I was following an interesting comment thread on another board recently, and it played out like this: Commenter A, who claims to have extensive tuning experience and claims to drive a Jeep Cherokee SRT-8, made the bold statement that manual transmissions are obsolete. He further went on to say that enthusiasts should get over this and embrace the automatic, which is superior to the manual in every way. As you’d guess, a thorough beat-down of the original commenter ensued. From the language and grammar used, most commenters were posting from their mom’s basement, and had experience driving manual transmissions on Need For Speed and Grand Turismo only. That’s how things generally go on internet message boards, especially poorly moderated ones.
The thread got me thinking about the fate of the manual transmission. Car & Driver already has their “Save the Manuals” campaign, which appears to have support from dinosaurs like me who grew up with manual gearboxes. There is a certain joy in the ability to master a shift pattern, and the ability to smoothly match engine revs on a well-executed downshift. Rowing up or down through a gearbox gives you a level of interaction with a car that no computer-controlled, dual-clutch gearbox can ever hope to match. Automatics, in my opinion, should be reserved for commuter cars and trucks, while manual transmissions should be an available option on anything with sporting intentions. I’d even pay more money for a good manual transmission, just like automatic transmissions used to command a premium.
The counter argument is made by manufacturers like Ferrari, who’ve all but eliminated the manual transmission from their product lineup. Even the 458 Italia, arguably the best non-GTO Ferrari ever built, is only available with a
slushbox computer controlled, dual clutch automatic gearbox. Ferrari isn’t alone in optimizing performance around an automatic: the fastest way around a racetrack in a Cadillac CTS-V is with the automatic transmission set to sport mode. You cannot beat the lap times in a manual transmission CTS-V, and even shifting the automatic yourself will produce slower lap times. John Heinricy, GM’s uber-performance guru, set his record Nürburgring lap time in an automatic transmission CTS-V set to sport mode. If that doesn’t make a statement, I don’t know what will.
I’ll go out on a limb and guess that the original poster, with the SRT-8 Jeep, never learned to drive a manual. Maybe he never had the opportunity, or maybe he just never bothered to learn. That doesn’t make him any less of an enthusiast, just as my own lack of ability to heel-toe a car doesn’t make me any less passionate about driving them. Sometime in the near future, those of us who grew up driving manual transmissions will be the exception, not the rule. Like it or not, automatic transmissions with dual clutch setups and steering wheel mounted paddle shifters are the way of the future: we can either accept change, or try futilely to stop the encroaching glacier of technology.
Me? I’ll always have something with a manual gearbox, and I’m willing to accept that there are faster ways around a racetrack. Sometimes, the joy is in the driving and not in the lap times.