Ask The Best And Brightest: When Are Two Pedals Better Than Three?

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler

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?

Derek Kreindler
Derek Kreindler

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  • JaySeis JaySeis on Apr 08, 2012

    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.

  • Mcnabb100 Mcnabb100 on Apr 09, 2012

    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.

  • Duke Woolworth Weight 4800# as I recall.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X '19 Nissan Frontier @78000 miles has been oil changes ( eng/ diffs/ tranny/ transfer). Still on original brakes and second set of tires.
  • ChristianWimmer I have a 2018 Mercedes A250 with almost 80,000 km on the clock and a vintage ‘89 Mercedes 500SL R129 with almost 300,000 km.The A250 has had zero issues but the yearly servicing costs are typically expensive from this brand - as expected. Basic yearly service costs around 400 Euros whereas a more comprehensive servicing with new brake pads, spark plugs plus TÜV etc. is in the 1000+ Euro region.The 500SL servicing costs were expensive when it was serviced at a Benz dealer, but they won’t touch this classic anymore. I have it serviced by a mechanic from another Benz dealership who also owns an R129 300SL-24 and he’ll do basic maintenance on it for a mere 150 Euros. I only drive the 500SL about 2000 km a year so running costs are low although the fuel costs are insane here. The 500SL has had two previous owners with full service history. It’s been a reliable car according to the records. The roof folding mechanism needs so adjusting and oiling from time to time but that’s normal.
  • Theflyersfan I wonder how many people recalled these after watching EuroCrash. There's someone one street over that has a similar yellow one of these, and you can tell he loves that car. It was just a tough sell - too expensive, way too heavy, zero passenger space, limited cargo bed, but for a chunk of the population, looked awesome. This was always meant to be a one and done car. Hopefully some are still running 20 years from now so we have a "remember when?" moment with them.
  • Lorenzo A friend bought one of these new. Six months later he traded it in for a Chrysler PT Cruiser. He already had a 1998 Corvette, so I thought he just wanted more passenger space. It turned out someone broke into the SSR and stole $1500 of tools, without even breaking the lock. He figured nobody breaks into a PT Cruiser, but he had a custom trunk lock installed.