The purists and the numbers disagree. For some, the raw, more visceral experience offered by the manual transmission has been the definitive epitome of what it means to drive – feeling better engaged, connected and in control of the vehicle’s relationship with the road, for many the manual transmission has been the only way to go. Historically, manuals have also been less expensive all the way around, with cheaper price tags off the line, making for a less expensive initial investment, and achieving better fuel economy, equating to even greater savings and environmentally friendly practices in the long run. Couple that with a more fun driving experience, and you begin to understand why manufacturers like BMW have sworn the manual transmission is never going away.
But technology, with the times, has started to change, and the gap between performance on the one hand, and economy on the other, has recently started to narrow. Simply put, the industry has progressed and drivers have ultimately started to adapt – this has been the trend. In North America, only about 10% of new cars come with a manual transmission from the factory; many models offer no option of a manual transmission at all, and the historically better fuel economy of the manual transmission is being challenged by automatics with much better fuel efficiency, smoother gear shift transitions and Triptronic-like gear shift mechanisms that mimic the controlled engagement of the manual experience on the road. Plus, they are easier to drive and provide a smoother driving experience for most. The bonus: Many of the newer styles of automatics, with Triptronic-style gear shifts, feel and even look sexy. They are visually appealing, sleak and allow the driver the option of engaging or disengaging the feel of a manual transmission, allowing them to focus more on the road in front of them, on more immediate concerns like children and passengers in the car, and on communications with loved ones and clients via multiple forms of media.
The manual vs. automatic transmission debate is not likely to be fully resolved any time soon – in the end, it’s a matter of driver preference and deciding which experience best fits your lifestyle needs and personal desires. Nevertheless, as manufacturers continue to narrow the field of options available to you, the ultimate decision may well not be yours to make; the car you want may simply not have a manual transmission available.
But keep an open mind: The quality of experience offered to you in the newer generation of automatic transmissions may well genuinely surprise you – and you just might end up with a safer, ultimately more enjoyable experience you will come to prefer in your own good time.
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