Buyers' Guide: Why manual transmissions aren’t dead ... yet
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It’s hard to deny that the overarching trend the past few years has been that the manual transmission is on its way out.
We get it — automatics are less complicated to drive, cheaper on fuel and easier in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Manufacturers are now offering an abundance of complex automatic transmissions that offer “manual-like experiences” such as the direct shift transmission. But, let’s face it, it will never be the same.
We decided to look at the 15 top-selling passenger vehicles of 2018 to see which still cater for the manual market.
To our surprise, only four of the 15 models gave an option of the classic stick shift. And three of these were hatchbacks. So, if you’re after a small, funky, manual runabout, you’re limited to a Suzuki Swift, Honda Jazz or the Mazda 3 (SP25 model). If you’re after something with a clutch and more room, the Nissan Qashqai SUV might tick your boxes.
If you are someone who knows their way around a clutch, there are still a few compelling reasons to choose the manual model.
Maintenance on a manual transmission is low and they are relatively easy to service.
Oil changes are infrequent and the most common item that will need attention is the clutch, which is a simple mechanical assembly. An automatic transmission can be a costly rebuild at a specialist shop. A skilled mechanic will often be able to diagnose and rectify faults in a manual transmission, such as bearings and worn synchros, without the need for a specialist transmission shop.
There’s something about dropping a gear and pushing the RPM just that little bit higher that brings out the petrolhead inside. Drivers who want more control and seek that balance of human and machine tend to prefer manuals.
The more connected someone feels to their car and the road, the more intimate the driving experience becomes, and some models are perfect for this.
Take the Honda Civic Type-R for example; this aggressive machine is only available with a six speed manual coupled to a transmission cooler and a Helical limited slip diff. The VTEC engine craves higher RPM and the transmission allows drivers to keep the engine singing to achieve impressive yet noisy performance from the two litre turbo charged engine.
Once upon a time nothing screamed “tradie” more than a rugged manual ute or van.
A lot has changed over the years and, with the advancement in automatic technology, we’re now seeing more automatics in the commercial sector.
A decade ago, 80 per cent of new utility vehicles were sold with a manual gearbox. Now New Zealand’s top selling vehicle, the Ford Ranger, has decided to wave goodbye to the manual transmission for all 2019 models.
Automatic transmissions are designed to choose the best gear for any situation, but they tend to be a bit cautious. They cannot predict conditions like a driver can, nor select a lower gear for a boost of power. Manual transmissions give drivers greater control over the vehicle, which is particularly important for commercial vehicles carrying an extra load or towing.
Although the manual transmission isn’t dead yet, it’s starting to look like the term “clutch” will more frequently refer to a woman’s strapless purse.