When cars were invented, there wasn’t a choice; drivers were required to learn manual gear shifting in order to build speed and manage engine power. Automatic shift transmissions were developed in the 1950s, and are the standard today on most vehicles. Manuals are still available, though only popular on economy cars and vehicles created with sport in mind rather than comfort. I have always kept a finger on auto trends, and growing up in a household that preferred manual transmissions, itâ€™s been apparent to me for a couple of years that the manual is a slowly dying species in the mainstream. Automatics have become more fuel efficient, smoother, and more able to emulate the feeling of driving a manual transmission.
Aside from its technical refinement, the most obvious reason people prefer automatic is because itâ€™s easy. You depress the brake pedal with your foot, shift out of Park with your hand, and you can move forward or backward with as much gusto as youâ€™d like. No risk of stalling, no need to match engine revs with clutch take-up. Most teenagers donâ€™t even learn to drive stick shift â€“ they just coast into automatic life.
My main issue with this trend is on principle: manuals require more skill, they require more driver alertness and attention, and they are generally more fun to drive. The more powerful the engine, the more fun a manual can be. Growing up we had three manual Saabs, a manual Volkswagen Cabrio, and most recently a manual-shift Mini Clubman that I inherited last year. I learned to drive on the Cabrio and on an automatic Volvoâ€¦and I can say the more spirited driving was definitely in the Cabrio.
Today, you can still get a manual shift transmission on models like:
- BMW 1-, 3-, 5-, 6-, and Z series
- Audi A3, A4, A5, and TT
- Volkswagen Jetta, Passat, GTI, Eos
- Volvo S40, V50
- Mini Cooper, Clubman, Convertible, Countryman, Coupe
However, manuals are very rare on new cars â€“ even if they come â€˜standard.â€™ The cars dealers order come with automatics, and most online configurators equip automatic as assumed with a no-cost option for manual.
Iâ€™ve said before that Iâ€™d really like my next car to be a Mercedes, but that would mean driving an automatic as the marque recently discontinued the 6-speed C300. I recently rode in a manual Audi A5 and really liked itâ€¦so may have to revise my plan.