QOTD: What Manual Transmission is Worth Saving?

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole

BMW may be coy about it, but there’s no denying that manual transmissions are dying a fairly ignominious death in most cars. It’s a shame. Manuals are more often found as slushboxes in econo-drones with cloth everything paired to a remedial engine.

Cheap manual transmissions aren’t worth saving. In 20 years, when everything except your mountain bike comes with an automatic transmission, will you look fondly on the Chevy Cobalt’s 5-speed guessing game? Probably not.

A good manual transmission feels as sharp and precise as a bolt-action rifle. Slotting in a gear in a Corvette feels wholly different than grabbing a cog in the Subaru XV Crosstrek that I just drove 500 miles across Wyoming. I’ll miss Porsche’s manual. I won’t miss Nissan’s.

As the debate swirls around “Will the manual transmission fade away?” the question is better posed as “Why keep it around anyway?” Less than one in 5 new BMW M4 buyers opts to row their own for good reason — the dual-clutch transmission in that car is very good. Owners recognize that BMW’s M-DCT isn’t merely an automatic, it’s an automated manual and it’s incredibly precise at confidently swapping cogs. Ditto for Porsche’s PDK. Ferrari is even on board. The list goes on.

So B&B, what manual in particular is worth saving?

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6 of 141 comments
  • Glwillia Glwillia on Jul 29, 2015

    I think for the foreseeable future manuals will continue to exist in cheap, fun, relatively no-frills sports cars (MX-5, Toyobaru twins, etc). Those cars don't sell on how quick they are, but how fun they are at a low price, so we'll continue to have the traditional 3-pedal manual transmission, manual soft top, etc. Traditional manuals are doomed in the high-end sports car range (M3/M4, Audi RS, etc). As for BMW, I drive a manual E46 and I don't think BMW's stock manual feel is that great (a short shift kit and deleting the clutch delay valve liven things up considerably). I drove a 228i 6-speed and the manual feel is much improved, but then not as much as "their" (actually ZF's) automatics have.

  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Jul 29, 2015

    Ill take an unprecise, clunky, rubbery terrible manual trans over similarly terrible automatic and especially over any CVT. I have driven some pretty cheap cars with manuals, like Ford Aspire/Festiva for example, and I wouldnt trade them for the automatics avalible in those cars. For that reason, I dont get the point of the rant in this article.

    • See 1 previous
    • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Aug 03, 2015

      @doublechili Agreed 100%! I had a 86 Trooper 2-door with a manual and loved it. I want a '70s B210 or 200SX, and please believe, it will have a manual. My 1990 Festiva 5 speed was fun to drive, I can imagine that an automatic wouldve turned it into a penalty box. I drove a Chevy Metro sedan and a Toyota Echo with automatics when they were new (or newish in the case of the Metro). They were AWFUL. No way could I own either. I hated the Echo's interior anyway with the center gauge pod. Ive owned several Ford Tempos and they are pretty decent with a manual (most were auto, couple were 5spds), same with Escorts, Contours, etc. Having an automatic in them makes them pretty boring and uninspiring.

  • Motoridersd Motoridersd on Jul 29, 2015

    The 6 speed manual in my E91 is not as crisp as the one in my ex's Civic Si, or my Mazda 3, but it is a little better than the 6 speed in my previous Legacy Spec.B (that one though, was due to me being lazy and never putting in a short throw.) I would definitely save the Ford manuals (STs and Mustang GTs), the Mazdas (the 6 needs a 6 speed manual in the Grand Touring trim), the one in the Corvette and Honda's, but I'd also keep the STi and WRXs as a manual, but they need a hatch! If the manual in the CTS-V and ATS-V is the same as the Corvette, then those definitely need to stick around.

  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Aug 03, 2015

    Didnt the Chevy Cobalt's manual come from Getrag? I drove a Getrag-equipped Olds Alero and I liked it. In fact, Id love to find one in a coupe bodystyle with the Quad 4 (or Twin Cam as it was known by then).