By on July 31, 2018

The list of new vehicles available with a manual transmission grows shorter each year, and for the vast majority of the driving populace, that’s just fine. But driving enthusiasts bemoan each model lost to the advancing wave of computer-controlled everything, closely keeping tabs on which vehicles can still be had with a three-pedal setup. A few might even buy one.

Even sporting European brands are not immune. In BMW’s stable, the 5 Series jettisoned its last 5 and 6 Series sticks (by then relegated to M models) in 2016. Other models went two pedal-only in recent years, including the 228i, 328i, and 428i. But BMW says there’s still a flame that keeps the transmission option alive in certain models, and it’ll keep building them until buyers give up, or our robot overlords take over.

Specifically, BMW means the M variants of the 2, 3, and 4 Series.

Speaking to Car and Driver, BMW M boss Frank van Meel said the manual transmission will not die with the current generation of Bimmer products. However, with autonomy looming on the horizon, he envisions a date when the manual transmission no longer has any practical use (because there won’t be a human driver behind the wheel).

“The bad news is that if we one day have autonomous cars, then the manual cannot work anymore,” van Meel said, “so that would be, let’s say, the natural end. But that’s still some time away.”

Live it up while you still can, seems to be the message here.

In terms of product, one particular model sees a surprising number of buyers opt for a stick shift, ensuring the manual’s availability for at least the near future.

“The BMW M2 Competition still has the manual for a reason, because in the U.S. we have more than a 50 percent take rate on manual transmissions for the M2,” the M chief said. “Buyers vote with their wallets for manual transmissions. Now, being an engineer, I would say from a rational standpoint that even though the manual gearbox is lighter than an automated gearbox, it uses more fuel and is slower, so it doesn’t really make sense . . . But from the emotional standpoint, a lot of customers say, ‘I don’t care, I want to have one.’”

van Meel added, “As long as we have these take rates on M2, and also the M3 and M4, we’re going to offer manuals, because we listen to our customers. Even though as an engineer I’d say we don’t necessarily need one. If demand is so high, then why not fulfill it?”

[Images: BMW]

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48 Comments on “BMW: Keep Lining Up for a Stick, and We’ll Keep Making One...”


  • avatar
    arach

    I’m ready for sticks to die.

    I was forever, one of the biggest “I’LL NEVER DRIVE AN AUTO”.

    Honestly, this is still true. I’ll never drive an auto. I hate them. They suck. They disconnect the driver from the car. the engine and the driver are no longer in tune.

    But the DCTs and Automated Manuals are superior in all reasonable ways. All the benefits of a manual and all the benefits of the automatic.

    I’m now ready for the old school manual AND the old school automatic to both die. Our world has evolved, and we have better options now. great!

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Any car without a clutch pedal is an automatic. Call it whatever you want, but if it can shift itself, it’s still an automatic.

      • 0 avatar
        arach

        Why?

        that doesn’t even make sense to me… I’m willing to hear the argument.

        Can’t you flip the statement on its head and say “if it can be manually shifted, its still a manual?

        Now there are automatic transmissions where you can have fake flappy paddles that “tell” the automatic transmission to shift. I wouldn’t consider those manual because its still an automatic transmission disconnected between the engine and the wheels. While you are “telling” it what to do, it still has a torque converter.

        But a DCT or Automated manual IS a manual transmission with clutches that engage JUST LIKE a stick shift, but they use technology to assist with the clutch operation. You still “shift it” yourself and choose your gears, plus have a direct connection from engine to wheels.

        Since its a manual transmission, it shifts the moment you tell it to, and in fact shifts FASTER than a traditional stick. In other words, you have MORE control over it. Its “more manual” than a “manual”.

        If I think of a Ferrari F1 vs Stick Shift, they even use the same clutches. Its largely the same thing… I have a hard time understanding why enthusiasts don’t accept that as a manual, any more than direct injection is still an engine.

        “Automatics” are about having LESS control. I understand why enthusiasts hate less control.

        DCTs and Automated manuals are about having MORE control. More control = Better. enthusiasts should love it.

        I mean I get the historical value and the benefits of remembering your youth before better cars existed, but clinging to manual transmissions but accepting modern engine technology is laughable. Come on luddites!

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      Snore… I’ll pass on the automated future. I’m fine with marginally worse fuel economy and a slower pace ( in my case is a mid 12 second car that goes 170+ really that “slow” with a manual? ).

  • avatar

    BMW says: “Buyers vote with their wallets for manual transmissions. Now, being an engineer, I would say from a rational standpoint that even though the manual gearbox is lighter than an automated gearbox, it uses more fuel and is slower, so it doesn’t really make sense . . . But from the emotional standpoint, a lot of customers say, ‘I don’t care, I want to have one.’”

    What SO many people don’t get, including some that SHOULD (but don’t) really understand all aspects of driving, is that a 0.3 seconds advantage in the 0-60 time and a 1.6 mpg advantage in fuel economy are utterly irrelevant to many drivers in their real world reasons to enjoy driving. “Making sense” in the choice is what makes the BUYER happy, NOT the engineer. The pleasure of using a manual transmission to suit the style of driving I want on any particular day FAR outweighs the small performance and economy differences available with modern high-tech 2 pedal transmissions.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I refuse to drive automatics. End of story. But I’m really limited to what I can buy with a manual, which is frustrating when I’m shopping for cars. And even finding a used manual BMW can be difficult. Same with the Challenger, Mustang, and Camaro which are some of the last holdouts.

    So I usually end up with a sports car – which isn’t ideal for all situations, but I can live with it.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I hate automatics too. I’m glad to see automatics going away in many cars.

      I don’t know why enthusiasts don’t talk more about how the automatic transmission is in massive decline. We should all be celebrating!

      I don’t think you can even get a traditional automatic in exotics, or most luxury cars anymore. that is absolutely amazing! Huge win for enthusiasts.

      I remember the days when it was slim pickings on finding a car without an automatic. Now as DCTs start spreading across a range of vehicle options, there’s more and more cars to choose from that don’t have disconnected drivetrains like torque converter-based autos!

      Makes me really happy at least. Automatics were AWFUL. The second worst was manually-operated clutches. DCTs and automated manuals are a god-send to enthusiasts and performance!

      I know row-your own manually operated clutches are fun in old classic cars and budget offerings where a DCT would add unnecessary costs, but why spend big bucks on a high performance car with a granny tranny.

      Automatics were never fun.. haha, and were soul-sucking depression causes.

      I wish I could find that chart I saw a few months ago that showed the huge decline in Automatics by year.

      • 0 avatar
        jkk6

        I guessing nobody here enjoys being able to heel toe time to time. You know p l a y with the car a little. 32yr old adolescent here.

        • 0 avatar
          hlf_coder

          I actually just took delivery of a BMW M2 Competition, and it does the heal toeing for you. I’ve read that you can disable the auto rev matching, but I’ve only had the car a couple weeks and so far, haven’t figured out how to do so, although I haven’t actually tried that hard yet.

          It’s actually kind of odd. I’ve never driven a car that rev matches for you, so it took a little getting used to. I have to say I actually kind of like it now though. It makes a smooth ride in a manual rather simple. (But I’m 43 and still doing the same “adolescent” stuff. When I’m too old to have fun behind the wheel, you may as well just put me in the ground as far as I’m concerned)

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      ” And even finding a used manual BMW can be difficult. Same with the Challenger, Mustang, and Camaro”

      Pretty much explains the situation. Even enthusiasts aren’t buying them (new).

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Most people do not enjoy driving, they do it to get somewhere esp on the coast where traffic sucks. I have a stick in my summer car and love it bought it bc I wanted a vert and a stick, no else in my house drives a stick. My main car is a auto and it is fine especially when I am creeping over the cross Bronx expressway doing .2 miles a hour in rush hour. I am not a BMW person but good for them , it seems silly to limit them to the M cars but it will make some buyers move up to a M to get a stick. I know VW TDI Golfs has a very high stick take, but surprised the M is over 50%

  • avatar
    threeer

    It’s a self-licking ice cream cone, in many regards. Manufacturers claim how few people want manuals, but then limit the variants offered with them. But in the end, I think the majority of American consumers has spoken, and the days of mainstream manuals is largely over. Specialty vehicles will likely continue to be offered, potentially even as an add-on option (whereas they used to be standard and you paid extra for the automatic!). Hoping my next vehicle purchase will be a manual. I understand all of the logic behind how much more efficient today’s automatics are…I just don’t care. The minimal gains in mileage and acceleration don’t mean as much to me as the tactile feedback and enjoyment I get in rowing my own gears.

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      Money talks, unfortunately for us. No one in the First World is buying an SUV/CUV with a manual transmission. The #1 selling vehicle in North America*, the F-150, isn’t offered with one, either. The manual is on life support and the plug will soon be pulled. We stick-shifters may soon be relegated to the contemporary influence of blimp enthusiasts.

      *probably

  • avatar
    john66ny

    As a long-time stick driver, I do prefer the engagement factor. But, I have pretty much resigned myself that the end is nigh. My one concern, however, relates to the durability and serviceability of these new high-tech “automatics”. The cynic in me sees a profit center for the dealerships service departments. Hope I’m wrong…

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    We seem to have overlooked the major point made in this article. van Meel stated “The bad news is that if we one day have autonomous cars, then the manual cannot work anymore,” van Meel said, “so that would be, let’s say, the natural end.”

    So an autonomous driving system cannot operate a 3 pedal vehicle.

    Doesn’t that mean that if everyone (or a great many) purchased manual transmission vehicles, then we could prevent or at least slow down the conversion to autonomous cars?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    In the U.S. anyway, the demise of manuals is a bonus for public safety. I still believe that manuals make drivers more aware of what’s going on around them but awareness is almost an afterthought now. It would be like a Three Stooges routine with people trying to text, sext, eat, shift, steer, and take selfies all at once. Cars would be lurching and stalling at stops, then drivers would send texts such as “brb, I have to start the car, lol” or “omg, this pos stalled, hang on”.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      My wife says she only wants to drive manuals because otherwise she can’t resist picking up her phone while she drives. She literally insists that buying an auto will endanger the family.

      I’ll apply the same logic when we buy my daughter a car in a couple of years. She will be getting a row-your-own tranny!

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      ” I still believe that manuals make drivers more aware of what’s going on around them”

      Me too !

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      I’m sure there are some idiots out there that try to shift and text will weaving in and out of traffic and are unjustifiably proud of their ability to “multitask” but I doubt most people would be able to handle it and more than likely would opt for the passenger seat or public transportation if it impinged on their text time.

  • avatar
    7402

    Automakers can’t know the real take-rate for manual transmissions without otherwise identical offerings that vary only in transmission. Typically the manual is only available in the base model, so anybody who wants a manual has to weigh it against stuff they are not allowed to have like leather seats or a sunroof or whatever. The way cars are sold, it’s all but impossible to do a controlled experiment on whether the general population prefers a manual or automatic.

    We have three manuals and one automatic in our stable. When I really appreciate the automatic is on long highway drives that involve a lot of hills. I’m a cruise-control addict, and automatics do it much better in hill country.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      I sent an email to mazda and said, “I only chose not to buy a Mazda because you’ll sell the GT with a stick in Canada and not in the US. I’m not settling for options just because I insist on a manual transmission”.

      I would have bought that mazda if they’d sell it to me here in the states…

      • 0 avatar

        Not sure what you mean unless you’re referring to the 6. I have a brand new 2018 3 hatchback in Grand Touring trim with three pedals. And I’m in the USA.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Yeah I always though every trim of the 3 was available with manual trans…

          Naturally the new turbo top trims of the 6 are not available with stick because Mazda doesn’t have a stick that will handle the torque output.

          Most of the turbo 6 reviews that I’ve seen have said that the 6-speed auto is usually in the right gear, doesn’t hunt, and the manual control is true manual control. Hard to ask for more in an automatic.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I always thought cruise control was terrible in hilly environments. A proficient driver can speed up slightly going downhill and go slightly slower uphills, saving gas.

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    People want convenience more than anything else.

    This is why the iTunes music store has flourished when record companies thought that people would keep illegally downloading music for free.

    This is why grocery delivery exists.

    Manuals are inconvenient and enthusiasts are a niche market.

    I know this is heresy but I’m not terribly sad to see manuals go. Sure, they’re fun but I commute in Chicago; this isn’t a place for driving fun. This is a warzone where a mix of offensive and defensive driving are necessary to avoid accidents (and no, I don’t mean the odd highway, car-to-car shooting). I like the fact that my CX-3 will shift with rev-match with the tap of the left paddle (even in full auto mode) as fast as I could do it in my 6MT RX-8.

    Do I feel less connected to the car for it? Honestly, I don’t know what the hell that’s supposed to mean. I tell the car to do something and it does it. I feel what the front wheels are doing through the steering wheel and what the back wheels are doing through my butt. I know how the car settles into a turn on a highway cloverleaf or traffic circle. How much more connected do you want to be? Do we need a neural interface now?

    • 0 avatar
      TeamInstinct

      I don’t even live in Chicago, I live in a 20,000+ person town and commuting with a manual is starting to drive me nuts. I LOVE manual vehicles, truly do, but commuting back and forth the 25 minutes to work every day in one is starting to get to me.

      Long story short, about a year and a half ago I ended buying for a pretty dang good bargain a Scion TC 5-Speed, and overall the car’s been great in that role, hasn’t cost me a penny past gas, and oil changes. At first I actually enjoyed having a manual car again after I sold my Jeep to buy a truck. But here we are, newness worn off, after driving around in my work truck all day(I work at a utility) getting in that small, stick-shift car isn’t very fun. My drive to work is mostly highway but with about 14 stoplights to possibly be stopped at, usually maybe hitting 6-7 reds. The amount of shifting I do driving home honestly makes it feel like I’m “working” all the way home. I was a diehard manual fan when I had my Jeep, and if I only drove that car on the weekends or something.. but I don’t, and I can’t wait to sell it and buy something automatic for a commuter vehicle.

  • avatar
    thegamper

    I appreciate what BMW is doing….BUT….one of my biggest gripes with BMW in particular is that NONE, and I mean NONE of their dealers stock manual transmission models.

    A while back, I had visited BMW Rochester Hills Michigan. Inquired about a manual transmission. They had none in the entire state of Michigan in the model I was interested in. Not a single one on a dealer lot. Maybe some people are fine with pre-ordering a car sight unseen, never test driven. I am not one of them, I am not plunking down a deposit on something I cannot drive first. BMW may be a lot of things, but this pretty much lends to my conclusion that BMW is the Ultimate Social Climbing Machine, not so much the Ultimate Driving Machine.

    It also begs the question, how many more manual transmission vehicles would sell if they were simply available to purchase? Most people like getting a good deal taking from dealer stock rather than paying full MSRP on a special order. Just sayin.

    • 0 avatar
      Garrett

      BMW also won’t sell us a manual with the X-drive system.

      • 0 avatar
        mdoneinvt

        You have at least 1 option as i bought my first BMW a 440i xdrive coupe 6 speed manual. Per my dealer they are dropping it on the car in 2021 models so a few left out there can be had. And i have to say i love the car.

    • 0 avatar
      windnsea00

      You can definitely negotiate the purchase price of a car even if ordering, did it with a M car a few years back.

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        That is at least something. But I suspect the deal could have been better if it was a model that was sitting on a dealer lot waiting for a purchaser vs something that had to be built for you. It also doesn’t solve the problem of not being able to drive it first.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      My last three new car purchases were manual transmission Audis. All three had to be ordered since they had none in inventory. All three were discounted more than an otherwise identical car with an automatic transmission. Why? Well, according to the dealership, they like selling ordered cars because they spend zero time on the lot, making them lower overhead than their inventory cars. So once they realize a customer like need isn’t going to buy an inventory car with an automatic, ordering a manual car is preferable for them.

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    My first 3 cars were manuals, approx 14 years worth. My last car, 13.5 years in, is an auto. It has some pluses and minuses. Plus: after a valve body mod, in sport auto + WOT it REALLY shifts hard and almost snaps necks. And after some tuning of the ECU, it shifts better / faster in sport mode. But still not that great at part throttle.

    In manual mode, it holds a gear forever (will bounce off the rev limiter) unless it would stall the engine (too slow), and then it downshifts. But it’s not the fastest to respond to an upshift/downshift request.

    All I need for an automatic is to do those things, but a little better – super-fast response (within safety limits) for up/down shifting in manual mode, and hold a gear as long as you can. So that I can manually rip through 1-2-3, 3-2-1, etc..

    I *LIKE* that I can downshift into 1st – my manual VWs felt like they weren’t meant to shift into 1st while still moving – in fact, I broke one while doing that (although, used trans in car with more power than originally designed for the trans).

    So overall, with a bit more refinement / speed, I think I’m sold on autos. My left knee isn’t the best anymore, and I drive in traffic way more than 30 years ago, so I appreciate not having to use the clutch 100+ times in a 20 minute trip.

    • 0 avatar
      nvinen

      I had my ECU reflashed by a tuner and my ZF 6HP26 now operates pretty much how you describe. Shifts are practically instant. And since it has a torque converter that can lock up in any gear, it feels like a clutchless sequential gearbox in manual mode. It’s great.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      My last car was an auto and my current car is an auto. For the daily grind I don’t really miss manuals, though on the track it’s a different story. Main issue with old autos on the street was not enough gears or lockup. New autos have that covered. But they still overheat and misbehave on the track unless they are engineered to that end, which is rare.

  • avatar
    stuki

    @arach:

    Torque converter autos lock up in every gear now. Have for eons. “Automated manual” is a term invented by the sales department. Not the engineering side. Pretending some simplistic rebranding changes whether manually changes gears, or it is being done for one automatically, is, well, eh, let’s be nice and say needlessly naive…..

  • avatar
    stuki

    @john66ny:

    I’m actually positively surprised that Honda and Mazda (and perhaps BMW) offer radar cruise and lane keep assist (aka autonomous driving, or at least as good as that is going to get for the forseeable future…) with manuals. Radar cruise was the one thing that looked to pry the shift lever out of my hands before they went cold…

    • 0 avatar
      raph

      It works, I had a loaded 2015 Mustang GT with radar cruise and it wasn’t a problem. If need be the system simply cut off if I didn’t down shift based on whatever reasoning was programmed into the system.

      That said, I don’t really use cruise control all that much even when I’m on a trip. Partially due to forgetfulness and mostly due to not wanting to relinquish another level of control with the car (yes I understand with throttle by wire I’m just telling the car what I want to do and it decides how much throttle to really give).

  • avatar
    stuki

    @deanst

    Not even close. 2 years on a bicycle, 2 on a low powered motorcycle/scooter, 2 on a bigger bike, THEN on to the low powered, manual car. Permutations of the above is why Mediterraneans can get away with driving like complete lunatics, and still generally avoid dying before 30.

  • avatar
    ThomasSchiffer

    I was raised on manual transmissions like most drivers in Europe, but I will not miss them. Even when I was driving a manual transmission it never felt like it was something special or exotic. At the time most cars here had manual transmissions and automatics were expensive features that were not available on all cars; they were something to aspire to. To me and most Europeans (with the exception of the driving enthusiasts) the manual transmission was simply a necessary feature which we as drivers had to use in order to operate the vehicle.

    Now, with an automated transmission being available in smaller and cheaper cars, the take-rate for manuals in standard (keyword ‘boring’) cars is dropping.

    My Renault Twingo has a manual transmission, and it is an awful, rubbery unit with long throws and imprecise shift patterns. It is not fun, but it is ‘engaging’ in the sense that you have to force the different gears into place…

  • avatar
    TW5

    The manufacturers are damaging their own industry, and reminding us how scientific they are for doing it. They wonder why the public dislikes driving, as engineers design overboosted controls, automatic transmissions, and isolate the driver from all NVH, even good NVH. But that can’t be the cause of driver malaise, it must be the traffic.

    The manufacturers don’t have a choice. They are either going to sell and build engaging cars, including manual transmissions, and make enthusiasts of the general population or they are going to be selling autonomous appliances like the Google car in the not-too-distant-future. Try explaining that business model to investors.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Well, the good news is that when it comes time to replace our current car, I would have an excuse to tell my wife why we have to move up to an M4, as she only drives manuals as well.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Honda is the exemplar of manual transmission availability here in the US market. Small engine Accord? You can get a manual. “Big” engine Accord? You can get a manual. Manuals in Civics of all flavor. Big props to them for that. You’ll have to special order your 3 series sedan if you want a stick, but it’s available nonetheless and special order seems the best way to do it anyway with BMW’s options structure and lease queen dealer inventories.

    I’m not happy to see manual transmissions fade from the landscape, but I’ve grudgingly contributed to it. The everyday irritants of manual ownership start to accumulate with a single lane driveway and a wife who will not in a house, will not with a mouse drive a clutch. It’s a shame, I truly miss my 5-speed Sportwagen and think the 4Runner would be a far livelier beast without the slushbox.

    If Ford continues to offer a V8 stick shift Mustang when the midlife crisis hits, perhaps the 4Runner will get street-parked even in snowplow season and I’ll just deal with having to jockey cars around the driveway again.

  • avatar
    ptschett

    I couldn’t see myself going for a manual BMW when they have the excellent ZF 8-speed in most of their cars. Going from a manual 2010 Challenger R/T to an automatic 2015 I find I enjoy driving the automatic car overall more than the manual. The fun moments are still fun, but the automatic efficiently takes care of what would be drudgery with the manual when the job is just to get from A to B at the peak traffic times.

  • avatar
    Funky D

    I have been driving manuals since they were primarily 4 speeds (then 5, then 6, …) and have loved them all. My current ride was equipped with a DCT, and while it is a much different experience than the 3-pedal one, it is pretty much the same amount of fun. As long as I have that mechanical connection with the drivetrain, I still have that oneness with the car that I have long enjoyed with the manual. My next car will be a 3-pedal manual if I can get it, but if it DCTs from now on, I can live with that.

  • avatar
    stuki

    “It works, I had a loaded 2015 Mustang GT with radar cruise and it wasn’t a problem. If need be the system simply cut off if I didn’t down shift based on whatever reasoning was programmed into the system.”

    Man, so even the ‘Stang has this, now! Sweet! The world’s a slightly less depressing place than I assumed it was, then!!

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