By on March 23, 2017

2017 BMW 340i manual shifter – Image: BMW USA

The manual transmission isn’t dead. But it appears to be dying. Now Munich is making sure everybody knows BMW has a hand in the demise of the third pedal.

At the traditional core of BMW’s U.S. lineup, the manual transmission 7 Series disappeared three decades ago. So foreign is a manual shifter to buyers in the full-size luxury limo category, this seems entirely natural.

M models aside, the U.S. market lost BMW 5 Series manual transmission availability after the 2014 model year.

What’s next?

“Across the world, virtually all of our 3 Series models and above already have automatic transmissions,” BMW sales boss Ian Robertson tells Car And Driver.

“We will certainly see fewer and fewer manual transmissions being offered,” says Robertson.

Ultimate Driving Machine?

BMW certainly doesn’t need to be picked on. Manual shifters flew the coop at Ferrari. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio that was going to arrive in the United States with a manual transmission, like the show cars that preceded its U.S. launch, is an auto-only car. Of the 38 vehicles delivered by automakers to my driveway in 2016, only 4 were fitted with a third pedal, and that ratio is actually far higher than what we see in the marketplace at large.

2017 BMW 340i - Image: BMW USA

Nevertheless, it’s abundantly clear from Ian Robertson’s perspective that BMW, once a bastion of hope for drivers, won’t be offering manual transmissions on the 3 Series much longer.

Besides the 7 Series and 5 Series, manual transmissions are already unavailable on the X1, X3, X4, X5, and X6, five utility vehicles that account for half of the BMWs sold in America. Regular variants of the 6 Series are auto-only. The i3 and i8 are predictably auto-only.

This leaves a limited part of the range with manual offerings, and in the 3 Series — BMW’s most popular model line — the manual seems to be on the way out.

“In the M segment, purists still love the stick shift,” BMW’s Robertson told C/D. “Whether we offer it in every model remains to be seen. In some instances, it is selling in really small numbers now.”

2017 BMW 340i shifters – Images: BMW USA

Indeed, fewer than 300 of the roughly 10,700 BMW 3 Series in BMW’s U.S. inventory are equipped with a manual; just 2 percent. And of those cars, 75 percent are in M3s, meaning fewer than 1 percent of non-M 3 Series are manual-shift cars.

When the current F30, sixth-generation BMW 3 Series is replaced next year by the seventh-generation G20 3 Series, don’t expect anything other than an automatic transmission. A vocal minority will question BMW’s sanity, but the current 3 Series’ order books provide BMW with all the justification it requires to kill off another manual transmission.

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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123 Comments on “Clutch Performance? Even BMW Is Eliminating The Manual Transmission...”


  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    In fairness to BMW, they do an excellent job with the 8AT.

    • 0 avatar
      SteveMar

      Agreed. I went back and forth on whether to get the automatic or manual when I bought my 228i. If you want all wheel drive, you have no choice but an auto. But, even with that, the automatic is pretty amazing. Between the different driving modes, the paddle shifters and the overall gearing, it is way more fun than I would have expected.

    • 0 avatar
      baconator

      Yeah, but a BMW with an auto is just an unreliable Mercedes that rides badly. The current C-class is a better car in every respect except for the availability of 3 pedals.

      (And I say this as a BMWCCA member!)

  • avatar
    427Cobra

    Sigh… HAVE to have a stick in my automotive fleet… though in car-strangled Los Angeles traffic, I get why people want slushboxes. I lasted a year after I sold my Cobra before I got the itch for another toy… and I knew it HAD to be a stick. Stumbled onto a 2004 Corvette Z06 with 8600 miles on it… absolutely flawless car… one owner, all maintenance records… DONE! Save the manuals!

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Really, at this point the take-rate is so low that I expect the cost to make the changes/tests necessary to include a manual is more than most people would be willing to pay.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      Yup.

      Anyone who dislikes this can post the number of *new* or CPO BMW manuals they’ve purchased from a dealer.

      If the number is 0, they’re the reason the manual is dead.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I’ve bought two brand-new stickshift BMWs (’11 and ’16). And two brand-new stickshift VWs (’02 and ’17), a brand-new stickshift Fiat (’13), and a brand-new stickshift Saab (’08).

        I have never bought a brand-new automatic anything, and I probably never will. Manuals going away is going to save me a lot of money. if I can’t get *exactly* what I want buying new, I am more than perfectly happy to buy used.

  • avatar
    ajla

    What’s the manual take rate in places *not* the United States?

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      I just checked in the Norwegian equivalent to Craig’s list. Approximately 250 3 Series that were 2014 and newer and 40 of those were manuals.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        I was hoping for better than a 16% take rate. When I was in South Kensington, London, I looked into parked cars (not realizing doing so could peg me for a potential thief!). Almost every other car had a stick.

        • 0 avatar
          stingray65

          Manuals are still popular in Europe on cheap cars such as Polos, Clios, 500s, etc., but automatics are rapidly increasing in popularity versus 20+ years ago when virtually everything except S-Class Mercedes was manual in Europe.

  • avatar
    andyinsdca

    Had my 06 325i (6MT) in for service last week and my service writer made a comment about how my car had 181K mi on the clock. “Manual transmission, right?” I said yes. “That’s why”
    Wonder if the new BWMs will go to 200K+?

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      The ZF auto transmission is rarely the reason why BMWs die. Sub-frame cracks, engine problems and electrics are more likely culprits.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Yea I don’t know of anyone that had their BMW die due to an automatic transmission failure. The cooling system, electrics, or engine (especially if a V8) sh*tting themselves seem most common. Fuel pump failure seem to be a fun trick on the newer ones too.

        • 0 avatar
          MrGrieves

          A lot of Auto Transmissions for BMW were GM-Sourced. Not sure if they still are. The 6L45 in my old 2009 328i was a good unit. When I got rid of the car at 130,000 miles it was still running well.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Which model year was your 328?

            I knew 80s Jaguar and up to 90s RR/Bentley was GM sourced but not BMW in any MY.

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_6L50_transmission

            6L45

            2007–2010 : BMW X3 – 3.0si / 2.5si / 3.0i
            2007– … : BMW 3 series – 330(x)i / 328(x)i / 325(x)i / 323i / 320i / 318i / 316i
            2007– … : BMW 1 series – 130i / 128i / 125i / 120i / 118i / 116i
            2009– … : BMW X1 – 2.8i xDrive / 2.5i xDrive / 1.8i sDrive
            2013–2015 : Cadillac ATS[1]

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Thanks man. Makes me wonder about future swaps.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            AFAIK, BMW is no longer using any GM-sourced transmissions, it’s ZF across the board now. They used a GM transmission in the e36s and e46s, where it was fairly problematical, and a different one in the e9x 325i and 328i in the US, where there do not seem to be anything like as many issues as in the previous generation. I don’t know if they used the GM transmissions in the larger cars – no experience with those. Maybe the small engine 5-series had them too. The big engine cars always had ZFs.

            There are MANY folks on the BMW e9x forums with 200K+ on their cars, and a couple with 300K+. Mostly N/A cars though, the early turbos are very much a different animal entirely. It took them until ~2011 to get the six cylinder di turbo to not be a disaster area.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    That stinks. One of the best drives I ever had was in a manual ’08 335. Beautifully balanced, interactive and fast as hell. And the clutch/shifter setup was perfect – nice, fluid clutch take up, and the shift action had that solid / silky / precise action that BMW did so well.

    I also tried one with an automatic, and as those go, it was hard to fault, but man…that manual-equipped one was about perfect. Shame to think those days are over.

  • avatar
    Steve_S

    It will get to the point where you will only find manuals in Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs, Miatas and the like, at least for NA. Possibly some really budget models Versa or the like but eventually those will go also.

    The more cars go to hybridization whether for fuel economy or performance this will decline even more.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      And honestly, I’m okay with that. I never understood people who would say “I’d buy an LS430 or Suburban or F-350 or Taurus if it came in a manual!” Let’s worry about saving the GOOD manuals, in cars that deserve a manual, and not worry whether I can get a stick in a car that’s still boring with a stick.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Fast cars, as Ferrari correctly figured out, are the ones that are boring with sticks. Or rather, just annoying, as they accelerate so fast you never get to do anything other than shift if you want to stay on pipe at sub 120. Miatas are perfect, full stop. But perhaps a bit uncompromising. Other Mazdas, Civics and Accords perfect enough for day-to-day work. NA, long stroke I6s of moderate displacement from a certain Bavarian make, meta perfect. As is your S2K. The Ram 2500 is fantastic with a manual. A synchronized 8 speed would be much better still, considering the narrow powerband and huge variations in load it needs to handle. But, despite live full floaters at each end, it’s still more of a driving machine than any ultimate slush dispenser will ever be.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          In really fast cars, things happen so quickly I can see why elimianting one more thing to do might have some appeal. However, how often are you on full boil? No matter if dual clutches are faster, the enjoyment of shifting for yourself is priceless. When you are on pleasure/performance drives, that is….

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        There are people complaining that the Suburban is auto-only? They’re a little late for that. Like, 25 years too late.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        No car is boring if you don’t drive it boring.

        • 0 avatar
          jkross22

          You haven’t driven a recent 550i, have you?

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          I can guarantee you, for instance, an automatic BMW is a far better drive than the 5-speed Geo Prizm that was my high school chariot.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I’d roll a 5-spd Prism today for S&G. Maybe get some period Corolla wheels, or perhaps giant rims.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            Are you nuttts??

            On public roads, what makes for a fun, even if possibly tiring, drive, is a manual, an engine that can be caned to within an inch of it’s life while still just going with the flow of traffic, skinny hard rubber tires that slide everywhere, and NARROW and SHORT enough so that you can get almost completely sideways, while still stay within the confines of your own lane. The 3 cyl Geo Metro was/is about perfect.

            Which is one way of saying, bring in some Kei cars, darnit……

  • avatar
    DarronS

    Automatics have gotten so good there is no reason other than romanticism to buy a manual equipped car. I was a die hard manual transmission fan until just recently. I grew up driving sports cars and riding motorcycles and always chose manual transmission cars when given the choice. Manuals offered more gears, quicker and smoother shifts, better performance, and better fuel economy. That has reversed.

    My wife bought a Mini Cooper S 4door two years ago and got the automatic transmission only because she is too short to work the clutch comfortably on the new Minis. She had to get the steering wheel far to close to depress the clutch fully so she settled for the automatic. After driving it I see no need for the manual. The auto is always in the right gear, and when you want to have fun grab the paddle shifters and choose your own gear.

    I bought a CPO 2014 BMW X1 one month ago and the eight-speed auto is fantastic. I don’t have paddle shifters, but like the six-speed auto in my wife’s Mini the auto in my X1 is always in the right gear. When I want to have more control in mountain passes I can always remove my right hand from the steering wheel and use the shifter to change gears. It’s a win-win; easier to drive in traffic, better performance, better mileage, and driver engagement on demand.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      For me, wanting a manual has little to do with romanticism. Manuals are more fun.

      • 0 avatar
        WrittenDescription

        In the right car, under the right conditions. With reference to any car used regularly for commuting and around-town driving, manuals are not fun.

        • 0 avatar
          DevilsRotary86

          Been commuting with a manual transmission car for almost 20 years now. Still have no desire to get an automatic.

          • 0 avatar
            KevinC

            Ditto. Been driving since ’73, about 27 cars owned by now, zero automatics. Bought a 6MT Golf R last year. Yes, the DSG gearbox is fantastic (gf had a Jetta TDI for 5 years with DSG, it was perfect). Yes, it’s a faster car with DSG. But no 3rd pedal – and I just get bored driving anything without one.

            I hear the complaint that commuting or LA traffic is reason enough to abandon manuals. I completely understand that sentiment, but it just doesn’t hold true for some of us.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          I simply do not get this. Even the most sophisticated autos are lurchy in true stop and go. The shift from holding them back with the brake, to adding a tiny amount of gas, is never as smooth as on a manual, where you have complete clutch control. Even the CVTs can’t seem to get around this, and the various roboclutch boxes are a bloody disaster. Particularly creeping around on steep hills.

          The thing to remember about manuals is that you don’t get the best out of them on a test drive. But living with them for a month, you get to know the characteristics of the engine, the clutch, the shifter etc. The driveline and you becomes a very optimized system. Autos never evolve that way, no matter how “adaptive” the admen claim they are. They are always a step behind, clumsily trying to catch up to what they think the driver’s intention was. Just try to tailgate a few inches behind the guy in front of you in an auto in stop and go. It’s virtually impossible. In a manual, tailgating that close is still probably inadvisable, but at least you can do it if you just stay focused.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            “Even the most sophisticated autos are lurchy in true stop and go.”

            If this is true for you with current transmissions, your inputs are too dramatic. My LS460 is far smoother in stop and go than any manual I’ve ever owned, and I’m a pretty smooth manual driver. The key is very gentle inputs, and staying off the pedals altogether whenever a ~7 mph crawl is more or less consistent with the situation.

            If autos were still like the 4-speed in my ’88 Accord, I’d see where you were coming from.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            @dal

            I’ve driven LS’, and I’d be willing to bet I can tailgate more precisely, hence closer, in a manual e46, with speeds randomly varying over the 0.5 to 15mph range.

            The LS is as good as it gets in an auto, though. At least the 460. Now that Lex has gone to lumpymatic turbos, I’m sure all bets are off. You sure _can_ be precise in an auto, even in the torque converter slip range, but doing so consistently, requires very precise left foot braking, which is a bit above my paygrade as a driver.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          I guess that depends on how you get around town. I do that all day long in my car, and it’s a manual. I find it to be a lot more fun that way. YMMV.

        • 0 avatar
          jkross22

          “In the right car, under the right conditions.” For you. For me, manuals are more fun, even with the downside of traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Makes me wonder if some supergenius will rig up a “fake” pedal with feedback systems, a “fake” shifter likewise, and an arduino or somesuch to plug the inputs into the real transmission controller.

        There’s no reason a modern manual shouldn’t be able to simulate the “fun” parts of a manual, for people who like making driving more work.

        (Somehow nobody ever misses manual choke or timing control, no matter how much more “connected” to the car they make you…)

        • 0 avatar
          WheelMcCoy

          Simulated manual is as satisfying as simulated engine sounds piped into the cabin.

          A manual choke is about the “starting” experience, not the driving experience.

          Timing control, well enthusiasts do mess with that.

          I’ll throw in manual crank windows… that’s about the toll booth experience, not the driving experience.

          3 pedals is about the driving experience, which means we learn about our cars, our abilities, and find ways to improve our driving. Simulation would and could not provide that.

    • 0 avatar
      DevilsRotary86

      “Automatics have gotten so good there is no reason other than romanticism to buy a manual equipped car.”

      I keep hearing this refrain, and every time I have the privilege to drive an automatic I have always found it to be a complete load of bull. Every time I have to rent an automatic it’s completely garbage. If I put it in shift-yourself mode the shifts are always clunky. If you I put it in D then the stupid thing won’t downshift mid corner, it just waits until I am halfway down the block before it decides to downshift. My favorite was the rented 2010 (I think?) Hyundai Sonata that upshifted automatically even when I was in “M” mode with almost 1,000 RPM left to spare on the tach, and downshifted automatically when I came to a stop.

      The only automatic I have ever driven that has come even remotely close to its hype is the VW DSG transmission.

      So I for one am stubbornly sticking by my simple rule: “No stick no sale”, with the corollary “but I will consider a robo-clutch automated manual such as a VW DSG or Porsche PDK as possibly being ‘close enough’ to a manual”.

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        Well said, DR86.

        The last time I drove an automatic Mini – a Countryman – there was a big lag between hitting the gas and getting the transmission to drop a gear. There was also an uneasy lurch as the 6-speed auto tried to find the right gear while cruising.

        I have the exact engine in a Clubman but with a 6-speed manual. Response is when I want it. And the transmission does what I want.

      • 0 avatar
        DarronS

        Writing off automatics because the one in your rental Hyundai misbehaved makes as much sense as writing off small cars because the Pinto was a POS.

        • 0 avatar
          DevilsRotary86

          I only used the Hyundai as an example because that was the most egregious.

          The automatics that I have driven:
          Ford Transit
          Ford F-250
          Ford Mustang
          Ford Fusion
          Honda Fit
          Honda Accord
          Hyundai Accent
          Hyundai Sonata
          Chrysler Town & Country
          Nissan Altima
          Nissan Versa
          MINI Cooper
          FIAT 500
          Scion tC
          Toyota Corolla
          VW GLI

          And with the sole exception of the VW GLI, they were all junk that did not live up to the hype that “automatics are so good now”.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I agree with you 100%. Other than about DSGs – I find them easy to confuse, and the servicing costs are just stupid. Putting it in manual mode solves the confusion, but at that point, I might as well just use my perfectly good left leg for something and skip the $400+ service every 40K. And God help you if the thing breaks. I can change a clutch in my garage (BTDT), I cannot rebuild a DSG…

        The least annoying automatic I have ever driven is the BMW implementation of the 8spd ZF, and it was still boring. And occasionally annoying. Just not constantly annoying like most automatics.

        • 0 avatar
          DevilsRotary86

          Admittedly, my only experience with a DSG was a quick jaunt around the Dallas Convention Center during the auto show’s drive event. It did impress me though.

        • 0 avatar
          EAF

          If you can change a clutch in your garage then you should have no issue changing clutch packs on a DCT. Not very different and only nominally more labor intensive.

          There is a relearn procedure – you likely will need dealer software however.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      And I think most people aren’t buying the AT’s because they are “better” but because they fundamentally don’t want to be bothered with the work/labor of actually shifting the gears.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        Most people buy Automatics because that’s what dealers have in stock. Also helps when it comes to resale.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          @Mandalorian

          For anything enthusiast oriented (and I would argue most things not as well), you will likely get MORE money for the stick. Just not necessarily from a dealer. Any excuse to low-ball you that a dealer thinks will work, they will try.

          My rarer than unicorn poop 6spd stick rwd BMW wagon is a perfect example. The delta between what the typical AWD automatic wagon and my stick RWD version is worth is bordering on stupid. There are simply a lot of people who wanted them new who couldn’t afford them, but are willing to pay $5K+ more to get the stickshift version now. Helps that there are so very few of them in existence in the US, of course. Sure wish I had known six years ago how sought after the M-sport package would be too… Not that I have any intention of selling, ever.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          …Most people buy Automatics because that’s what dealers have in stock. Also helps when it comes to resale…

          Resale? Maybe at the dealer for a trade in, but good manual BMWs get top dollar in the private sale market. Rarity does that…

      • 0 avatar
        ptschett

        I traded in a 2010 Challenger R/T 6-speed manual for a 2015 of the same car with the ZF 8-speed automatic because the automatic actually was the better choice for my continued happiness. The 2010’s clutch with its dual friction discs was a constant battle to continually retrain muscle memory to the next random place somewhere in the middle of the pedal travel that it was engaging on that day, where I was used to clutches like in my dad’s Dakotas or the motorcycle I had at the time that only needed to be learned once. I was getting sick and tired of it right at the time the 2015’s were showing up, and the hardest decision of the trade was whether I was ordering a Charger or a Challenger.

      • 0 avatar
        KevinC

        True.. nowadays, too many people think that actually driving a car is a secondary activity to their other “necessary” activities such as sipping their Starbucks, texting, or cuffing their carrot – or all 3 at once. Shifting? Ain’t got no time or free hand/foot to think about that.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      This post is a bit hyperbolic, but I agree with a lot of it.

      My thing with manuals is they have to be GOOD manuals, and the whole driving experience has to be engaging, not just the transmission. Something like a manual GTI makes sense to me, but a manual base Golf TSI does not. OK, the power and transmission are good, but the chassis is squishy, the steering is inert, and the engine note is borderline nonexistent. I don’t see how a 3rd pedal + shift lever can make up for all those dynamic shortcomings. With that base you might as well go automatic.

      So in that context, there’s a LOT of room to play in. Something like a Maxima is fast, fun and easy… obviously not very hardcore, but that’s kind of the point for the street.

      • 0 avatar
        Mandalorian

        One needs to keep in mind that the VAST VAST majority of people out there are not “enthusiasts”. For every one “enthusiast” there are 10,000 Joe Automatics.

        If a car is a sporty/niche model, sure a manual may have a positive or neutral impact on resale, but I was alluding to the common non-niche/sporty car. And keep in mind, a lot of people DO trade in versus selling private party.

  • avatar
    7402

    Your numbers for new 3-series BMWs in inventory in the USA are about the same as autotrader numbers. Just for fun, I checked autoscout24 for all of Europe, all new 3-series. I got 1,453 total with 231 having a manual transmission which is a little less than 16%.

    So, numbers are falling everywhere, but not as fast in Europe.

    We’re die-hard 3-pedal fans, but they are getting much harder to find.

    I think part of the problem is that, at least in the USA, manuals tend to be offered only in base trim. So, it’s impossible to know if people are rejecting the transmissions or just had to have that one thing (sunroof, leather, etc.) that could only be had with an automatic.

    • 0 avatar
      DarronS

      You have a good point there, 7402. My son wants a new Honda Civic with the turbo and a manual. They’re listed on Honda USA’s website, but good luck finding one in dealer inventory.

      • 0 avatar
        KevinC

        My GF just went through this dilemma when shopping for a replacement for her soon-to-be-bought-back ’15 Golf TDI 6MT. She wanted another hatch, had to be manual, but wanted the top trim level and features it brings – which is virtually impossible. The one exception: The Mazda3, which can be had in top Grand Touring trim with manual. Even then, very hard to find in stock, and when they are, they are typically strippers at that trim level, without the nice electronics and safety packages. So she factory-ordered exactly as she wanted – fully loaded 6MT (other than a silly “appearance” package), white pearl paint. Got a great deal despite doing the special order (about $3k back of sticker after additional $1k rebate for using Mazda financing was done at delivery – she’ll refinance at 90 days with PenFed for a slightly better rate).

        While she was in F&I, a manager came by where I was waiting and remarked at what a “unicorn” her car was as ordered. Seemed to appreciate what she’d done. Didn’t happen quickly – car was ordered in November, didn’t take delivery till mid-March. But she’s very happy with her decision and I like the car a lot too.

  • avatar

    I have buff book collections back to the 1960s and managed up to 20 makes press car fleets in the 1980s in Detroit. I now skip over most test reports in the buff books where no manual transmissions are offered because they would NOT be on my buying list. My current driver is a Fiesta ST – with perhaps the most performance per dollar spent in the USA.

  • avatar
    Fred

    I read that 17% of Americans know how to drive a stick. Obviously many of them don’t want to. Better get yours now.

  • avatar
    nlinesk8s

    I’m a die-hard 3-pedal fan as well. I don’t care if the automatic is as good, or even better, as a manual. I drive a manual for the control, and the involvement, and the sheer pleasure of it.

    However, the dealerships simply don’t stock manuals any more. I was at a BMW dealer last year for a spare key for my E46 ,and noticed the lack of manuals. They said they don’t order any. So the standard is a special order or a search and hope to find it thing.

  • avatar
    deanst

    BMW is simply following Mercedes – do they have any manuals left?

    In Canada we’ll always have the manual transmission, no AC, white only, compact so the manufacturer can advertising a price below $16,000. Delivery charge may be $3000, but still an attractive base number to attract the rubes!

    By the way, how does 300/10,700 = 2%? Isn’t that a glaring error for anyone with a pulse? (Or does “fewer than” mean much closer to 200?)

  • avatar
    WrittenDescription

    Happily, the move towards automatics coincides with two events: my transition into late middle age, and the advent of terrific, performance-oriented automatic transmissions (many of which are “automated” manual transmissions).

  • avatar
    JMII

    Before getting our Infinity Q60 auto my wife drove a BMW 2-series auto and she was amazed at how good it was. According to her (I didn’t test it for fear of falling in love) it was seamless compared to everything else which included a Benz. Her last 3 cars have been manuals but she finally tired of it due to a new job in which her commute was doubled. I think part of the credit goes to the flat torque curve of these new BMW turbo engines… even if its in the “wrong” gear it just pulls strongly ahead. So far the Infinity’s 7 AT only seems to get confused on the lowest 2 gears. Putting it in sport mode causes it to downshift pretty aggressively when you apply the brakes so it can still be kind of fun.

    Personally I refuse to cave in and continue to keep at least one manual vehicle in the fleet. However when BMW starts to give up you know the flight is lost and the end is near. As such I’m pretty sure any kid currently in middle school will never drive a manual.

  • avatar
    brawnychicken333

    I’m driving a 2016 428xi grand coupe today with an auto-as a loaner. I gotta say, it’s really really good with the auto. I wouldn’t spec it with a stick.

    The 4cylinder is lively-plenty of usable power-and doesn’t cost a fortune up front or at the pump. You can play with the paddles if you want, but when you’re stuck in traffic it’s just easier. And I know everyone complains about the handling on newer beemers, but it is really very good. Holds the road nicely, flat in the corners, yet doesn’t beat you up over broken pavement. There’s a reason this car is so popular.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The BMW turbo fours are excellent engines in every respect but sound. But they sound so terrible.

      • 0 avatar
        Caboose

        It’s the same toilet-flushing sound as on the classic Dr. Who intro sequence.

      • 0 avatar
        brawnychicken333

        I agree with you on the sound-it’s not great. They also aren’t as smooth as any BMW straight 6.

        But…I got in it expecting to hate it; I don’t. It seems like just the right blend of performance, value, and comfort. I can pick up any number of 2016 ex-loaners for $38-40K all the time.

        I haven’t tried a 3-4 with the 6, but it’s hard to imagine it being worth the extra $. I wonder if the 4 handles better-less weight over the nose.

  • avatar
    Kato

    “Whether we offer it in every model remains to be seen. In some instances, it is selling in really small numbers now.”

    Gee I wonder if having to special order from the factory and wait 6 months if you want a manual might have had some effect.

    Any lingering respect I had for BMW was erased when they started playing fake vroom-vroom sounds through the stereo.

    • 0 avatar
      Caboose

      Are you saying the death of the manual transmission is a self-fulfilling prophesy pronounced by the OEMs?

      Or are you saying that OEMs are deliberately killing the stick shift and then telling us that it’s our own fault they’re dying?

      • 0 avatar
        Kato

        I’m saying BMW is now run by bean-counters and their lackeys.

        Why make manuals when autos do better in EPA tests and there are huge manufacturing cost reductions to be had?

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          A better question is why make manuals when nobody wants to buy them?

          BMW has been the biggest “mainstream” advocate by far, and the business case stopped making sense even for it. You can buy a fully loaded 340i with a stick now… but nobody is. If you want to blame somebody for this, blame buyers. Or do one better and actually put your money where your mouth is.

          • 0 avatar
            Kato

            I’m not blaming them, I’m just contemptuous of them for being such appalling sell-outs, especially given the brand’s history. They used to make some really great cars. Even a couple of years ago you could still get a 2-series with a manual. I just had a peek on BMW.ca, if you can still buy a manual it’s not on their webpage that I can find. I expect it’s a bit easier to find one in Europe. BTW, I currently own 4 vehicles with manuals, 0 with autos.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            So you think BMW should go out of business and destroy thousands of jobs just to live up to the meaningless standard of some guy on the internet? OK.

            How many of those cars did you buy new?

          • 0 avatar
            Kato

            I didn’t say that, you did. I hope they sell as many vehicles with autos as they can build, and if most North Americans prefer autos then good for them. I’m just mad that BMW has by and large stopped making the manuals that I prefer and that their apologist in the article above claims that the reason is lack of demand. When I was in their showroom a couple of years back, it was “special order and wait six months if you want a manual”. They’ve been intentionally making it difficult to buy one for some time.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            Affordable, fun, manual. Pick 2. And don’t say the word Miata.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            BMW hasn’t made it difficult, the dealers have. You aren’t BMW’s main customer, the dealers are, and for the most part manual transmission cars are lot poison. If you’re really that dedicated to the stickshift life you shouldn’t be scared to order one sight unseen. 228i, M240i, 320i, 335i, 340i, 428i, 440i all come with stickshift. They are all in the vein of classic BMWs- 2 series matches the E46 coupe in almost all dimensions and the 3 matches the E28 in most. Yet you are hemming and hawing and making excuses. BMW isn’t the problem, dealers aren’t the problem, auto buying customers aren’t the problem, it’s all talk no action manual “enthusiasts” like you who claim you would buy a new manual car if only companies could get all the planets and stars in the universe to align. It’s such a tired, self-righteous, ill-informed trope… I’m just sick of it. If you’re not putting your money where your mouth is you are part of the problem.

          • 0 avatar
            Kato

            Your point about dealers being the cause is fair. The dealers however don’t control BMW Canada’s webpage, so why aren’t all the models you claim to be available with a manual shown as such? I’d say it’s both. As for the rest of your vitriol, project it on some other target. Did I say “I’d buy a BMW if only”? Did I hem and haw? My DD was purchased new, two are older collector cars, and my wife’s DD was bought used. So what?

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          You know what companies run by bean-counters do?

          Stay in business.

          That’s also why BMW makes so many “not really a BMW because only the 318 is a real BMW!!!” SUVs.

          Because not going bankrupt.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “You know what companies run by bean-counters do?
            Stay in business.”

            False, Millennial! Two words: General Motors.

      • 0 avatar
        Kato

        Is that Fangio in a W196 in your avatar?

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        Automakers keep close tabs on demand. Less people actually want a manual transmission based on the fact that it’s basically a novelty these days. They don’t typically cost less or perform better than automatics as they used to. Conversely, for the average buyer they just complicate driving.

        I like a good manual transmission, but I’ve ordered cars that were available with it as automatics because they performed better and cost the same or less.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    As long as motorcycles and kit cars are available with manual I’m good. I just bought my 8th car; first with an automatic. After a string of rentals with decent automatics (Accord 4 banger, Golf TSI, F30 328i, Maxima) they slowly won me over. It’s been about 5 days with the new ride and I honestly don’t miss it.

    Plus a stickshift could not make an F30 328i a sporty drive anyway. The non-sport chassis tuning SUCKS. An Accord LX is seriously a more willing back roads partner. A Maxima with the CVT feels more nimble and playful. I really don’t know what BMW was thinking with that one, they went way too soft.

    I think there’s really 3 factors at play. First of all automatics have come a long way- much further than manuals over the same period. Secondly obviously they’ve surpassed the manual in key factors like fuel economy and even arguably reliability. Thirdly and most importantly cars today are powerful enough to overcome the slushiness. Manuals are good for slow cars you have to keep in the powerband, but when you have power to spare that is way less of an issue. At a certain power level I’d say a manual can even become a hindrance. It’s a new ball game.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      What did you end up buying?

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        G37S. I was *this* close to buying a 2012-2013 Genesis 3.8 and I still prefer it in many ways, but G37Ss are hard to come by and check a lot of the right boxes. Plus the Hyundai 8AT is one of the laziest transmissions I’ve ever used… really sucks the fun and soul out of the car and pushed me out of buying it.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      “As long as motorcycles and kit cars are available with manual I’m good.”

      What’s interesting about that is more and more bikes are coming with up/down quick shifters and slipper clutches.

      A quick shifter is a short leap to a DCT and bikes such as the Africa Twin can be so equipped. I wouldn’t be surprised if the upcoming V4 superbikes from Ducati and Honda offer a DCT as an option.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        I feel like a slipper clutch and U/D quick shifter are cheaper means to getting the advantage of a DCT. Riding is so muscle memory intensive I don’t know that there would be much advantage to something like a hand operated shifter, aside from disabled folks maybe. Plus the whole motorcycle industry is weirdly conservative when it comes to tech. We have only just now got VVT in bikes, and we are still rocking telescoping forks and the like. I guess to a large degree, if it ain’t broke…….

        But yea I’ve driven a decent range of cars, all the way up to a 458 Italia at a track day…. nothing I’ve driven comes close to a bike. Only thing I could envision would be something like an Atom or Exocet… something open wheeled essentially.

  • avatar

    will they at least offer a DSG option instead of the auto?

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    A further step away from the principle that a car is something to be mastered by the driver in order for its performance to be fully exploited. That’s why the old cars were so “engaging”: the driver had to pay attention to a myriad of feedback information in order to get the car moving fastest: steering, engine sound, etc. And the driver had to know the characteristics of the car, with respect to engine, braking, steering and handling characteristics. The “classic”English roadsters — Triumph TR4, MGB, Austin-Healy 3000, Jaguar E-type all had “darty” steering and, of course, no power assist at all.

    Drive a car with vicious trailing throttle oversteer (e.g. Porsche 911) fast through a curve? Old technique: keep up your nerve; keep your foot in the carburetor, steer the car and whatever you do, stay off the brakes. If you’re too hot, the worst that will happen is that you will go wide. New technique: just steer the car where you want it to go. ESC will take care of everything else.

    To be sure, the electronics do a better job of this than just about any driver. But they have replaced “driver involvement.” Multispeed automatic transmissions are just another part of the program.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Old cars were “engaging” because they were slow and dangerous. Get caught in the wrong gear merging on the highway and you’d probably be toast.

      A street car with “vicious trailing throttle oversteer” is a poorly designed car, even with the engine behind the rear wheels. This is a problem easily fixable by correct tire sizing, suspension tuning, and differential tuning. I don’t think we benefit much of anything by having to learn to drive around bad design.

      Good driving is SAFE driving, and the less one has to manage behind the wheel the better. Up until smartphones came into the picture, we saw a clear trend demonstrating this correlation.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        And a slow car with an automatic is also something you have to “master” to “fully exploit its performance”; knowing the shift points of the auto and all the rest doesn’t go away because you’re not shifting *manually*, and all.

        Who drives an automatic and doesn’t have a feel for how much extra throttle you have to give it, when, to get a downshift, etc?

        (Talk to me about “involvement” when you’ve hacked your car to bring back Model T style choke and spark advance control.

        That’s “involvement”, right?)

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          In a slow auto all you need to do when you want more speed is stomp it. Something like a Mirage auto is going to need the full beans to merge into traffic… no need to manage shift points or whatever, especially considering most small cars have CVTs. Sure you have to plan ahead and the like but you would have to do the same in the manual. Like I said, the less you have to manage the better.

          And engagement isn’t measured by how many levers and switches you have to operate.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            “In a slow auto all you need to do when you want more speed is stomp it.”

            And then wait a few seconds while it figures out what to do.

            What’s this “caught in the wrong gear” stuff, anyway. Like, you’re driving but don’t know what gear you’re in or what you need to be in for the situation directly ahead of you? That’s what an automatic does, not a manual with a conscious driver.

            I’m not seeing how the deeper control and understanding of a vehicle’s capabilities required to properly drive a manual could possibly be less safe.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            You can pre-shift to a lower gear in most modern automatics just like you can in a manual.

            And not everyone wants to learn how to drive a manual. One can be a good driver without knowing how to use one./

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Absolutely. And there have been automatics that respond instantly to full throttle inputs; quicker than any manual could. The all-too-common delay is not a trait that is inherent to the automatic itself.

            Manuals, planetary gear slushboxes, CVTs, and dual clutch autos all have their virtues, and there are good and bad versions of every type. There are reasons to dislike certain transmission types and especially specific designs/models, but those reasons should not be borne of ignorance. Not talking about you there, sportyaccord. You’re not the one comparing transmission preferences with truly obsolete technologies. One can prefer that their transmission operate in a certain fashion without thinking they can control engine starting and ignition parameters in a way that is preferable to modern automotive electronics.

            Manuals are dying because the learning curve for it to be competitive with modern automatics is a long one. Many, probably most, would never even concentrate on the details long enough to reach that point.

            Just twenty years ago, anybody with a half-hour of experience could have a considerably faster and more efficient transmission by saving their money and choosing the manual. Now, what sense would it make to spend a couple years just trying to get as good as an automatic in those areas? Who is going to assume that they might begin to enjoy the little elements of extra drivetrain control that the manual provides, and that it will be worth the additional effort involved? Especially when the automatics now typically look better on paper.

            This is not BMWs fault, nor is it the consumer’s fault. It’s simply inevitable.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          “(Talk to me about “involvement” when you’ve hacked your car to bring back Model T style choke and spark advance control. That’s “involvement”, right?)”

          What is your obsession with manual choke and spark advance? Who are you trying to convince that it is in any way similar? You’re being willfully ridiculous and ignorant.

          Either you’re trolling or simply so unfamiliar with manual transmissions that you truly don’t understand that they can behave in ways that an automatic cannot, and that some users might find those behaviors desirable even if it requires some extra background effort to access them.

          I’m just going to conclude it’s both, and leave it at that.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    The DCT version of my car (E90 M3) is well-loved by its owners. That car is also faster, more fuel efficient, and dare I say, easier to drive fast than mine. I still don’t care.

    Apparently, I’m a dying breed, just like the manuals. I just hope that I’ll be able to continue to buy them in the years to come.

  • avatar
    vvk

    I just picked up my Model S. Consider it a middle finger to BMW and every other manufacturer eliminating manual transmissions from their lineup. No transmission, no problem. I cannot drive automatic — I don’t know how people are OK with them. They are absolutely infuriating.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    just the next essential step in transforming genuine, human-operated automobiles into self-propelled, computer-controlled, transport delivery pods.

    “…changes aren’t permanent, but change is…”

    as for me – i’m a victim of circumstances. haven’t owned any automobile with an automatic transmission since i sold my 1968 buick gs400 back in ’71.

  • avatar
    catbot120

    I would be pretty disappointed if they dropped the third pedal on the BMW 3 series. I recently test drove one. It was amazing. I ended up going for an Audi A4 6 speed manual cause I needed AWD. But definitely if I needed another car I would definitely go for a 3 series 6 speed manual. Wish I was born 10 years earlier so I could have enjoyed manuals longer. I’m 24 and I’m a huge manual transmission fan. Fortunately I knew a friend with a manual transmission who could teach me. My parents don’t know how to drive it and I had to teach them.

    I recently gave my A4 for service and got an automatic loaner. After few days of driving it I started missing the third pedal. I personally would get a manual transmission as long as I can, then opt for used cars or a Tesla. I live in the US btw.

    Also wait if they drop the manual transmission on the 3 series would they drop it in all markets or just the US?

  • avatar
    jmiller417

    I drive a manual ATS and have had the thought that it would be great if they could engineer an all-electric mode for city traffic. (You’d put the gas drivetrain in neutral.) I bet something like that would really boost the take rate.

    • 0 avatar
      catbot120

      Yea that would be nice actually. I commute in a manual transmission in SF Bay Area traffic daily and I’ve always enjoyed it. But an electric mode would be good for continuous stop and go traffic (like in LA) or traffic on a steep SF hill.

  • avatar
    darex

    Odd. I read this same article elsewhere, several days ago, and something important is missing from TTAC’s account: The part where he said that all MINI models will continue to be offered WITH manual transmissions for the foreseable future, as the take-rate is significant.

    Wouldn’t that be a worthy tidbit to mention?

  • avatar
    docoski

    s/p putting money where said mouth is and am (in the progress of paying off the loan to become) the new owner of a VW 17 GTI 6MT. It was that or a WRX. So long as there are a few choices on the market, it’s a lot harder to play with a phone with a hand on the shifter, and I hope there will be sticks around to teach my kids how to drive and NOT play with their phone. Safety, safety, safety. We who profess to protect the MT need to change our approach. Using all extremities to drive the car is way more engaging than a foot and a hand. That leaves a foot to fall asleep and a hand to text, drink, whatever, but not drive.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    So I drive a stick, but my next car will likely not be one, as my wife can’t drive stick — I miss having the flexibility for each of us to use the car best suited for whatever we are doing on a given day.

    That being said, the real battle we should be fighting is against CVT transmissions. They are the worst, and I will not buy a car with one.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    The T in CVT stands for transmission. Hold on, I need to get cash from the ATM machine, let me enter my PIN number.

    Plus CVTs are improving with every new model. Don’t tear down the house while it’s still being built. (Whether consumers should be the beta testers of this technology is another question.)

  • avatar
    jdmcomp

    “Only in America” so go the lyrics. The manual will live on in Europe for quite some time.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    Can any of the guys pitching the safety benefits of traditional manuals point to any data that supports that? I’m skeptical, but willing to be convinced if there’s actually some numbers behind it.

    The recent automatics I’ve driven with “manual select” mode have responded immediately to my inputs, and have been happy to hold a gear from just above stall all the way to redline. Seems that solves most of the “automatics are always in the wrong gear and can’t predict what I want” complaints.

    • 0 avatar
      catbot120

      Safety wise, yes you have to pay more attention to the road. When I drive an automatic I’m more tempted to use my phone while driving and often times end up overspeeding. When I drive a manual transmission I pay more attention to the road and speed. I have to scan ahead so if there is traffic ahead I have to downshift gears or upshift when traffic clears.

      As for manual shift mode, yes before I learned to drive a manual transmission I found those quite fun. I still do find it more fun over traditional automatics. Some of them do lag but I’ve driven ones that are really good.

      Despite that I still prefer manual transmission because I like having a third pedal, I can skip gears, and I’m in complete control (the manual shift mode can downshift for you). It’s also a pride thing. People are impressed I drive a manual transmission and I kinda like the attention. It also makes my Audi harder to steal.

  • avatar
    06M3S54B32

    ” Manuals are good for slow cars you have to keep in the powerband, but when you have power to spare that is way less of an issue. At a certain power level I’d say a manual can even become a hindrance. It’s a new ball game.”
    Sportyaccordy has hit the nail right on the head. Brilliantly put.

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