By on September 1, 2020

Chrysler Corp

It’s late 1995, and your author is blundering through his first year of high school. Gangly, awkward… frankly, the whole thing is best left unremembered. Beyond those school walls, however, world events were coming to a head. O.J. apparently didn’t do it, Quebec almost became a country, the Unabomber’s manifesto made it to print, and in two assembly plants in Ontario and Delaware, big things were taking place between the front seats.

There, Chrysler Corp was busy outfitting two variants of its 1996 model-year LH cars — the Dodge Intrepid ES and Eagle Vision TSi, to be exact — with a new type of transmission. Called Autostick, it allowed the driver of Chrysler’s sportiest cab-forward sedans to make the most of their four forward gears.

This innovation was of great interest to yours truly, as up until then boring automatic transmissions all featured individual gears on the selector, and selecting anything other than “D” was something you only did when climbing Mt. Washington. In the top-flight 3.5-liter Dodge and Eagle sedans, though, one could toggle the shift lever side to side when placed in the rearmost position, ascending or descending through the gears.

Autostick quickly proliferated through the upper echelons of the Chrysler stable, becoming a signature feature. As the decade ended and a new century dawned, manual shift modes began appearing everywhere, usually in a forward/back orientation in a separate gate to the left of the Drive position, surrounded by a brushed metal trim plate. They made for a sexier and more premium-looking console, and indeed at the time these were usually the domain of higher-end makes.

Transmissions also added cogs as the years passed, boosting the feature’s limited sporting potential. Sadly, traditional slushboxes made the feature more useful in theory than in practice, and it wasn’t until CVTs and DCTs began popping up that a driver could accomplish their manual shift action without a frustrating lag that compelled them to never try such a thing again. In a CVT-equipped vehicle, using manual mode is often the only way to wring out any fun, and usually just for building revs going into a corner. In a dual-clutch vehicle, flappy paddles are your friend.

Manual shift modes are now ubiquitous with the automatic transmissions found in most of today’s new vehicles. The last time I piloted my mom’s Jeep Patriot, the little CUV’s Autostick got a workout (boredom, you see). Chances are, the vehicle you’re driving now offers some form of manual shift mode, which leads to today’s question: do you ever use the feature?

Like, ever?

Does the feature birthed a quarter century ago in a pair of front-drive domestic sedans get put to use even on scarce occasions, or is it merely a bygone selling point that hold no value or utility for you, the driver?

[Image: Chrysler Corp.]

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41 Comments on “QOTD: Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands?...”

  • avatar

    It’s something you used once or twice, maybe on the test drive and to show friends and family, and then you just left it in drive and forgot about it. No involvement with a clutch, lazy shifts…just not the same as the real manual experience.
    And I do wonder about the single percentage usage of the flappy paddles in a common crossover or a CVT equipped vehicle. It’s something that’s just there (and sometimes in the way), but I doubt really ever used.

    • 0 avatar

      Allow myself to introduce…… myself.

      I am a regular flappy paddle user in my CVT equipped Accord Sport. It’s pretty lame otherwise and I have some good backroads in my area.

  • avatar

    I had this option in the automatic of my Scion xB2 – and used it for wintry weather. Downshifting to slow, upshifting for better FWD traction. But for performance? Bah!

    My inherited Infiniti M35x also has an autostick. I mess around shifting around with it but, to be honest, the 5-speed can usually do it faster than I can. This automatic is actually one of the better ones I’ve driven, only rarely is it caught with its “pants down”; ie taking too long to downshift when you mash the gas.

    And as flyersfan mentioned, the cars I’ve driven with automatics actually seem to lag more between gears when manually shifted.

    • 0 avatar

      “the cars I’ve driven with automatics actually seem to lag more between gears when manually shifted”

      This mirrors my experience in various rental cars and my wife’s Infiniti Q60. Various sport modes (S vs D) are normally enough to liven things up enough to provide some entertainment. Using the paddles or moving some stick is fun a few times but quickly becomes worthless since the shifts are so slow.

      Also worth mentioning is that most sticks are backwards: forward is up when forward should be a down shift. That alone kills the experience for me.

    • 0 avatar

      I also have a slushbox xB2, and I’ve never manually shifted it. It does a good enough job of downshifting and holding the gear when passing, and other than that I don’t see the point. My go-fast vehicle has two wheels. And a clutch.

    • 0 avatar

      If your automatic takes too long to downshift when you “mash the gas”, it’s the torque dysfunction of the engine. The proper solution is a V8 engine swap.

  • avatar

    Two of my vehicles (both SUVs) have this feature. I tried it once or twice on both. Found it to be just a gimmick. Now I just leave them in D.

  • avatar

    In the vehicles we’ve had that have the feature, it has been used, but generally not in the way that the manufacturer necessarily intended. Typically, its main function has been to either act as a gear holder on steep descents for better engine braking, or as a way to lock in second for starting on slick surfaces.

    A decent sport mode has usually been preferable to rowing my own in a vehicle with no clutch. Stick it in ‘S’, take care of the on-ramp / passing manoeuvre / bends, and put it back in ‘D’ when done to keep things less frenetic.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    First, I love that you used a photo of my wife’s old green ’97 Intrepid. You even got the rims right.
    On this “shifting” nonsense, it’s a silly feature that doesn’t do anything new. Every automatic can be controlled with your right foot. You can easily prompt it to up-shift with a practiced lift, followed by deep throttle into the next gear.
    “Autostick” just causes people selling on Craigslist to misrepresent the car as a “manual”.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t agree completely, because there are situations where you need to hold a lower gear for future acceleration, but you also need to wait before accelerating. In these situations, you can’t give it more throttle because that would speed you up. I am thinking of difficult highway on-ramps. We have a lot of these in the Northeast, where highways were built on top of older road systems.

  • avatar

    I’ve only ever owned stick shifts, but when driving rentals or loaners I would usually try the manumatic feature. I would also try rev-matching if necessary as well as left-foot braking. Frankly I would get bored quite quickly with these things…the effort wasn’t worth the small increment in involvement. Just not the same as a good old manual.

  • avatar

    I use it all the time.

  • avatar

    I believe a large percentage of cars these days have this feature, but whether it gets used or not depends largely on how the manufacturer sets it up.

    My Audi has one of these “manumatic” transmissions, and unless I’m slogging around in traffic, or in a parking lot, I shift “manually” all the time. But I think Audi designed the car to be used this way – the car feels more “natural” this way, particularly if you shut off the safety nannies. The transmission itself is a dual-clutch, so it shifts very quickly, and the action of the shifter is rewarding – it has a short “throw” and a very nice “snick-snick” feel to it.

    My kid’s Hyundai Elantra GT and my s.o.’s Accent are different stories – both of those cars have manumatics, but they’re not nearly as much fun or as rewarding to use – the levers feel somewhat cheap, and the motion isn’t “positive.” There’s no real reason to use the system unless you’re in snow.

  • avatar

    I use the paddles to downshift going down the hill And sometimes to slow down on the highway. Almost never use to upshift.

  • avatar

    I used it more in our “adequately” powered 2008 Mazda 5 than any other vehicle I’ve had with it. I praised our 2017 Sienna SE for having manual control of the 8 speed, something our 2014 Odyssey didn’t allow for. But I think, other than using it to climb or descend steep hills or winter driving, it’s best to leave it in D.

    Our 2020 Odyssey has push button shifting and “flappy paddles” (thanks Top Gear UK) which I’ve used once or twice. But with eco mode turned off, the 10 speed is pretty good and it’s rarely ever wrong. But if I want to drive a manual, I’ll get in my 2017 Golf Wolfsburg or my 89 Mustang GT convertible. Two very different powertrains and clutches, but still very satisfying to drive. Except in traffic and the hill hold in the VW still drives me nuts, until I’m in the Mustang without it!

    I’m not an “AlL ThINgZ MaNuALL!” person, but it’s nice to have the option when you want it, even on an automatic.

    • 0 avatar

      Honda left off a couple things which would make the implementation of the 10-speed paddles perfect, in the Accord and other vehicles like your Oddy:

      1. You can only hold a gear in Sport mode. Which makes starting from a stop in the wintertime tricky. Fortunately the “Grade Logic” did seem to lock in a gear in normal drive mode when descending some hills in upper Michigan last month.

      2. The transmission will upshift at redline, even in Sport with a gear locked; it should simply bounce off the rev-limiter or dump boost from the wastegate.

      As stated, that transmission does just fine left to its own devices, and does a good job given the available torque of the K20C3; I’m sure it’s even better with the J35 in the Odyssey!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I use this feature all the time, but mostly for holding a lower gear on a grade.

    When using it during acceleration, I often forget to put it back into “D” until I see the tach racing.

  • avatar

    Funny you asked this, because I just used this feature yesterday. The missus and I were out and about running errands and decided to take the “scenic” way home. Wound up on some twisty back roads and I switched to sport mode on my 2015 Sonata. It didn’t magically become a Ferrari, but I could definitely feel more response in the steering and a firmer ride. My wife, unaware of my action, even commented that the ride suddenly “isn’t as smooth – it must be the road.”

    I don’t use the sport mode often, but when I get off the main roads onto the twisties, I generally switch to it. It’s not a game changer, but I do enjoy it in the right circumstance as a nice change of pace. Glad I have it.

  • avatar

    I love the Auto Stick in my ’05 LGT wagon as much as the Sport mode. It is very flexible, and works when I choose to row. As for the shift buttons on the wheel, I would rather have paddles BEHIND the wheel as finding the buttons mid-turn can be challenging. But that’s a minor issue.

    • 0 avatar

      As a former ’05 LGT wagon (auto) driver, I agree – I had an upgraded valve body installed to improve shifts, and I was CONSTANTLY shifting either with the steering wheel buttons (no paddles), or the actual shift lever.

      With my current ’19 Stinger GT, I also shift a LOT. Often, just to put the transmission into “1” at a stop, but also into full manual mode, or to switch gears / downshift for a bit, then let it take over again, etc.

      The wife’s ’16 GTI with DSG is ok – it feels a bit awkwardly geared.

      On our FCA minivan, I’ve used the (partial) manual shift a LOT when doing hills, especially something like the Grapevine. It really wants to shift back to 6 as soon as you let off the pedal a bit, meaning it can take forever to get back to passing gear. Leaving it in 3rd (you can’t force it lower than 3rd or 2nd, I forget which) makes a HUGE difference in the lag time between having to brake, and then trying to get back to passing again. Without it, the frustration would have been insane.

      TD;DR – it’s the ONLY way I can survive with automatics. And I can’t do manuals for daily drivers due to wife / traffic.

  • avatar

    Hardly ever. I’ll lock it in 1st in stop and creep when 2nd creeps too fast. The east coast is too flat to worry about engine braking.

    Worrying about gear in any situation other than that is for slow cars or fast drivers and I’m neither.

  • avatar

    Only when towing on hills.

  • avatar

    Y’know even my ancient 1977 Chevy Malibu has a manual mode, you pull the lever down into 2 or 1 if you want to manually shift the transmission, and it’ll happily let you run it all the way past redline into the mechanical govenor if you wanted to. And on that car it has a point, if left to its own devices the TH-350 shifts early around 3800-4000 rpm. If you let the stock 305 spin out to 5500, it wakes up and is somewhat fun.

    My experience driving ‘manumatics’ is about the same feel as that ancient Chevy, though modern automatics will at least let the engine rev all the way to fuel shutoff. It’s just a way to not have an awkwardly long PRND21 indicator, for something that 90% of the driving public won’t use.

  • avatar

    Related opinion: “Gated” automatic shifters are inferior in every way to the old fashioned American straight-line style.

    Forgive the source:

    Additional opinion: The automatic shift lever itself (the rod between the knob and the linkage) should be metal, and round, with a large diameter.

    Here’s an example of how not to do it (an example that I live with on a regular basis):

    [Way too spindly and ‘delicate’.]

  • avatar

    I bought the next generation of the Intrepid (a 2000) and it had the then-standard Autostick. I had very little experience driving an automatic of any variety and I thought this might be the solution that would allow me to be more ‘grown up.’ Like so many commenters here, I used it very few times. For me, the lack of tactile feel with the lever was the biggest issue. With a manual transmission I can pretty much tell what gear I’m in by sound and the feel of the lever in my right hand. At the very least it’s easy to tell the difference, for example, between second and third since the position of the lever is so different. With Autostick, or any variant, I needed to take my eyes off the road to look at the indicator on the dash see what gear I was in.

    I eventually gave up and traded the car on a Mazda 3 – with a manual. And even after 20 years I’ve given up trying to be grown up and will only buy a car with a manual transmission. Until they disappear, that is.

    As an aside, my wife has a 2019 Ranger that has ‘Sport’ mode which allows manual shifting. I use this when we pull our travel trailer and we’re going up a hill slow so it’ll hold a gear in a residential neighbourhood. But… pulling the lever back into Sport doesn’t tell you what gear the transmission is in when you do that. You need to shift up or down before the indicator is displayed. That’s a flaw, in my opinion.

  • avatar

    Mostly I just want control over an automatic to force a downshift, and some of the manumatics I’ve tried require holding the shifter in upshift for a few seconds to force it back into full auto after, which is irritating. For what I want, I really like VW’s setup, where you tap down for sport mode, and again to for normal auto.

    Sport modes in general are nice if they’re easy to use, but a lot of them require shuffling through multiple modes. I also had a rental Corolla that forced the use of silly CVT fake gears when I just wanted the revs a little higher for engine braking.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    Never. I have an MT vehicle if I want to do my own shifting.

    In the 70’s with a console shifter on a PLC yes.
    Although I did have a friend who slammed his auto transmission into Cougar into ‘reverse’ when shifting and blew out his transmission.

    To do it properly you need the shifter to have a lock-out or go P-R-N-1-2-(3)-D. Not the other way.

  • avatar

    I use it to downshift for corners, but when I transition to full throttle it goes back to auto mode until the next corner comes up.

  • avatar

    When I was Prelude-shopping in Oct 1999 I tried Honda’s equivalent on the test drive and it basically confirmed I ought to just get the manual version. It was just too video-gamey.

    Though unlike these LH Chryslers, that was a choice. Before much longer that’ll be the ONLY way we have to shift ’em ourselves.

  • avatar

    I’ve taken some test drives or have had rentals with the feature. It is something that I lost interest in very quickly. It was sort of handy when needing compression braking but I find the tow/haul mode works for that too.

  • avatar

    This is nothing new. My 69 Mustang automatic was advertised as the Select-Shift Cruiseomatic. With the floor mounted shifter you could shift it yourself if desired. Chrysler cars of that era had something called the Slapstick shifter for their performance automatics.

    I have shifted the Mustang manually at infrequent stoplight drags to keep from over revving. As for my other vehicles I use the shift lever buttons on my Silverado when towing. I never use the paddles on my LaCrosse.

  • avatar

    When I had my Passat I used the feature all the time. The transmission upshifted so quickly, the car never seemed to have power, and that was the model that had a 6.

  • avatar

    Use paddles all the time for downshifts to maintain speed down hilly grades without need for using the brake. My Mazda offers instant bangy downshifts, but upshifts can be lazy. The 08 Subaru LGT was identical and as quick in operation but included rev-matching on downshifts which the Mazda lacks, unfortunately. I occasionally use the manumatic lever feature just for fun, but usually only in traffic, becuse at least the Mazda is arranged properly with a pull back for upshifts — the Subaru was backwards like most cars.

  • avatar

    There are 3 cases where I can and do use the flappy paddles/manual shift mode. The first case is where I’m turning 90° onto a freeway ramp and want to have a bit of power without waiting for the transmission to get its act together. Case number two is when I’m had freeway speed and the car refuses to go into top gear; I’ll use the flappy paddles to force it into 6th so I can cruise getting plenty of MPGs. The third case is also a freeway case where I’m behind somebody who is dithering, refusing to get to speed. I like to hold 3rd so I can have plenty of power to get the smell out of dodge and avoid getting creamed by the trucker coming up behind.

    The nice part of the car I have now is that I don’t have to rock the lever over for the few times I shift manually. I can just pull the flappy paddles. Then the car reverts back to full automatic shifting after a period of time.

  • avatar

    The nicest part of those LH models wasn’t the shifting, but the longitudinal placement of the engine in a FWD car. They expected to make those full size cars AWD, but never did. In the meantime, the engines were much easier to work on, and the next best thing about the 3.5 engine was the torque curve that made the manual shift option largely unnecessary.

  • avatar

    I have an autosticky gate on my Volvo XC60. I use it going down steep, narrow mountain roads. For the first couple miles, anyway. After that, the transmission’s grade logic figures it out, and if you pop it over into D it downshifts automatically whenever you start to pick up excess speed.

    I suppose it would be useful to get a quicker downshift on heavy acceleration, but with a 6-speed that’s imperceptible in daily operation, I honestly wouldn’t know how many cogs to drop. Just mash the pedal and go.

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