QOTD: What Keeps You in a Stick Shift?
Let’s face it — the manual transmission is on life support, and its relatives have flown in from Atlanta and Houston to crowd around the hospital bed.
Stick shift aficionados can dream all they like about an 11th hour renaissance of the three-pedal setup, but transmissions aren’t vinyl LPs. One day in the near future — no doubt a dystopian landscape where dessert speakeasies doll out sucrose to sugar-taxed denizens of a Bark M.-imagined superstate — we’ll talk of the manual in the same manner as the front bench seat. Hell, rumble seats, for that matter.
Drivers of manual transmission vehicles already find themselves in a shockingly small minority, castaways on an island of technological obsolescence. Edmunds estimates the stick shift take rate at less than 3 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. It’s no wonder, either. Dual-clutch transmissions offer lightning-quick shifting, while continuously variable transmissions boast smoothness and enviable fuel economy gains. Eight, nine and ten-speed automatics fill in the gaps.
For the holdouts, what keeps the row-your-own fires burning?
For this author, currently on his sixth manual transmission (out of seven vehicles), the benefits are both nebulous and practical. Living in a snow belt means a two-wheel-drive vehicle needs all the help it can get when the white stuff piles up. Good luck rocking that car out of a drift with an automatic.
Still, that happens only a few days out of the year. When the sun shines, and long, twisty roads to nowhere beckon, a stick shift often delivers that connection to the physical world we all need to remind ourselves that we’re human beings, damn it. And yes, I’ll admit it — it makes me feel like a man. True, Queen Elizabeth II can drive a stick. Still, many drivers, men and women alike, want to drive — to be in control of a machine, be it a Lamborghini or Cruze.
It’s romantic, appealing to a bygone time before automation touched every aspect of our daily lives. Also, it’s a great way to dissuade friends from borrowing your car.
What’s not exciting and romantic is the day-to-day pitfalls of owning a manual. Commuting in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic is a drag, and it’s hard to eat a burger behind the wheel. However, the “Save the manuals!” refrain exists for a reason.
To members of the B&B: what keeps you coming back to the manual transmission? Or, is the love lost?
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Out here in South Africa, manual transmission cars are still commonplace, especially in the cheaper end of the market. I remember when my wife and I was dating and at university in the early nineties. She refused to drive my mom's car which was offered to her on one occasion, because it had an auto box. She had never driven an automatic before and said she did not feel in control of the vehicle. I guess is is the lack of engine braking on deceleration, that put her off. I lately had a succession of company vehicles with automatic transmissions. I currently drive a Ford Everest - SUV version of the midsize Ranger pickup. Having read this article I suddenly miss driving a stick. Perhaps I will take my wife's manual shift econobox out this weekend.
Reasons for a Manual transmission: Well you can hold the gear you want and that's probably the best part. You can really get to know the engine in that gear and keep it perfect. Mind you, newer engines tend to be tuned for a linear rising power curve which suits auto transmissions; as opposed to a heavy bump such as in Euro spec '94 M3. I feel paddle shifting is efficient, but not pleasurable unless you are pushing hard. Newer units can hold gears, so you might say that either choice is a preference that can be acquired. I will say that the few paddles and push buttons (early Boxter buttons, yikes!) that I have used, have been plastic and lightly weighted and not at all satisfying to activate. I would also say console manuals are better because you are more active and involved in control of the car. It's a nice bilateral movement. I don't like being squished and dependent on the steering wheel. However, if you are like my Mother who learned to drive at an abandoned airport, you will shift through second, and then go directly to 4th gear so as to get shifting over with as soon as possible.