Just let the manual transmission go peacefully
Almost every week a new opinion piece by an automotive journalist says we must all save the manual transmission, as if they were part of a three-pedal crusade. To be fair, the vast majority of car enthusiasts would agree with that sentiment, including us. However, after some thought, I start to change my tune a bit. Maybe, and I’m just saying maybe, we should let the manual die.
It’s no secret that the manual transmission is running out of steam. There’s not much time left before being relegated to the same junkyard as the carburetor and six-disc CD changer. There are two reasons for this ; one is that customers simply don’t buy manuals anymore and the other is that manual transmissions are technically inferior in all measurable ways to modern automatics. So there is only one reason to keep the textbooks and that is entirely emotional.
Hobbyists love manual transmissions. This is really the only reason most car manufacturers keep developing them. Manuals are fun to drive, more so than any automatic transmission. They provide a connection between man and machine that no automatic can duplicate (although Alfa Romeo’s aluminum gearshift paddles are the second best thing).
So why should we just let them die, if they are so good to drive? Well, for several reasons. The first is that by keeping them as long as possible, we are only prolonging the inevitable. Even if the manuals don’t die soon, the internal combustion engine will anyway. So we’ll see a future in our lifetime where three-pedal gearboxes will no longer be made no matter how hard we fight. So you might as well tear off the bandage now. Keeping the manual handy is like trying to keep a relationship alive when you know the other person is just gone. Let it go and move on.
Another reason is that modern textbooks are rarely great anyway. There are a few exceptions, of course; cars like the Mazda MX-5, Honda Civic Type R, and Porsche Cayman all have excellent manuals. But these are the exceptions. Most modern manuals just don’t feel right, and the reason seems to be the fact that automakers just don’t want to invest in a ton of tuning for transmissions that will barely sell. BMW is among the brands most to blame for this, as almost every modern Bavarian textbook I’ve driven has felt rubbery and vague. Plus, most modern textbooks automatically match the diet for you, which most enthusiasts hate (I like it but, hey, I’m lazy). Some brands let you turn it off, some don’t.
Mazda MX-5 Shifter – One of the Few Modern Great Manuals
Finally, the last reason I think we should just send the manual transmission to Valhalla is that I’m tired of car makers hoping. There is always an engineer or a product manager of a brand who claims they will continue to make textbooks until they can’t take it anymore. Except that this moment almost always comes immediately after this declaration. No matter how hard brands try to pretend the enthusiast market is driving their products, it doesn’t. Bean counter customers and businesses are doing this. And when the grain counters say there isn’t enough grain for the gearboxes to row, that’s it. No more.
So rather than just hoping, over and over again, only to be disappointed, just accept our fate and drop the manual. It comes from someone who drives a manual on a daily basis, by the way. I love driving a proper gearbox and all the nuances that come with it. But my car is old and that’s where the answer lies; old cars with manual transmissions exist by cargo. So buy your new car with a brilliant, easy to use and quick to change automatic transmission and have an old classic sports car in the garage when you need your three pedal repair.
Or maybe I’m just too tired and need to lie down.