Question of the Day: Six Speeds, or Five?
This question is for all the manny-tranny folks out there, so if you prefer the slush (or DSG toggles) move along. Ahem. This week Volvo has lent me a C30 T5 to review for TTAC (and Honda dropped a new Fit in my lap, but that’s another story). Anyhow, I requested that the C30 have a standard transmission because the last “premium” small car I tested was a Mini Cooper Clubman S and the autobox just killed it. Not going to let that happen this time. The C30 does in fact have a 6-speed, and it’s great because on the highway the engine spins at less than 3,000 rpm. Volvo claims 28 mpg, which might be a bit low. However, 6th gear is at the same position (back and to the right) as reverse. I’ve driven with shifters laid out like this and no matter what, I simply cannot shift into top gear without the lingering fear that I’m going to pop into reverse at 70 mph. It vexes me. With a 5-speed manual, I just don’t have this phobia. And if I do accidentally tell the transmission to go backwards at the wrong time, well, that’s my idiot fault. But what if reverse is near first gear? That irks me, too. Why? because when parking in a tight spot I’ve mistakenly gone into 1st instead of reverse and banged into an innocent car. So, miles per gallon aside, I prefer 5-speeds.The great irony is, I actually prefer 4-speeds. I just love those long gears. And I’m weird. You?
I learned to drive stick on a six-speed (well, learned to drive it properly, anyway), so that's my bias. Besides, more gears = more fun, right? Sixth, if it's tall enough, makes a nice freeway cruising gear, and a 6-5 downshift to pass is a lot easier and quicker than a 5-4. I'm in the process of buying a first-generation, five-speed Miata and, similarly to Jonny, had a minor concern about shifting into reverse - but my concern was that it would be instinctive, intending sixth but hitting reverse. Nice to know that's not supposed to be possible, though!
My 1st gen CR-V would do well to have 6th gear, just leave the other gears the same and give me a 400-500 rpm in 6th gear for the interstate. I've owned two 3-speeds. In my '49 Chevy pickup it was okay up to 50 mph or so. In my'66 Mustang it was irritating. With the 120HP 200 6 cylinder there were occasions when it did not have enough oomph to go from 2nd to 3rd. Traveling TN mountain roads I would have welcomed more ratios to choose from climbing the hills and more to shift down into coming down the hills. My VW Cabrio is pretty good all around. I really prefer the lockout on the reverse also found in all of my old aircooled VWs too (which all needed lower revs on the hwy despite the fact they needed them for power and cooling).
First, let me say, that for the most part, as long as its a manual I'm happy. BUT, having had the experience of driving a 95 VW Jetta with the 5 speed they were using at the time, which used the push down and forward technique, and getting to compare that to my parents 04 Passat 5 speed, which uses the back and right method; i do like the Jetta configuration more. It became even more clear when I got my 06 Mazdaspeed6 with the 6 speed manual, which uses the push down and forward, like the Jetta, but with the sixth gear. I hate driving the Passat now, because I'm always afraid i will forget which car I'm in and go for 6th gear doing 60 on the highway.
I've never owned a car new enough for the 6-speed to be an option so I'm going to go with 5 over 4 or anything more than 3. 3 on the tree is horrible to drive, and three on the floor not much better. The 901 box in my '72 914 is fun with the dog-leg 1st gear, but it would be a lot more fun if it didn't have tractor-length throws and 1st so horribly synchornized that from a standstill at idle she grinds into 1st. Probably the best shifter in my life is the one on my '74 Beetle, which always snicks right into gear and has reverse below second by way of pushing the gear lever down in neutral. These things are bullet proof and third gear is right in the vicinity of my female passenger's thigh.