Friday, September 25, 2015

I've Never Owned a Car With an Automatic Transmission. Will I?

Stick shift meme

In my 21 years of legal driving ability, I have never owned a car equipped with an automatic transmission. Yes, there was the 1979 Honda Civic 1200 with the Hondamatic two-speed, but you technically had to shift it from first into second. Plus, it was a winter beater. Plus, it was awesome.

I've never been tempted to own something without a manual transmission. Perhaps I've unfairly labeled all cars with an automatic mundane. Clearly, the Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Chevrolet Corvette, BMW M6, and Jaguar F-Type S I've driven are all totally lame. But could they have been more entertaining with a manual transmission? I mean, are all vehicles instantly more fun with a stick shift?

2012 Scion iQ
The only car I've ever even mildly considered to own that had an automatic is a Scion iQ, that bastion of city car tininess that has been discontinued by Toyota's youth-like division. I've always kind of liked them, and even thought about getting one. The CVT is the only transmission available. If it did come with a five-speed manual, like it does in other markets, I would likely already have one. Regardless, I've never even considered owning an automatic on another car.

So many vehicles—94%—are sold with automatics in the U.S. I love the look of the new 2016 Kia Rio SX Five Door, but it's only available with an auto. Nope. I totally dig the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, but it only comes in an auto. Ain't gonna happen. The Nissan Juke is pretty entertaining, and the Nismo version has amazing seats! Can't do it (plus Mercedes (my wife, not the company ... but maybe the company too?) hates them). I can get a Toyota Yaris SE with a manual transmission, just not in my region. The struggle is real. 

But as more and more cars only come with a point-and-shoot option, perhaps I won't have a choice in the near future? I used to jokingly say that I'd gladly own a car with an automatic transmission ... if I lost my left leg in an accident. But is it really imperative to own a manual? Sometimes I feel like that guy who only buys carbureted cars because they're "easy to work on," or that ever-shrinking segment of folks who only buy cars available with manual windows. ("It's just one less thing to break ...")

I guess I have to truly ask myself: Are cars with manual transmissions really that much more fun to drive, or am I drinking my own Kool-Aid and I've convinced myself of it? I don't really know. Maybe I need to live with an automatic car for more than a week at a time. Hmm ... there are a few iQ models on the market ...


Ducati Scotty said...

My cars for the last two decades or more have been stick shifts. I owned automatics before, mostly big American beasts. I'm completely adapted to easing off the throttle and/or downshifting to slow down. On my motorcycle I hardly ever use the brakes unless I'm coming to a complete stop. These days I find driving an automatic really disconcerting, especially down hills. Even if I downshift to a lower gear the engine braking just isn't what I expect. It's just one more facet of control I'm used to having.

When I bought my Mazda 3, I probably would have gotten the smaller engine anyway but not having the 2.5 available with a stick sealed the deal. Like wise, I was really interested in a Yaris SE but I'd need to go to Cali and pay sales tax to get one with a stick. Since Oregon has no sales tax, that would have been a big price bump.

nlpnt said...

Forget the iQ, if you really want to experience an automatic at its' best (and as a cheap addition to go for one of the beasts Scotty mentioned. I recommend a 1977-90 GM full size with either an SBC or the Olds 307, and why not a wagon at that. C'mon, you live in Oregon where they seem to have never heard of road salt, go for something interesting and older.

Well, as interesting as what you have already and even older than the Teal Terror.

Barry Traylor said...

Once upon a time a car with manual transmission always got better mpg than automatic. Not so true any more. Do I prefer a manual when I am on a nice twisty road with no other cars sharing the road with me, of course. Stuck in rush hour stop and go traffic(mostly stop) not so much.

Fred said...

My 2007 Yaris hatchback is an automatic. At a steady 60 mph I get 45 mpg. At a steady 70 mph I get 42 mpg. I bought this car brand new and it now has 83,000 miles on it. In retrospect would I have preferred it with a MT, as most of my other cars have been equipped? Probably. Would it be more fun to drive with a MT? Probably. Would I get better gas mileage if it had a MT? Probably.

Jason Reece said...

I have been a licensed driver and car owner for almost 26 years (in Feb 2016). Until I leased my 2015.5 Volvo S60 in March of this year, I had never owned a car with an automatic transmission either! Technically, I don't own one...I lease it.

Seriously, though, I still own my trusty 2006 Mazda3 s 5-door that I purchased new in December 2015 and it has a 5-speed manual. But for my 40th birthday, I finally decided to allow myself to get a 'near-luxury' or 'entry-level-luxury' sedan. But unlike most buyers in that class, I didn't want a mid-size car that was only a fraction of an inch away from being a full-size, as most upscale buyers seem to want.

I liked the Audi A3 but couldn't get over my concerns about VW/Audi reliability. The smallest Mercedes sedan (CLA250) felt cheaper inside than any Daewoo model every did. The Lexus IS was actually too small for my 6'2" 235# frame to fit comfortably and climbing out the small door opening was also a task. The BMW 3-series is just too common (too many of them) and I am not a person who wants what everyone else has. And the Acura ILX is a way-overpriced Civic in drag!

The only contender left standing was the Volvo S60 which is actually a 'Compact' based on interior volume. A quick sit in the back seat confirms the size because adults won't fit back there for more than short trips.

Volvo was offering some awesome subsidized lease deals at the time and that was the first time I had seriously considered leasing rather than buying. I got the S60 T6 Drive-E which is currently the only car sold in the U.S. with both a supercharger and turbocharger! It has a 2.0L I-4 but puts out a whopping 302hp and pulls like a locomotive with the slightest pressure on the gas pedal. It also averages 32mpg overall, which I love.

It stickered for $46,875 and I leased it for $1,000 down (which included the first payement) and $358/month (with all taxes/fees included) for 36 months with 12k miles per year allowed. The only transmission available on my model is an 8-speed automatic and it is the best 'slushbox' I've ever experienced. It always seems to be in the right gear and all it takes is a slight increase in pressure on the pedal to prompt a multi-gear downshift. But when I drive some rental cars (a recent Dodge Durango and Chevy Malibu rental come to mind), the performance of the auto-box drives me insane. The Durango's 300hp V6 had enough power to mask the sloppy transmission performance much of the time. But it had a nasty habit of only downshifting from 8th to 7th when I needed a quick burst of power. Then I would floor the gas, nothing would happen for several seconds then it would slam into 3rd or 4th (from 8th) and make a lot of noise but not that much acceleration. The Malibu actually felt like it used molasses rather than ATF (fluid) because it lingered between shifts and they were the antithesis of crisp or firm. It was truly a slushbox.

But an automatic done right isn't all that bad! I've toyed with the idea of buying another Mazda3 for commuting duty and the new ones actually get better fuel economy AND accelerate slightly quicker than the manual trans!?

Time007 said...

I got an Abarth 2015 AT. It costs about $1-$1.5 K more. I've driven the manual, its got 5 more HP than mine, though my AT has more torque (go figure).

Well anyways, I have the auto-stick feature and it works fine when I autocross. (fun is relative and i'm sure its more fun to have a manual cruising around with no cars anywhere, but again as somoene mentioned, a manual IS NOT as fun as an automatic in traffic.

different strokes for different folks, because flappy paddles make some manual ppl happy, others demand the 3rd pedal.

pro racers dont even use a clutch anymore and are clutchless, but amateur racers and autocross people are mostly driving MTs. So pros drive clutchless, amateurs want clutch. stop and go traffic people want ATs, the list goes on.

my point is, there are pros and cons to both. fun is relative and situational. of course driving on a track and having a blast for 1% of your driving time in a manual is cool, but if 99% of your time is spent in a different setting, maybe the AT is right for you.

if you have a 45 minute commute to work with little traffic, then yeah a manual might be cool. if you live in a city and have traffic jams all days, then its might not be as cool.

do i wish i got the MT? not really because i use autostick in autocross. i shift it into 2nd and the transmission is sophisticated where it holds the gear unless i come to a complete stop, then it will make me shift down, but it will hold on hairpins and u-turns and corners. my AT even blips and pops even when i'm in both in autostick, and full auto. so research the AT transmission you want to buy. the jaguar f-type R v8 is boss and is only sold in auto. same with the hellcat and z06. so some AT's are super sophisticated and not to be confused with a slushbox from the 80s, 90s and economy cars we have nowadays.