By on August 26, 2016

2016 chevrolet spark ls

Are you sure you want to save the manuals?

In theory, of course, you want to save the manual transmission. You enjoy driving. You enjoy enhancing the man-machine connection by synchronizing movements between your left foot, right hand, and right foot. You value the art of a perfectly timed shift, of properly holding a gear through a corner when even the most intelligent automatic would upshift. You know the corner. You know driving. You know how to get the best out of a Ford Fiesta ST half an hour before sunrise on Italy’s Stelvio Pass, even though you’ve never set foot outside Iowa, even though you drive a RAV4 Hybrid.

“What? I would’ve gotten a manual if Toyota offered one,” thou doth protest too much.

As we approach greater degrees of autonomous driving, as roads fill up and speed limits are not altered to reflect our vehicles’ huge improvements in stopping ability and safety, saving the manuals sounds like a noble campaign. Preserve that last shred of pure driving already forsaken by Ferrari, by performance-oriented Porsches, by the general populace that believes their right hands are better off holding a skinny cinnamon dolce latte than a leather-wrapped shifter.

But I’m driving proof, a $9,995* 2016 Chevrolet Spark, that we shouldn’t paint with such a broad #SaveTheManuals brush. We should save some of the manuals, but certainly not all of them.

A Mazda MX-5 Miata’s blissful six-speed this is not. And we shouldn’t expect the driving experience to resemble the MX-5 in any way — General Motors is not going to invest as much time and money into a city car with a $10,000 price tag as Mazda will for a car with a reputation for Greatest Shift Quality Ever at stake. But the new Chevrolet Spark’s five-speed manual transmission is by no means the only manual shifter worth excluding from the aging, dying, Save The Manuals campaign.

Just watch Top Gear’s Chris Harris pilot an Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio around road and track. Seemingly in love with the Alfa, Harris nevertheless doesn’t seem to mind that UK buyers won’t be able to choose the Giulia Quadrifoglio with the manual gearbox of his test car. “This manual gearbox,” Harris muses, “I’m not so sure about that. Shift quality’s a bit rubbery. Clutch pedal movement’s not the best.”

I’m willing to bet that the shift quality and clutch pedal action in the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio is leagues better than what I’m experiencing in this Chevrolet Spark, a surprisingly refined and comfortable econohatch in many other ways.

2016 chevrolet spark

Rubbery shift quality? At best. Shifting from second or fourth into third or fifth is an exercise in aimless conjecture. Not only is the shift’s destination in doubt, your hand must guide the shifter through a soupy mix of molasses, Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, and toothpaste. It’s just as disconcerting as it sounds.

The Spark’s shift throws, meanwhile, feel as though you’re required to reach from one side of a heavily armed border station in a former Soviet state back into the western world for second and fourth. Got long fingers? Careful you don’t scratch your knee in first and poke your hip bone going into second.

Reverse is another story. It’s out there in the general vicinity of fourth. Once you’ve located and engaged reverse, the Spark reacts with enough noise emanating from its unmentionables to alert passersby, who turn in wonder.

But there’s a backup camera. No power mirrors, locks, or windows, mind you. No air-con, either. But a backup camera? It’s quite the age we live in, where one of the most spartan vehicles on sale in North America is equipped with a touchscreen and a backup camera.

The ability to use a screen instead of your mirrors to see what you’re about to reverse over does not cancel out the alarming lack of work done to make this five-speed manual transmission tolerable. It’s not just the shifter. Clutch action is utterly lacking in feel, as though it wants to trick you into thinking the point of engagement is always where you think it isn’t. (Perhaps it always is at a different point in the pedal movement — there’s nothing to feel, you’re simply hoping for the best.)

Unlike the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, however, which will eventually be available in the United States with an eight-speed automatic, Chevrolet forces two-pedal Spark drivers to use a continuously variable transmission. CVTs are sometimes acceptable, particularly when power is abundant.

The 2016 Chevrolet Spark’s 1.4-liter four-cylinder produces 98 horsepower.

But these are 98 feisty ponies. Perhaps they’ll make do.

Save The CVTs?

* GM Canada’s 2016 Chevrolet Spark LS has a CAD $9,995 base price; CAD $11,595 (USD $8,950) including the destination charge. Nissan Canada’s cheapest Micra is seven dollars less costly. The Spark LS CVT, at CAD $15,595 (USD $12,038), adds air conditioning, in addition to the continuously variable transmission The U.S. market Spark LS, priced from USD $13,875 (CAD $17,971), includes air conditioning.

[Images: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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125 Comments on “Save The Manuals? Let’s Not Save Them All, Including The 2016 Chevrolet Spark’s...”


  • avatar
    Quentin

    I wasn’t that blown away with the ND Miata shifter. It was smooth, but didn’t give me a ton of feedback. It felt like a really good cable shifter. Maybe a 15 mile test drive wasn’t enough time to acclimate to it.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I’ve only driven the NC and ND Miatas through a short autocross-like course, so shifted each maybe 3 gears, but they felt at least as good as my NB, with which I have 20k miles experience and a dozen hours of track time.

      I remember when I first got it, the short throws and tight gates made me sometimes doubt which gear I was going into. Now that I’m accustomed to it, that gear shifter is love. The biggest complaint I can level against it is that reverse occasionally needs a second try to get into, but most shifters seem to do this once in a while.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        Yep, on occasion, I find shifting into reverse doesn’t take the first time in my Mazda3. Manuals in Hondas exhibit the same behavior too. Techs say that’s because there’s no synchro for the reverse gear.

        The general advice is to shift into first and try again, but a Honda mechanic suggested shifting into 3rd and trying again. That seemed to work better.

  • avatar
    Ipsa

    I rented a Spark in Florida last year, and loved it for what it was. I had low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. Too bad about the manual version, though.

  • avatar
    Duaney

    The worse manual is better than the best automatic. Automatics have the fun habit of just going bad without any warning, then you’re stranded.

    • 0 avatar

      No. The best automatic is damn good. See: last-gen CTS-V manual vs. last-gen CTS-V automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        When you’ve got 600 horsepower under the hood, though, does it really matter all that much? It’s the difference between a 4.5 second or 4.3 second run to 60. Either way, if you’re going full blast all the time in something like a CTS-V, you’re cop-bait anyway.

        Personally, I’d almost prefer an automatic in a car that powerful – easier to handle.

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          I think it’s the other way round. If you have something like a Hellcat, you can basically just leave it in fourth most of the day anyway.
          With a lot of smaller European diesels whos powerband is from 2000-2150 rpm’s a manual can be a chore even outside the city.

          • 0 avatar
            Zackman

            Must be another satisfied Ultradrive customer.

          • 0 avatar
            fincar1

            I agree with Zykotec here. I had a 1967 383 4-speed Barracuda. With that torque monster, if I was going over about 40 there wasn’t any real need to downshift, even with the 3.23 rear.

          • 0 avatar
            burgersandbeer

            Agree with Zykotec. I would rather let an automatic do all the annoying short shifting, or constantly downshifting to get the car out of its own way. A strong engine with a wide powerband lets you focus on the fun part of shifting.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      ” Automatics have the fun habit of just going bad without any warning, then you’re stranded.”

      Hmm. the date on my computer screen says it’s 2016, not 1986.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Automatics have the fun habit of just going bad without any warning, then you’re stranded.”

      This happens in manuals, too. I had an manual Echo, which should be a rock-reliable car, chew it’s gearbox badly enough such that it could not be moved without a flatbed. Honda had problems with a recent Civic, I believe.

      Conversely, I’ve seen automatics that don’t give up. Two of the most hateful cars I’ve known (a ’76 Aspen and my current ’05 Pontiac Montana) just keep on ticking.

      The rule of thumb is that it really depends on the car. Sometimes some manufacturers make a bad one (eg, the 5AT in any 98-02 V6 Honda) and sometimes you just get unlucky.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        The trick is to use a high intensity dipstick to check the fluid.

        • 0 avatar
          operagost

          I haven’t had an automatic “die” on me since 1996, when the gearshift decided to stop talking to the electronic trans in my Skylark and left me in neutral. The sending unit was replaced, and I never had any kind of transmission trouble when I traded it in with 135,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      We must live in different universes.

      • 0 avatar
        Secret Hi5

        The new ND Miata is experiencing manual gearbox failures that leave their owners stranded. Mazda has been great in replacing the blown trannies. TTAC should do an article on it.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Agreed. I find zero joy in driving an automatic. For me it is just boring and completely uningauging. I’ve yet to drive a car with a manual transmission that I didn’t like, and I’ve driven a lot of them.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’ve owned nothing but stick shift cars since 2001. I love shifting, even with the vague-like-a-Spark’s shifter in my ’13 Sonic.

    But the writing is on the wall. Even though several manufacturers still make manual-transmission cars, most dealers won’t order them for stock – one or two at best, to advertise as loss leaders.

    Since dealers (not buyers) are the true customers of the manufacturer, if they’re not buying, stick shift cars won’t be around for much longer.

    I searched cars.com for new cars under $40k in Las Vegas. A mere 3.5% of them have manuals, 248 out of 6,718.

    Note: I’m discussing everyday cars, not sports or pony cars. Mustangs, Miatas, etc, will probably keep manuals longer.

    Another problem is resale value. Sure, not everyone has an eye on resale value when they purchase a car, but unless you intend to drive your new car until it has zero value, a manual transmission can make your used car a tough sell (or trade-in).

    Now that I’ve driven a few CVT cars as rentals, I’m fairly convinced that my next car will have one.

    • 0 avatar
      thelastdriver

      The opposite is true. Look up manual transmission Camrys or Corollas on Craigslist. They usually fetch at least $1k-$2k more than their automatic counterparts. Harder/longer to sell but certainly motivated buyers willing to pay asking once one is found.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Dealers will buy what they think they can sell quickly. They might be the manufacturer’s direct customer, but consumers are still an indirect customer. If you stop taking the automatic transmissions that they have on the lot, they might be inclined to buy more manuals. If you want a manual, don’t settle.

    • 0 avatar
      SirRaoulDuke

      Resale really depends on the car. I don’t know much about it from a dealer’s point of view, but I had random offers on my Mazda3s hatch that were higher than average just due to the stick. So I will put that car into the same category of, say, a Miata: a car that appeals to a certain driver that wants a stick.

    • 0 avatar
      stevelovescars

      If your Autotrader searches were anything like mine, that 3.5% number may be high. Dealers can’t seem to choose the right button and often indicate “manual” for an automatic.

      As for resale, I agree than manuals often sell for MORE, even when autos cost more up front. It may be that car enthusiasts like to buy from other enthusiasts (who are more likely to buy a manual) or due to rarity. Just sell them yourself rather than trading in to a dealer who won’t want a stick. I had this experience with some oddball manuals I’ve owned, including a Mazda5 and a BMW 525iT, a minivan and a wagon.

  • avatar
    tsoden

    Reminds me of my buddy’s 1980 Chevette…. it had a 4 speed manual… and felt like a tank in motion… it sounded like the world was coming to an end when it was time to shift gears…There really was no way to drive that car smoothly…

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I grew up in my mom’s 4-speed 1981 Chevette. My stepmom, meanwhile, had a very-early-build ’90 Land Rover Discovery with the carbureted 3.5 V8 and a five-speed. Learning to use those two transmissions made all other manuals easy until I first drove a Class 8 truck.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        You were in Switzerland then, right?

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          My dad’s piece of the family was in Switzerland (and he still is, but with a different wife) — thus the 3-door, 5-speed ’90 Discovery, something that never came here.

          My mom has been stateside ever since my parents divorced in 1983.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            See, I listen to you when you tell life stories! Are you a dual Swiss citizen also?

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            No, I only spent a total of about 4-5 years in Switzerland, counting both the two years I lived there full-time and the summers I spent there later. You have to live there full-time for 14 years before you have the opportunity to apply for citizenship.

            You have a remarkably good memory.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It’s a blessing at work, when I remember things nobody else thinks of or have long forgot. It’s a curse the rest of the time, when my mind is filled with small details from ages ago which don’t matter.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        Did that early Discovery have the weird blue interior?

        My 5spd ’95 Disco is best described as ‘agricultural’. Especially compared to the extremely refined 4spd auto in the Range Rover. One of the few automatics that never annoys me, mostly because it hardly ever actually has to shift.

  • avatar
    Higheriq

    “Save The Manuals? Let’s Not Save Them All, Including The 2016 Chevrolet Spark’s”

    I would respectfully disagree. A small car (ANY small car) should NEVER be equipped with anything other than a manual. Period. And the fact that the base Spark has a backup camera but no power mirrors, locks, or windows, and no air-conditioning? Didn’t one of our wonderful federal government agencies REQUIRE backup cameras in all cars? (I could start down the road of political commentary, but this is an automotive site)

    Save all the manuals? An unequivocal YES!

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “I would respectfully disagree. A small car (ANY small car) should NEVER be equipped with anything other than a manual.”

      nobody agrees with you.

      • 0 avatar
        Higheriq

        Nobody? Did you survey everybody? I suspect not. Until you do, and when nobody agrees, I would recommend not using the word “nobody”.

        • 0 avatar
          WheelMcCoy

          I mostly agree. A manual manages power delivery for small 4 cylinder engines much more effectively than an automatic. Before automatic enthusiasts jump all over me, note that I said *effectively*, not *efficiently*.

          But I hesitate to say NEVER. In one rental, stirring the manual felt like stirring a bowl of Captain Crunch. And a poorly shifting manual would just push drivers away.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        I agree with him.

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      Backup cameras are supposed to be mandated for 2018 in the USA. A lot of manufacturers are throwing them in early. Not sure the Spark particularly needs one though.

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      My amputee friend who drives an automatic-equipped compact car disagrees with you.

      Having <2 legs apparently complicates the operation of a manual somehow.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        This. I try to control my car snobbery when I see something that *should* be a manual but is an automatic. Maybe the person who owns it can’t shift due to age or physical limitations. Or has a spouse that doesn’t drive a standard and refuses to learn, but still enjoys a decent car. My parents both drove manuals for years, but I doubt either one of them could do it now as a daily driver. And they don’t want to shift anymore. My wife never learned and refuses to. I tried to teach her, but she just has no interest.

        And, thanks to the manufacturers, it’s hard to find anything but the base model in a manual. Our Mazda 5 could have been had with a manual, but only on Sport (base) models. If you want options, shifting it yourself isn’t one of them.

      • 0 avatar
        Higheriq

        And by my statement, he should not be driving a small car. So I stand by what I said.

        • 0 avatar
          JD23

          “And by my statement, he should not be driving a small car.”

          Amputees should not be permitted to drive small cars? Should they be confined to Panthers and W-bodies?

      • 0 avatar
        Pete Zaitcev

        I saw a guy on a motorcycle who had no left leg. Although it was a motorcycle with a sidecar.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    True, Tim, but it’s hard to compare a powerful performance car to a tiny econobox when it comes to this. It’s all about getting 100% of the car’s performance potential. In the real world, getting 100% out of something like a Quadrifoglio (or a Corvette, or a Porsche, etc) just gets you landed in jail. So, yeah, the automatic option becomes far less of a necessity.

    But getting 100% out of something like a Spark means you’re keeping up with traffic.

    I’d say the Spark – or any other subcompact – DEFINITELY needs a manual option, at minimum. Or is the CVT a better bet in this particular application? That usually depends on the CVT, and they are definitely not created equal.

    (By the way, I’ve heard good things about the Spark…looking forward to your test report.)

    • 0 avatar
      eggsalad

      A lot depends on how the CVT is programmed. If it’s done well, a tiny engine like the Spark’s will *always* be “in the right gear at the right time”. Whereas if you only have 5 ratios to choose from, you can only be *close* to the power peak or the economy peak, whichever you choose.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Definitely. The CVT in the Corolla is actually the car’s best feature (and it’s a short list of good features, FYI). It did “simulated” upshifts and downshifts quite well.

        But the unit in the last-gen Civic was atrocious – I wouldn’t buy it for that reason alone.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I think modern automatics enable getting 100% out of cars much more than they used to. Even… if not especially CVTs. Sometimes they need a little coaxing but once you get them to shift into the powerband they work well.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        True with more powerful cars, sporty. But I’d say it isn’t always true with smaller cars, some of which are significantly quicker with manuals.

        Take the Honda Fit, for example – with a manual it’s almost a full second quicker to 60. Now, in a car that’s fast to begin with (let’s say, something that will hit 60 in less than six seconds), a .7 second difference doesn’t feel all that significant, but in something like a Spark, or a Fit, it definitely is.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    I have been saying this for a long time. Nissan is a particularly egregious culprit. All Nissans I’ve driven have terrible clutch pedals- long, heavy throws, with engagement down at the bottom of the stroke (so no cheating!). The levers are equally bad, though in different ways.

    In my late 90s Maximas the shifter basically felt like something out of an old UPS truck. Long, rubbery, vague throws with no real sense of engagement. In my 350Z, engagement was positive, but throws were heavy, and the box didn’t like to be rushed. A problematic trait for a gearbox in a sports car to have.

    This abysmal shift quality is what pushed me back to Honda, though my 09 Civic doesn’t quite have the “rifle bolt action” of the Hondas from the 90s. Still much better and more enjoyable though. But yes, no point in saving the manuals if they are not good. Most of the manuals that have died (i.e. in old Camrys and Grand Ams and the like) were downright awful and deserved to be put to pasture. It is cars like the S2000 and others of its ilk that we really need to mourn.

    • 0 avatar
      Rochester

      Well, you’re not wrong. However, in case you’ve not found this yet, and it applies to you, there’s an easy fix to your complaint about Nissan’s clutch pedal in the 370/G37:

      http://www.rjmperformance.com

      It transforms the throw from an abrubt curve into something far more linear, moves the engagement downward instead of top-of-pedal, and gives you adjust-ability to widen or shorten the engagement point. You can also adjust the pedal height. Best $250 USD you will ever spend on that Nissan.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      The only Nissan sedan I can think of with a manual is a Versa…everything else is a CVT.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Save the Manuels! And the Juans, Hectors, Mateos…

    Don’t let then go back home or we’ll be doing our own roofs and lawns ’cause ain’t nobody else willing to!

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    I don’t really care much what transmissions are in most new cars, since most of them are boring to drive anyway, unless they have decent transmissions like Hondas and certain sportscars. But, for the most part I have yet to drive an ICE car where the automatic transmission makes the driving any easier. With the one automatic I have owned myself I felt I had to use the brakes a lot more than I ever used a clutch in a manual car, and shifting from reverse to drive and back when parking or doing three point turns felt a lot more cumbersome than with a manual.
    It is worth mentioning most roads around here look a bit like the Nurburgring, and I never do any city driving, meaning I never ‘need’ an auto, and no auto currently available in any non-luxury car can downshift quickly enough (I’m not including sequentials though).

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Fighting a losing rear guard action. Forget manual versus automatic by the time that manuals die out, most cars will be self-driving and probably electric.

    However until then I will fight for manuals and put my money where my writing is.

    To sell an entry level, tiny economy car with an automatic and a back-up camera just demonstrates the abject lack of driving skills of most drivers in North America.

    If you cannot back-up a Spark without a camera, you should not have been able to pass a driving test.

    And if everyone at least learned how to drive a manual, they would all have better understanding of how a vehicle operates, the physics of driving and what to do if they experience ‘sudden automatic acceleration’.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “And if everyone at least learned how to drive a manual, they would all have better understanding of how a vehicle operates, the physics of driving and what to do if they experience ‘sudden automatic acceleration’.”

      assumes facts not in evidence. the highest rate of highway fatalities this country has ever had was back when manuals were still called “standard” transmissions.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Backup cameras are a coming mandate for fleet percentages.

      That’s why it’s there – not that it’s not really, really convenient; I refuse to buy a new car without one.

      (Sore neck? Lifesaver. High rear window-line? Very useful.)

      Even a careful, skilled driver gets a lot of practical benefit from a rear camera.

      (Also, I know all three of those things at the end and I’ve never driven a manual more than around a parking lot, poorly.

      It’s *not necessary* to drive a manual to learn those things.)

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        I’ve had a backup camera for the last 2.5 years and it’s saved me twice. The first time I was getting ready to back out of the garage, put the car into reverse, looked at the camera, and saw our family dog in it. My wife had not realized I was still home, and let the dog out the front door. If I hadn’t had the camera, I almost certainly would have killed her.

        The second time was just last Saturday. I was doing a home improvement project when I was interrupted by a tearful daughter with an injured guinea pig in her hands. After scrambling to find a vet who would look at a guinea pig on a Saturday and spending three hours in the vet’s office, we were discharged and ready to go home. There was a pillar not too far behind my car that blended in with the building’s facade, and if not for the camera, I’d have backed right into it.

        I wouldn’t be without the camera, for me it’s a must have.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So “don’t save the manuals because manufactures don’t give two shifts about making a decent one.”

    Got it.

  • avatar
    tommytipover

    I’ve been wondering if the manufacturers are punishing us with lousy shifters, just don’t care, or think that these lousy joy-stick feeling shifters are what people want? The clutch and shifter on a Logitech gaming wheel has better feel than those of a Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      There could be something true in that. I also feel like Honda has done the opposite for a few decades by making some horrible automatics..

    • 0 avatar
      jim brewer

      Agreed. Evidently it must be some kind of a challenge or mystery to make a satisfying manual transmission.

      It’s where everyday manual drivers make an emotional connection with their cars, not pushing through a curve at the limits. It’s worth a couple of bucks to do it right if it’s worth offering a manual at all.

  • avatar
    Rochester

    The fact is, most OEM shifters are long and sloppy… even the ones marketed as “short-throw” (370Z, cough cough) If you want a solid shifting pattern, and a short throw, then you have to modify the car with aftermarket components.

    And I highly doubt there’s a STS out there for the Chevy Spark.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    I don’t get anyone who dislikes a manual for the “feel”. Hurst and many other have been making shifters and bushing kits that you can install and change the character completely. I agree that the OEM should be more mindful of this consumer, but in a sub $10k car? No one liked the three on the tree in my first ’56 Chevrolet, either, but with a Hurst floor shifter installed, I was Grumpy Jenkins, or for you younger folk, Warren Johnson. I encourage this kind of personalization in your car, it makes it unique. I darn sure would have spent the time to figure something out in a car with 98 hp before I settled for a CVT – and was dinged $3k for the insult.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Problem with relying on the aftermarket is manifold, with the biggest issue being warranty stuff. Second problem being that some cars don’t have much aftermarket support, and sometimes the aftermarket gets it wrong too.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Don’t marvel at the backup camera; it’s government-mandated equipment.

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2014/03/31/nhtsa-rear-view-cameras/7114531/

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      There was a time when backup lights and mirrors were regarded as optional equipment, then both were mandated, and now if you got a vehicle without either, you’d wonder what was wrong.

      • 0 avatar
        greaseyknight

        I’m not sure how long it lasted, but it was legal to sell a vehicle in the 80’s with one side mirror and a rear view mirror. I think it lasted until the 90’s. It may even still be legal.

        Most states (that I know) only require two mirrors on a vehicle, it makes sense, as they have to include semi-trucks where a rearview mirror would do nothing.

        That being said, not having a passenger side mirror is a pain in a pickup with cargo in the bed that blocks the rear view mirror.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          AFAIK it still is legal; it’s just not popular.

          And as you note, not a good choice on cargo-carriers.

          (I had a Mercedes with no passenger mirror.

          It made things really… awkward, once, when I was taking a neon beer sign home, and it blocked my rearview mirror.

          Side mirrors FTW.)

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I think single mirror was popular on Ferraris for a while in the ’80s and ’90s.

          • 0 avatar
            gearhead77

            I remember driving a few Neons, Corollas and other basic cars for Big Green E in the 90’s without passenger side mirrors. Really annoying when you’ve learned to drive with them.

            Amazes me that sunvisors and power brakes were an option too.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    Slightly off topic but here I go anyway: Whatever happened to styled steel wheels? I understand, this is a ten grand car and GM doesn’t want to splurge on alloy wheels. But years ago, a manufacturer would make a one time investment and make some dies that stamped steel wheels into something like an attractive pattern, add some chrome lug nuts and a center cap, maybe a trim ring, and wind up with something that looked a damn sight better than those silly cheap Kmart plastic wheel covers. Compare this car to this first gen Civic:

    http://www.blogcdn.com/green.autoblog.com/media/2009/12/civic-cvcc-resized.jpg

  • avatar
    Jimal

    After decades of driving mostly manuals, this week I picked up a 2009 Pontiac G8 GT, which was only available with an automatic. I’m tired of sitting in traffic with a manual, and I”ve grown tired of the self-flagellating “Save the Manuals” thing. To me it is a sign of a greater issue where we as a people have become anti-progress. Manuals are fine, but they’re not the end all, be all of driving.

    If I really have the urge to drive a manual, I’ll take out my old truck or take my wife’s Passat TDI for a ride.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’d say any car with a 360-hp V-8 doesn’t need a manual, so that G8 probably isn’t the best example. In the entry level cars, I think manuals can make a significant difference, though.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        I’m speaking to the near religious stridency by a small but vocal faction of self-described enthusiasts. The whole “save the manuals” thing has simply gotten out of hand. Drive what you want to drive. I’m waiting for the day where you start hearing about cars being vandalized for having a “blasphemous transmission” by some dope.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      My manual fandom isn’t based in anything other than manuals are more fun to drive. Maybe others are anti-progress, but I doubt that’s the prevailing rationale for preferring manuals.

      My wife’s car is an automatic. It drives fine. It’s comfortable. It has good brakes and handles well. It’s boring. From my experience, the character of a car changes when it’s a stick, making the car more engaging and fun.

      Regarding Mike’s comment, you indeed don’t need a manual in a big V8. But go drive a Chevy SS with a manual and try to not smile.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Bad as this manual may be, I imagine an auto would add weight and complexity to a light, uncomplicated car, and result in worse fuel economy (which is bad enough for a car this size due to its boxy profile).

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Not in the age of the CVT. The CVT gets better fuel economy than the manual and is in all likelihood no heavier. They’re hard to engineer, but the basic concept of a CVT is much simpler than a conventional automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        Where did you find a legitimate fuel economy comparison between the two transmissions?

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          You don’t find current EPA numbers legitimate? CVT advantage is narrow 31/41/35 vs 30/41/34, but it’s there.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            No, I don’t. Unlike the automatics, they don’t optimize the manual shifts for fuel economy during the test, and don’t allow the engine to run anywhere near as low as the auto does. Where I’d be in sixth, they’re still often running in third or fourth. They never skip gears either, unless they’re forced to with a silly skip-shift system. Which, of course, only exists to compensate for the inadequacy of the EPA test. That’s why it’s so easy to beat the EPA numbers with a manual.

            ecomodder.com/forum/showthread.php/manual-vs-automatic-transmission-mpg-showdown-nissan-micra-30059.html

            I’m no hypermiler either. I like to keep the revs at or above 1500 during cruising and accelerating.

            If a manual can get that close to a CVT on the EPA test, then I have little doubt that a well-driven manual can beat the CVT by at least the same margin.

            Are there any CVTs that operate efficiently enough to not need a cooler?

            Either way, whatever the difference is, it’s negligible compared to the effects of the operator’s driving style. Typically, there’s no reason to buy a manual anymore unless you prefer having full control over the operation of the powertrain.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Here’s a test involving a CVT, using Mitsubishi Mirages. Despite the CVT having a 3 mpg advantage on the EPA test, the manual outperformed the CVT in these tests:

            mirageforum.com/forum/showthread.php/636-Gas-mileage-MPG-test-2014-Mirage-CVT-vs-5-speed-(sub-urban-Ottawa-route)

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Also, remember that the target market for the bottom-spec Canadian Spark isn’t “enthusiasts”.

      It’s “complete cheapskates”.

      Who are by no means guaranteed to shift well or fast or run in the most efficient gear.

      And for customers it’s achieved MPG that matters, not theoretical…

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        That sort of driver doesn’t achieve good fuel economy with the automatic either. Their driving style will not resemble that of the EPA test procedure.

        I want to know what the vehicle is capable of, not what it does under the control of an idiot.

  • avatar
    April S

    It can’t be that bad.

    With a car with so low horsepower I would think a manual transmission would be the way to go to wring out the modest power available. Plus it can be fun to snick snick snick through the gears.

    BTW, I’ve owned many non automatic vehicles. From the sublime shifting 1981 Volkswagen Beetle (Mexican built) to a 1995 Ford F-150/300 inline 6 and the clunky long-throw 5-speed. In between were a trio of standard transmission Subarus (1976, 1978, 1993).

    They were all fun in their own way.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    At the moment I have three cars and they’re all automatic. And for the moment I’m OK with that, although I’m sure I’ll get a manual itch at least once more in my life. Automatics have gotten better, and the manual has gotten less important for me personally in comparison with other goals. One car needed to be a hybrid, preferably a plug-in. For another car I wanted as much luxury as was consistent with my budget, and that brings automatics. And the last car gets driven a lot by an aging relative who, although she spent years driving manuals, wouldn’t want to bother with one at this point in her life.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I might of been more inclined to pay the premium for a A3 or IS if they came with a manual. Instead I settled on the TSX Sport Wagon, with it’s rather old fashion 5-speed automatic. I think every review I read suggests it needs a manual, but for normal every day driving around it’s fine. It’s rare that I even touch the paddle switches.

  • avatar
    operagost

    The back up camera will be mandatory in 2018, so some manufacturers have made it standard already. This should not be news to an auto enthusiast site.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Drawing attention to the modern definition of spartan vs. the world we once we lived in and not knowing about well-known legislation are two different things. https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/nhtsa-submits-rear-visibility-rule-to-white-house-may-mandate-backup-cameras/

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “In theory, of course, you want to save the manual transmission. You enjoy driving. You enjoy enhancing the man-machine connection by synchronizing movements between your left foot, right hand, and right foot. You value the art of a perfectly timed shift, of properly holding a gear through a corner when even the most intelligent automatic would upshift. You know the corner. You know driving. You know how to get the best out of a Ford Fiesta ST half an hour before sunrise on Italy’s Stelvio Pass, even though you’ve never set foot outside Iowa, even though you drive a RAV4 Hybrid.”

    Noope.

    I mean, I know how to drive. I love to drive. I like taking a corner. I watch my line, I pay attention, I do okay.

    I do not give a flying goddamn about a manual transmission and I actively don’t want one, and I wouldn’t have bought one in any of my cars even if it’d been available.

    I also don’t want to manage my own spark advance or choke.

  • avatar
    Snail Kite

    I bet that backup camera and screen is cheaper than power locks, windows, etc. anyway. Makes sense to me, even the lowliest automatic is smooth and fairly responsive.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Given the cost of aftermarket ones retail, yeah, I think the marginal cost of Chevrolet installing one on the Spark, wholesale, is on the order of $10-20, tops.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “Hi. My name is bumpy and I am a manual saver.”

    “Hello bumpy.”

    “I have seven manuals.”

  • avatar
    MatadorX

    I grew up a family of Manual only drivers. When it came time to get my license, I ended up with a pair of well worn automatic minivans, alternating between as one or the other broke.

    I didn’t get something new unit this year, annoyed that I’d still not learned the manual, I made sure I got one.

    I can totally relate to this article. When I got the car (2015 XB) I’d never driven manual before, took it round the dealer a few times and bought it.

    Now 5 months on, a master of all the idiosyncrasies of the vehicle’s manual, I’m not sure I’d have gone manual. No idea where the clutch engages, have to be super careful going from 1-2 otherwise the gears grind. Take time shifting between gears, applying slight pressure until they catch, or it grinds. Car suffers from rev hang, so have to time getting off clutch and getting back on gas with a delay to keep engine speed from jumping 60 rpm.

    Not to mention all these factors contribute to the fact you have to get off from a light like a grandma until you are in second gear, pissing off everyone behind you.

    Yet even still, I love having a manual, and wouldn’t buy a car that comes with a good one with an auto. To that end, I’m now setting sights on a real manual that is fun to drive.

    The best bright spot is I payed well below list, and the car has little depreciation. My plan is to trade the thing in in 2-3 years for down payment on the cleanest, lowest mileage, Chevy SS 6MT in the country.

    If it is anything like the G8 GXP, if I get it very very slightly used, for around 7-10k off MSRP, it will NEVER depreciate again. It will be worth 30k until the end of time.

    Growing up I wanted a G8 GXP manual so badly. I remember when you could get one NEW for $34k when GM was done. I figured by now I’d be able to buy one for my first car…NOPE still worth 30-40k….so this time I will win, buy a slightly used SS, and drive it for free for as long as I want from like new condition to fully used and still somehow worth a mint.

    • 0 avatar
      shaker

      “…rev hang, so have to time getting off clutch and getting back on gas with a delay to keep engine speed from jumping 60 rpm.”

      Amen to that – the 2008 Elantra that I owned for 5 years pretty much destroyed my love of manual transmissions.

      Rev hang, vague shift gates, a gas pedal that mapped 80% of the power in the first 25% of pedal travel… I guess that the clutch was just “OK”.

      Being stopped on a steep hill, I would actually panic like I was just learning to drive stick – I would either over-rev the engine, or just flat-out stall the damn thing…

      I had no problems driving ANY of my previous manual-tranny cars:

      1997 Camaro V6
      1990 Escort GT
      1983 Dodge Omni
      1976 VW Rabbit
      1972 Fiat 128
      1967 VW Beetle
      1967 Chevelle (283 4spd)

      I’m still toying with the idea of buying a “fun car”, some sort of a used convertible with a stick that would fit me (6′ 4″), but it can’t drive like that Elantra – it’ll have to be RWD, no turbo, and enough off-idle torque to make steep-hill starts a lot smoother.

  • avatar
    GeneralMalaise

    You’re caught driving a Ford FWussST in Italy you’ll soon be sleeping with the fishes. Weak sauce!

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    It is not a fair comparison to compare a Chevy Spark with an Alfa Romeo. I wouldn’t expect a spark to shift as smoothly or handle as well as an Alfa. I doubt that the manual in the Spark is any worse than the three speed column mounted manuals on cars offered 50 or 60 years ago. I think I could get use to the Spark manual and the manual windows and locks are less things to go wrong. I have manual windows and locks on my S-10 along with a 5 speed manual transmission. I do have air but at the price point this car is not a bad deal and it is new with a full warranty. I think that most auto writers are less forgiving of an inexpensive economy vehicle and compare them to more expensive performance vehicles which is an apple and orange comparison.

    Most auto enthusiast would disapprove of what I drive but then what does it matter because they are safe, reliable, inexpensive to maintain, and are paid for. I can be more forgiving of the faults of a less expensive vehicle than a more expensive one. I would expect an Alfa to shift better and to be a better driving car than a Chevy Spark.

  • avatar
    JustPassinThru

    Let’s consider the class and market of the car. One of the few things less joyous than driving a new Toyota Yaris with electric power steering, idiot-proof engine controls and a manual gearbox…is the same car with an AUTOMATIC.

    The electric power steering is reminiscent of a no-mechanical David Brown tractor setup I had to work with forty years ago. That was hydraulic, not electric…but with no mechanical connection. The wheel activated a spool valve; no feeling was there.

    The same eerie disconnect is with today’s Toyota electric power steering, and probably other brands.

    Manuals, with all the engine controls…manuals on price-point cheapskate cars, especially ones made by a failed Korean manufacturer bought by GM…they no doubt suck. Automatics are no doubt worse.

    I have experience here. With the aforementioned Yarises, I had on two separate occasions, to tow a light trailer.

    The manual did it. The engine/drivetrain didn’t like the added demand but it worked it through.

    The AUTOMATIC…kept on shifting up and down. The added resistance really threw the computer and its EPA mandates for a loop.

    Back 40 years ago, when the Pinto and Vega were new, Consumer Reports advised prospective buyers:

    “If you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission, consider learning. Because it will greatly increase your satisfaction with this class of car.”

    That was correct back then; and while less so today, it still applies to some extent.

  • avatar
    SirRaoulDuke

    The worst honest to God worst sh!tbox I ever owned was a 1986 Ford Escort Pony. Power nothing. No AC. And a four speed stick…and I miss that car. 40 MPG on the highway and I wrung the dog p!ss out of it with that stick. Stick always makes the crappiest car better.

    • 0 avatar
      sketch447

      SirRaoulDuke, I also had an 86 Escort Pony, 4sp stick. Not a bad car, quite maneuverable and good road feel b/c no power steering. I think the manual tranny was made by Mazda, the stick itself was bulletproof. Rest of the car, not so much. I miss it……

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I had its cousin, a 1985 Mercury Lynx with a 4 speed manual but it had air. Not a great car and the manual left a lot to be desired but better than the automatic that came with them. I doubt that the manual in the Lynx was a lot better than the manual in this Spark. My wife’s 77 Accord’s 5 speed manual was much better and it was a fun car to drive.

  • avatar
    darex

    Hyundai’s manuals used to feel the way you described in the article, but now they’re precise, and enjoyable. MINIs (Getrag) are pretty decent with a very forgiving clutch (and Rev-matching!). I was not blown away by Mazda’s 3 & 6 manuals. They felt no better than MINI’s, certainly. They felt competent, but not awesome. A letdown given the hype. NISSAN’s are not terrible, but I forget how the Juke’s clutch was. What I do recall is how horrible, scary, and dangerous the Juke’s turbo-lag was. I haven’t driven any recent Hondas to comment.

    The Opel Corsa I rented in France, was pretty much the biggest piece of crap of recent memory, and the manual was garbage and rubbery (as described above, in the Spark). Perhaps the same unit, even?

    A 2014 F56 MINI Cooper with 6-speed manual, is my daily-driver.

    • 0 avatar
      TomT

      I recently drove a Mazda3 Sport 6-speed manual and also a Nissan Note S 5-speed manual. I was disappointed in the Mazda. No feeling at all, like pushing through oatmeal, except for once, a slight grind going into 2nd gear in an undemanding situation (normal upshift). The Nissan had discrete but not excessive resistance where the synchros engaged, and each gear felt about the same w/ no hint of slip n grind. I prefer the Nissan (but it may be because I’ve been driving a manual Nissan for 15 years now, and like it). I vote for the opposite of what I’ve seen in reviews: Nissan was good, Mazda only fair. These were my impressions on ~10 mile test drives. Maybe it’d different as a long-term owner.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Is this a problem with Korean cars specifically? The manual, 6 speed, in the 2011 Forte I had was pretty bad. The clutch was vague and felt like the friction zone changed places on occasion and there was a regualr problem whereby I was effectively locked out of 4th gear. Every oil change I brought it up and every time it was only replicable through some convoluted procedure which did not match how I was driving. The 2.5 Jetta my friend had concurrently was better than the Kia, and I was just as new to driving manuals full-time with that.

    I’ll fully admit that the only manual I’d had any real seat time in was a 98 Mustang GT, which was much more user friendly, but I won’t cop to it all being user error.

    Ever since I got my first Focus my life has been much easier. I’ve since gotten a Focus ST which is better than both.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I don’t mind if most people prefer automatics. But as a driving enthusiast, I resent not having the CHOICE of a manual in most cars – even if if I have to pay extra for it. 20 or 30 years ago, the manual was standard and the automatic would cost you an extra $600-$1000. I could live with a situation in which the reverse were true today… if manuals were at least offered in many cars. But I wouldn’t respond well if the manual were bundled with a mandatory $4K option package.


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