I don’t know quite how to address this other than by starting with my own fault of calling myself a “true enthusiast” in the automotive field. I tend to really get caught up in the whole manual gearbox master race debates where anything with a manual and three pedals is put on a pedestal, exempt from all criticism. I will take it a step further and state that not all manual gearbox and three pedal combinations are really any good. Some are much better executed than others.
After driving a lot of common cars, I can tell you that I’d rather the automatic version of many of them because the manual is just so bad. Poor clutch uptake, terrible throws, lack of feedback from the cable link shifting mechanism combined with multi-tiered pedal placement really kill the experience. I cringe when I hear people say, “I’ve been driving a manual for so long.” Just because you can do something or have done it for a while doesn’t mean you have been doing it right.
Much to my chagrin automakers are less inclined to offer manual options for cars. Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic automatic gearboxes such as ZF’s 8-speed in Audis, Cadillacs and Chrysler products, or dual clutches in sports cars like the perfect PDKs from Porsche. They’re simply outstanding in smoothness and shift speed, unmatched by the fastest shifting human being. We’re also losing out in the fuel economy debate where over a decade ago, the manual would have better fuel economy than the automatic counterpart. Sure the number of gears is getting out of hand but that’s a different argument entirely. Please note that all CVT equipped vehicles will not find an ounce of support from me.
As much as I love having a manual gearbox, some vehicles should never be offered with one. I’ve never gotten in an S-Class and thought, “you know what this needs? A 5-speed manual.” The 7-speed gearbox in the S550 I drove was the perfect dance partner with the engine and mission of that car. Let’s cool it on the manual gearbox thing. We’re turning into the automotive equivalent to the old guy on the porch screaming at kids passing by saying that they have no respect for their elders. It’s getting old and it’s played out.
I’ve spent much time in car groups in person and on social media to know that you don’t need to have the manual version of anything to show your love and enthusiasm for a car or a brand. In fact it is quite the opposite. Why must we demean others who are enjoying what they have only to show off the fact that we can drive a manual like it is a purple heart? “Kumar, a manual is just more fun!” To who? You? Cool. It isn’t for others. Whatever their reason for choosing the automatic happens to be, it isn’t for us to decide how deep their enthusiasm is allowed to go.
Enthusiasts also take too much for granted. There are plenty of options out there but we nitpick them to oblivion and, in the end, we’re the ones that lose because we don’t buy new. This may be news to some of you but automakers won’t make something if nobody will buy it. So for those of us who want everything for nothing, we’re the ones who put ourselves in this predicament. Combine that with our self-aggrandizing attitude about owning a manual version of a car and it is easy to see why there are going to be less options for us in the future.
We need to start evolving so that we can enjoy the options we have now. We have more options than ever before, more features, more tech and more importantly more power. You can get something with 700+ horsepower from the factory with a warranty minus the supercar badge. If someone told you this over a decade ago you would have laughed at the ridiculousness of that statement.
Enthusiasm is growing in the automotive world from areas I never expected to see. Let’s be thankful that we still have some amazing, visceral options now before everything on the road hums along while we just sit bored during the ride instead of enjoying the control we have now.
A fellow enthusiast
Photo Credit: Porsche