the car is worth.

  • avatar
    nutbags

    A bicycle.

    • 0 avatar
      stryker1

      The equivalent article in “The Truth About Bicycles” would be “In what fantasy-land scenario would you be caught dead on a non fixed-gear bike?”

      That’s right B&B, I’m comparing you to hipsters!

      • 0 avatar
        Banger

        I really hate that hipster snobbery vis-a-vis fixies. When I was heavy into riding a few years ago, it was all the rage on every forum to talk about your fixed-gear bike, to the point that a lot of users didn’t understand why you’d want a multi-gear bike.

        I’d like to know what flat, barren plain those douchebags lived on. Here in Tennessee hill country, I’m thankful for all 24 speeds on my Trek 7.2FX hybrid, especially the ones that let me make it up multi-mile hills after an extended time out of the saddle (which is pretty much…anytime I get to ride nowadays). I might crawl up that hill at a slug’s pace, but then, I’ll still have knees if I make it to 80 years of age. Fair trade, I reckon.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        The fixed-gear thing wasn’t so bad, it was the “let’s remove all the brakes” thing that was particularly moronic.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        stryker1, for long time, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around an elusive idea, but could never get it to crystallize much less put into words.

        You just nailed it and said it more succinctly than I ever could. I bow to your awesomeness.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Banger,

        LA is mostly fat enough that a properly geared fixie is in many ways nicer than a geared bike. With brake, of course. It’s marginally easier to ride in a very tight paceline at varying speeds by using your legs, rather than having to cover your brake.

        Also, most multigear bikes are a nuisance over bumps, with clanging chains and deraileurs. Overall, the ideal is probably internally geared hubs like the nexus/alfine, but with a darned track crank and chainring, as even multi thousand dollar electronic Dura-Ace components have so much runout as to be offensive to the senses when combined with a tight chain.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        You’ve got to be kidding, stryker1. The whole point of a modern manual transmission – aside from the traditional performance advantage which is still there over most autos but not over the best – is the control it offers. A fixed gear bike offers absolutely no control over cadence. It’s more the equivalent of an automatic; for people who simply don’t want to shift for some strange reason. I drive a manual so I can have full control over my car, and I perform about 100 shifts in a twenty minute urban bicycle ride.

        In TTAB, the equivalent might be: When is Full Suspension Better Than a Hardtail, or: When is a Hardtail Better Than Rigid. As suspension systems have improved in both function and cost, a good mountain bike with minimal or no suspension has become much harder to find than it used to be, even though it still holds advantages in certain situations.

        As a year-round urban rider who has competed at the Elite/Expert level in both mountain bike and BMX racing, and who even occasionally raced a 21-speed mountain bike in the BMX cruiser class, I have to say that the chain and derailleur systems on any decent modern bike are extremely reliable, durable, lightweight, and efficient as long as you have even the slightest understanding of mechanical components. I cannot comprehend how anyone could think that it’s easier or more enjoyable to pedal in an inefficient manner than to utilize such a simple mechanical system. Fixed gear bikes are for forty-second sprints around dirt tracks.

  • avatar
    stottpie

    high torque engines don’t need a manual. it’s more fun to just mash the gas pedal and lay waste to your tires.

    drag racing vehicles don’t need a manual. autos are faster.

    turbo vehicles that are stop-light racing don’t need manuals. you can’t load an engine with a manual tranny without some sort of anti-lag.

  • avatar
    ciddyguy

    Having recently picked up a Mazda Protege5 with the sport stick auto box, I can say, it’s a nice unit as it has the continuously variable lock up torque converter and it feels more direct than most auto boxes I’ve driven, though only with 4 forward gears though.

    That being said, I came from driving a ’92 Ford Ranger truck with a manual (2WD) and it did fine, unless you are going below 20mph and it’d buck like a bucking bronco at those speeds so my choice was to hold the clutch in, and that gets tiring and is hard on the knees as it’s not the lightest unit out there (yes, it’s hydraulic).

    That said, I DO at times miss pushing in the clutch, letting off the gas, shift to the next gear, but the sport stick does allow me to keep shifting at my leisure, though sans the 3rd pedal action.

    The previous 2 vehicles before the truck were Hondas, an ’83 Civic, and an ’88 Accord, both with 5spd manuals and I don’t recall them being difficult in slow going traffic like the truck so I think it really depends on the car and how they handle very low speeds as some DO seem to handle slow going, stop and go traffic much better than others.

    But that said, I’ve always understood the benefits of an automatic that allows one to shift as it gives you the best of both worlds and there are times when it’s best to let the autobox do the work and other times, you do the shifting, however, that said, I don’t like this business of shifting way early as it saps the fun, sporting potential of any given car so I tend to shift to at least 3000rpm in the Mazda, if not more like 4Krpm and occasionally, higher than that when passing before I can upshift.

    I’ve found that my Mazda shifts probably closer to 2500rpm at best when left in auto mode and I don’t like that particularly well so I shift it myself and as you say, Mazda sees to it you are allowed to shift it unfettered for the most part, which is great for those of us who have an auto, but still want to have at least some control of our driving environment.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      You can also easily control that transmission in fully auto mode just by modulating the gas. If you let up on the gas as if you had just reached your final speed, it will upshift. It’s nowhere near as good as the manual mode, but I have an ’02, which doesn’t have that feature.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    The answer is when you have the option to manually select gears and there is no tq convertor and the shifts are as smooth as I would do it in a manual and you are not concerned about cost or weight.

    No tq convertor is important; perhaps th mazda solves the laggy indirect connetion with one?

    Dsg would seem to solve the auto issues for me, but I have only driven one for a short time. A 335i with lots of tq and manual selection with fairly quick lockups still slips, lags and thumps enough to make me wish for a manual.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    Unless you’re driving a Rolls Royce (and let’s face it, you never drive a Rolls, you get driven in one), the answer to this question is never.

  • avatar

    Auto was preferable on jeeps with no anti-stall clutch, due to demands of crawling. I knew members of a local club who installed the “third hand kit”: the throttle on the shift lever. It allowed to put the left foot on the clutch and right foot on the brake. However, learning to use it properly was a hassle, in my opinion worse than double-clutching of unsynchronized gearbox, or heel-towing in sports cars. It was just simpler to get a jeep with an automatic and possibly add a tranny cooler with a fan.

  • avatar
    Madroc

    If the question is, “when is it better in a purported ‘driver’s car,’” I’ve always felt that the bigger the engine, the less need for a stick. If you’ve got 500 HP on tap, it really doesn’t matter much what gear you’re in or how you got there, at least in real-world driving. Of course, I also subscribe to the “better to drive a slow car fast …” school.

    I definitely agree that the ability to command and hold a lower gear is more important, not less, in heavy traffic.

    ETA: I’m referring to “performance luxury” cars like the M5, AMG, etc. An automatic in a Corvette just goes to show, and not offering sticks in Ferrarris is inexcusable.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      Ferrari is dead to me because of their lack of manual transmissions. I suppose it is cheaper for them to offer one drivetrain per model as long as there is a waiting list for their volume model. Why spend money chasing sales when the cars are all sold? On the other hand, last time I walked past the La Jolla Ferrari store, they had a shockingly high number of cars in stock. That may have been two years ago though. Some time in the last few years they expanded their showroom and absorbed a neighboring building to house all the cars on hand. In the past, all they had in new stock was a few Maseratis and maybe the odd 612.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        ToCJinSD,

        I fully agree. You’d think if you spend $300K for car, and can choose any interior design you want in their customization program, you’d also have the option of choosing at least a manual transmission.

        I am very happy to cheer on Porsche in it’s continuing manual option…

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I’m really looking forward to driving the new 7-speed manual 991. A salesman offered to contact me when the first 991s showed up. When I told him what I was interested in, he informed me that the first few months of production would all be automatics and then he didn’t bother following up to ask for my contact information. I guess most ‘real’ customers want automatics. I looked around the the showroom a bit and only saw one car with a manual, and that was an odd robin’s egg blue 997 GTS with a bunch of expensive special options that included wheels that had 5 lugs instead of the center locking ones that are a primary characteristic of the GTS.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    Having driven stick since I was 12yo, most of the time I don’t even notice what I’m doing anymore. Auto or manual, it makes no difference. When I’m playing around corners, steering the rear with the tires slipping, again, who cares? It’s only when the auto’s ‘brain’ takes too long to make up its mind that the manual is better, since I know before the car does, what gear I need when in a hurry.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Let’s face it, two pedals are better than three in most real-world traffic conditions. And when manual gear selection is truly needed, say for downhill engine braking or uphill trailer towing, it’s nothing that a good manumatic can’t handle.

    Something often overlooked in these discussions is the adaptive learning function found in modern automatics. When I hear people griping about slushboxes shifting too early for their taste, I wonder if they formed their opinion within the first 2 minutes of driving a brand-new car, or one that had been previously babied. Just a few miles of harder driving can make a noticeable difference in the shifting behaviour of some cars.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Learned on a manual; grew up driving manuals. 3-on-the-tree, four-on-the-floor . . . whatever. I have driven some nice autoboxes that did not make me long for a manual — the Toyota Previa, which included a lockup torque converter. Shifts seemed always to be timed right; an downshifts came when you wanted them. The autobox in my Saab Aero does a nice job with the turbo, when you have it set in sport mode, shifts are firm and quick and it’s very hard to catch the turbo “napping.” I have a feeling that manuals with turbo charged engines might be a little tricky.

    But, if you put a blindfold on me and said “pick one” without knowing any more, I’d pick the manual. These days, some autoboxes have more gears which allows a more economical final drive ratio . . . giving them better highway fuel economy than the equivalent manaul. An example of this is the Ford Focus, where the DSG beats the 5-speed manual for highway fuel economy (here’s hoping that the 6-speed manual in the boy racer “ST” car will be available in other models; cause the DSG sucks operationally, in my and my wife’s experience).

    I think the reality is that autoboxes are taking over and give away very little to manuals in fuel economy and reliability (right now I’m sweating how long my clutch will last in my Z3 with 65K miles, far too many of which are city miles). It’s certainly true that a new clutch is cheaper than a new autobox, but I’m not at all sure under stop and go driving that the autobox won’t be running strong when it’s time to replace the clutch.

    And not every manual is a joy to use, either.

    That said, like a number of other posters here, I don’t find a manual to be a chore in traffic and, in some respects it is easier than an autobox.

  • avatar
    carguy

    For me the deciding factors of manual v automatic are follows:

    1. The quality of the transmission
    A good responsive and decisive automatic is a wonderful thing. The auto units in recent Mazdas, BMWs and VW/Audis are examples of autos done right. An accurate manual shifter and clutch are also great. Unfortunately some manufacturers don’t take manuals seriously any more and deliver long travel clutches and rubbery shifters. You have to try both.

    2. The engine
    High revving naturally aspirated engines tend to match well with manual transmissions. However, turbo charged engines that deliver a lot of low RPM torque and run out of breath at 6K are ideal for automatic transmissions. I.E you wouldn’t buy an RX-8 with an auto and a 335 does just fine with an auto.

    3. The daily use of the car
    If you live in the mountains and have great driving roads, a good manual transmission adds to the driving experience. If you are commuting in bumper to bumper traffic then an automatic is an essential sanity saver.

  • avatar
    M.S. Smith

    I don’t know what you’re on about with the CX-5 transmission. The automatic is smooth, yes, but the manual is absolutely outstanding. No way I’m passing that up for the auto.

  • avatar
    MZ3AUTOXR

    With regards to traffic – I used to drive in stop and go in Boston, first in our auto equipped Mazda6 Wagon, then in my current 2.3 Mazda 3 with a 5sp. The 5 speed is much better. I have enough torque at idle that I can leave it in first down to 500 RPM and control my speed with the brake pedal.

    But, if your engine doesn’t have enough torque, then there is no way you can do this. So it’s vehicle dependent.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I only “want” an automatic when towing, and only because I have to tow so often in traffic. Every other situation leaves me happy to be in a manual, and I live in the south Bronx.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I love good stickshifts. I’ve had three Hondas and every one was a stick. However, I think it’s a bit silly to insist on a stick in a large, American-style sedan like the ’94 LeSabre I currently drive. Especially if you want a bench front seat.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    1. when you are eating in the car
    2. when your hand is ‘busy’ with the passenger.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Internet car people talking about sticks are like internet computer people talking about linux.

    Like Linux, stick is the only answer for a few specialized tools and an inconvenient hobby for everything else.

    The underlying reality is very few people commute on driver’s roads. Driver engagement with another bumper omnipresent directly in front of you is not largely seen as desireable. Driver engagement with straight highways posted 30 mph below the reasonable and prudent speed isn’t either. Purchasing decisions reflect that.

    • 0 avatar
      Robstar

      This is pretty funny.

      I prefer Linux & Stick, but consider both much better in the enthusiast case…

      I recently had the “pleasure” of renting a yaris for a trip in San Francisco — an autobox. This was a 2012, 4 speed (I think). Merging on the highway? Put the petal 80% down….and the car REFUSES to downshift. If you actually touch the floor with the accelerator pedal it will then downshift. After letting go of the accelerator completely and coasting, it stays at the lower gear for 6-10 seconds before up-shifting again. I’m not sure how anyone can put up with that….

    • 0 avatar
      PJ McCombs

      “Driver engagement with another bumper omnipresent directly in front of you is not largely seen as desireable.”

      Maybe not generally, but I can think of fewer times I would want *more* precise control over the car than in stop-and-go traffic, where a half-second of inattention can put you into someone else’s trunk.

      Then again I’ve never owned a car with a heavy clutch, so can’t relate to the “it’s tiring” thing.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    For me, there really are no circumstances in which I would prefer an automatic. That includes towing a boat out of the water, I have done plenty of that in my life. Engage 4wd Low Range, put it in first and let out the clutch and up she comes, slow and steady. Pulling boats in a RWD pickup in Maine is a non-starter, the ramps are too steep and slippery due to the tidal range here.

    I drive in plenty of Boston traffic too – if you are doing much shifting you are doing it wrong. Leave plenty of space ahead of you and you can just leave it in second and ride out the standing waves. Works like a charm, and no, people do not fill in the gap.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Autos work best if you drive a car with an abundance of torque. There have been a few cars where I started off on the semi-auto shift but gave up because it was pointless…. the computer could do it better. Same does not apply to low torque vehicles.

  • avatar
    claytori

    I own two cars of the same make, model, engine and year – one a sedan with 5MT and one a wagon with 4AT. The two cars drive the same on the highway in a straight line, with the exception that the gearing results in engine speed of 3000 rpm at 70 mph for the MT and 2600 rpm for the AT. As a result there is slightly more engine noise when cruising, but not noticeably so. The MT has lots of pickup on the highway without downshifting. The AT requires a downshift to get anywhere. I disagree with most of the posters here in that I prefer the MT in traffic, as I don’t have to ride the brake constantly. I just slip it into neutral whenever I don’t need thrust. When at a stop, the AT car has a vibration transmitted to the body that is objectionable. You could shift to neutral at stoplights, but then it defeats the purpose of the AT.

    When picking a ride for track training days, there is no trouble deciding to take the MT. You want to know exactly when a shift is going to happen.

  • avatar
    Robbie

    When you have lost one of your legs.

  • avatar
    ktm

    After owning and driving manuals for 24 years, I just bought my first autmoatic. I finally snapped after driving over 30,000 miles a year in Los Angeles traffic for the past 5 years.

  • avatar
    jkross22

    My last four cars:

    ’93 BMW 530 – Automatic
    ’98 BMW 528 – Manual
    ’99 BMW 740 – Automatic
    ’07 BMW 328 – Manual

    Each time I owned the automatic, I remembered why I preferred the manual. All were great cars, but the manual cars were just more engaging to drive and changed the nature of driving from a bore to fun.

    I do miss the sounds of a V8, but happily traded them for the engaging drive of a car with 3 pedals.

    I was extraordinarily tempted by a V8 + manual possibility, but cost steered me clear.

  • avatar
    George B

    Q: When are two pedals better than 3?

    A: Most of the time. A manual is kind of fun driving on open road on the weekend. An automatic is better when you’re stuck in traffic, especially traffic going slow, or when trying to position a truck to hook up a trailer or get close to a loading dock or ramp. I prefer automatic plus cruise control for hours of highway driving.

  • avatar
    TW4

    When are two pedals better than three pedals?

    In any vehicle that weighs over 4,000lbs. A few exceptions exist for some of the reasonably sized, but heavy, body on frame SUVs.

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Driving a stick in heavy traffic when you are not feeling well can be horrible, and if you are in that type of traffic every day, the bad days alone are almost enough to drive an automatic.

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      I drove stickshift Hondas in Miami traffic for close to 20 years, and working a manual transmission became “automatic”, so to speak – no longer requiring a whole lot of attention or conscious thought. I’d row up and down the gears as easily and casually as I manipulated the steering wheel. By the way, this didn’t lead to mechanical abuse either – I never had to replace a clutch or fix a tranny in any of my Hondas.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    A good rule of thumb is manuals for small cars and auto’s are acceptable for big cars. Small cars have smaller engines and therefore less torque. The torque loss from the converter renders the reasons for having a small car (gas savings) pointless. Mostly it comes down to personal taste though. Me, If I had to pull a boat out the water, I would have a manual four wheel drive with low range and a diesel engine. But that’s my preference.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    I think it depends on both the quality of the gearbox and the situation. Commuting to DC in stop-and-go traffic — I’d chose an automatic everytime.

    As for the quality issue, my wife has a Mazda 5, and compared to the BMW 328ix loaner car I drove, the Mazda annihilates it. It upshifts when you want, and downshifts when you want. The BMW is neither here-nor-there: in regular mode, it is lethargic and irritating, in sport mode it holds gears when you don’t want it to. The BMW automatic is so bad that it would drive me to buy a stick shift.

    • 0 avatar
      afflo

      I spent a month back in Jan-Feb in DC, and had an automatic rental car. I HATED it! I’m used to congested city driving with a stick, and the automatic drove me mad – constantly straining against the brakes when stopped, unpredictable shifts, a “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thou” delay before kicking down. When I’m in a heavy traffic, I want the confidence of knowing that I have full control over the power delivery, and automatics simply don’t give me that. I’ve driven all over LA, San Fran, Vegas, etc. with a stick shift and the hills and traffic never bothered me a bit.

      The car was comfortable enough (A 2010 Fusion SEL), but trying to deal with that transmission really did make my drive awful (was driving between Greenbelt and Crystal City every day).

      Admittedly, I’m not comfortable driving automatics, because I do it so rarely (I’m 30 and all my cars have been sticks sans one… which I couldn’t wait to ditch). They make me nervous, especially in traffic, and in an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar city, it was not a level of added stress I needed!

      • 0 avatar
        MattPete

        I think it depends on the automatic. I had to drive my wife’s Mazda5 back and forth to the hospital this week – it has a pretty quick kickdown.

  • avatar
    dcardno

    I don’t buy the “I prefer an automatic becasue of the traffic” rationale: I put over 225,000 Km on a Honda Civic Si that was largely commuter mileage (it took 19 years to do it) over a pretty hilly, and sometimes congested route, and my son put another 25,000 Km on the car before it was retired – and still on the original clutch. As was noted up-thread, even in stop/go traffic, shifting a manual becomes almost completely reflexive.
    True story: my wife’s car was in the shop a year or so ago; it is an auto-box, although she can drive a stick. It was still under warranty and the dealer is on my route to work, so I volunteered to take her car in and she would have to drive mine (a manual) for a couple of days. The dealer gave me a loaner that was the current version of my car, but in an automatic. As I was driving home after picking up her car and driving the automatic for a couple of days (and then her automatic), I was just aching to drive a manual – I just felt so disconnected from the act of driving. Over dinner, I was just about to tell my wife how glad I was to get my car back for the next day, when she said “You know, I am so happy to get out of that damned manual – it is just so much work in traffic…”

    • 0 avatar
      tonyola

      One reason that manual Hondas were easy to drive in traffic is that Honda stickshifts are just about the best around and they’ll stay that way with minimal maintenance. The shifter and clutches are precise and require minimal effort. A friend who drove an older four-speed GTO once drove my Honda CRX and exclaimed “this shifter is like a switch!”

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Really depends on the car & my mood. I wouldn’t mind automatic for a commuter. I have to shift my motorcycle manually. That about sums up how I feel about transmission choices.

  • avatar
    tparkit

    I much prefer an automatic for a long commute. I formerly commuted with a manual, and by the time I got to the office 45 crawling minutes later my left leg was sore. But commuting was so miserable and tiring that I swore I would never do it again, and I never did. I always lived much closer after that, mostly within walking distance.

    I think an automatic is probably also preferable in a large vehicle with a powerful motor. There’s torque available at any speed, and no need or advantage to selecting the gears. IMO big or heavy cars don’t provide any sort of driving experience anyway, so no loss. If I think I’m adding something by shifting gears in a Caddy or a BMW 7-series I’m just kidding myself.

    For my next bike, I’m thinking of a maxi-scooter. It’s not the automatic I’m after, it’s the weather protection. I like to go on multiday tours, and I’m tired of being cold (I live in a miserable climate). Other than perhaps a Goldwing, there’s not a motorcycle made that breaks weather like (for instance) a Suzuki Burgman. I’ll also be checking out the Honda Integra when it comes to market later this summer.

  • avatar
    Vracknal

    On a motorbike.

    Next question please.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Sometimes I like my car to be auto and smooth, other times I’d like it to be manual. Nobody has really addressed this kind of need, not without various compromises in design or actual function.

    I’m not a fan of DSG transmissions, because they perpetuate the layshaft gearbox. That means in any gear other than 1:1, when power goes straight through the tranny from input to output, at least two pairs of gears are engaged, and the resultant effect is to push apart the shafts the cogs are riding on. Means the gear case has to be very rigid to maintain center to center distance of the shafts, if flexing and friction losses are not to add up. Then, do you use wet clutches and $400 oil changes as per VW, or dry clunky clutches like Ford in the Focus? Sub-optimal in every way to me.

    The typical slushbox has planetary gears behind a torque converter. This arrangement puts no unnecessary stress on the outer transmission casing. Torque reactions are absorbed internally.

    Using such an arrangement, a normal manual gearshift pattern could be used (with a normal clutch) to control the friction bands which engage and disengage each ratio. Moving lever to neutral always puts gears in neutral, selecting a slot engages a specific gear via electric solenoid, for instance. Seems so simple, and manufacturers could use existing auto tranny cases and parts instead of making separate cases for the increasingly rare need for a manual.

    Then as an option, a torque converter could be added with a friction face for a normal clutch, and either auto or manual selection of gears depending on the driver’s mood. It would have three pedals, but only two needed in D. Best of both worlds.

    Oh well, I can dream.

  • avatar
    chuckrs

    I don’t think there is a context sensitive automatic. I live where snow/slush/ice is an issue (not this winter) and I do not need the autobox thoughtfully downshifting and giving me more torque so I can spin the wheels like a native Atlantan would. Also, on hills, or coming to a stop sign, a little engine braking is helpful but the autobox doesn’t understand that either. Plus its annoying to have to brake against creep at a traffic signal. One size doesn’t fit all – I’d sing a different tune if commuting in stop’n’go traffic.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    When are two pedals better than three?

    1) When your left leg is missing;
    2) When you are lazy;
    3) When you don’t really know how to drive;
    4) When you are manually (no pun) incompetent;
    5) When you choose to distract yourself with Texting, SATNAV, and iphones;
    6) When you inherited the old Buick from your Aunt Matilda and haven’t gotten rid of it yet.

    Ooops – I guess one or more applies to 93% of the American driving population. Sorry!

  • avatar
    nvdw

    Two pedals own three any time.

    It’s not like we still adjust the spark advance manually so we can be ‘in control’, now do we?

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      Hello, nvdw…

      Thank you for your comments.

      All facetiousness aside, there are some times when automatics (with torque-converter) can do some things more easily. And the recent automated transmissions (e.g., SMG, PDK, etc.) do allow some of the “control” and mechanical efficiency of pure manuals, including rapid and easy downshifting.

      However, what most manual aficionados enjoy is the personal involvement with power delivery; the “feathering” that often may be needed; the reality of an engine tugging at the clutch; the disengagement and reengagement to get out of a stuck situation; the double-clutching or the heal-and-toe satisfaction of a faultless rev-matched downshift; the sense of no-loss* mechanical power from the engine to the wheels.

      Please forgive my allegories and poorly attempted poetry—–
      Driving a manual-transmission car properly and completely is like playing the violin. It requires practice and forethought, like any art form. To the “manual man”, piloting a vehicle with an automatic seems as though the “driver” is really a passenger; or perhaps the “captain” of a ship who has to give commands to the engine room to turn up the heat to get the boilers going to increase output. To return the violin analogue: the “manual guy” (or gal) is in charge and MAKES the music; the prisoner of the automatic is forced TO LISTEN TO the symphony on the radio.

      But you are right about sparks. No, we no longer set spark advance manually. But neither do we now attempt to control the lifting of the valves in the new variable-valve engines; nor will we manually regulate cylinder displacement in the up-and-coming variable displacement engines. And for most passenger cars that are turbo boosted, we typically do not control the amount of boost (race cars excepted). These things should certainly be “built in” to provide optimum efficiency of the engine, and have nothing to do with control of precise power delivery; torque allocation; and traction on the vehicle as a whole.

      * Yes, there is some actual loss in all gear-trains, but nowhere near as much as in the torque converter of an automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        nvdw

        NMGOM,

        To build on your violin analogy, I’d like to put it this way.

        I am no good at playing the violin and if I would take it up some day, it would take years and years of practice and still sound only mediocre while the act of playing the violin would generate only a tiny amount of personal fulfillment. I’d rather save all the time and hassle and listen to someone who can play it properly.

        It’s the same with my car. I do know how to drive a manual but I do not get any driving pleasure out of it. My driving pleasure comes from the driving itself and my sense of control is mostly derived from turning the steering wheel. I have no interest in trying to ‘heel and toe’ or ‘blipping the throttle’ when I have an automatic transmission that does the gear shifting business faster, better and more efficient than I ever can.

        Control over power delivery? My 40 year old CVT kicks down in less than a second so there you go, power when you want to. I shift by using the throttle. And it’s an absolute joy to drive because all the relevant boxes (chassis, steering feel, weight distribution etc etc) are ticked.

        In short, I don’t need a manual transmission to enjoy driving. Playing the ‘lazy’ card is very cheap if you ask me. It’s not like you get a workout from driving your car – or do you?

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        nvdw

        I agree that “lazy” isn’t entirely accurate, although I’m hard core in favor of sticks. I’ll also admit that you can have tons of fun in an auto, I certainly have, especially when I was younger and had access to more autos than manuals. Also, most manual drivers never bother to “learn” their autos…we sneer and move on for the most part, without really taking the time to recognize that you can, on dry roads at least, control shifts with the throttle. In the snow I’d say that autos in “D” are outright dangerous however.

        I think the right approach is to highlight the extra layer of involvement, and noticeable increase in power and throttle response, available in manuals (with the notable exception of wet dual clutch systems autos). Still, this would only be an issue if you drive multiple versions of the same car. If you test drive a lot, or like me, drive lots of cars for work, it’s maddening to drive a car that just isn’t as good as the same model different transmission you drove yesterday. In that respect manuals win everytime.

        I also think you’d need to spend at least a month driving a stick, while really trying to learn rev matching downshifts in the process, for that type of gearbox to become your new favorite. If rev matching doesn’t interest don’t bother, because without that the manuals don’t shift as fast or as smoothly as any auto out there.

        Suggestion to all auto onlys out there…If you get a chance to ride along or drive in a Nissan 370Z (which self rev matches its manual) take it, it will give a decent approximation of the sensation missing in a automatic without the rev match learning curve.

        edit, I felt the need to jump in there because I’m more than guilty of throwing around the “lazy” slur myself. Sorry to hijack.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Hi again, nvdw, and now, tedward….

        Hey, fellas, I think this “lazy” thing is getting out of hand in the wrong direction. My original litany of “Six Reasons” (April 7th, 3:00PM) was meant to be funny; and my follow up comment did set facetiousness aside. So, relax. Chill out. Have a beer (hopefully not just before driving!.)

        tedward: I fully agree with your comment of course, and can only hope that nvdw and other “automatic folks” do in fact spend some time learning the virtues of “complete” driving. But, if they don’t, so be it. As nvdw said, he enjoys other aspects of driving.

        For me, there are two great vehicle virtues:
        1) A Manual Transmission; and
        2) Rear Wheel Drive.

        I own four vehicles and all four have those features. I would want no other. Needless to say, I seem to be in a shrinking minority! (^_^)..

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    2 pedals, definitely for towing. My ’03 Expedition would tow circles around my 6 speed ’99 F250 SD. I’ve grown so accustomed to the ’06 GT’s swift 2-3 and 3-4 shift (way faster than any gear jammer) that I look forward to newer and better autos. I drove sticks since the late 60′s and manuals will always beat autos in basic reliability unless you are a chronic clutch abuser. Even then clutch replacement is way cheaper than an auto that’s been lunched. Computer controlled n-speed autos = $$$. But if I’d had a post apocalypse zombie squashing legacy rig to own, it’d be a stick.

  • avatar
    mcnabb100

    The automatic in my grand am gt is pretty nice. The v6 has plenty of torque, and the tranny is fully willing to downshift if I need a bit of get up and go. Very nice combo.


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