Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is It Time To End My Manual Transmission Obsession?

Is it time to end the stick shift obsession?
 By Andy Lilienthal

I've never seriously considered owning a car with an automatic transmission. Having a stick shift has been a requisite for every automobile I've ever purchased. It might be an obsession. I'm the guy who visits craigslist and ticks the box for manual transmission. I'm the guy who visits car lots only looking for cars with stick shifts. I've jokingly said that I'd gladly own a car with an automatic ... if I lost my left leg. I'm a die-hard, shift-it-yourself guy. 

But am I being dumb? Is it time to get over my stick shift obsession?
It's getting harder and harder to find cars with manual transmissions, especially cars I actually want. This goes for new and used vehicles. This isn't really a surprise. Last time I checked, there was a 6% take rate for manual transmission cars, so 94% of all the cars sold recently have an automatic. It's a bit of a needle/haystack scenario. Maybe it's time to just suck it up. I mean, sure, most cars are more fun with a stick. But what if all (most?) of the cars I like can only be had with an auto? What if they're actually better with an auto? Is that even possible?

Case in point. I loved the 2016 Smart Fortwo I recently reviewed. It was agile, peppy, and fun to drive, despite the fact it had an automatic; in this case, a twin-clutch auto. It shifted quickly and smoothly. Probably faster than I could shift. 

Then there's the 4x4 scenario. Say I wanted to upgrade the Sidekick to something that had a bit more power, a bit more comfort, and a bit more safety (you know, like having airbags), solidity, and well, waterproofing (yes, the hardtop leaks a bit). And say I wanted to pull something a tad bit heavier than my Dinoot trailer. A 2005+ Suzuki Grand Vitara would be a great choice, but I want low range 4WD, so it's automatic only. But should that be roadblock into what could be a fantastic vehicle otherwise? Should it be a deal breaker?
But there are so many vehicles that are cool, but unfortunately attached to automatics. Maybe I just need to succumb to the automatic.

If I had been OK with an automatic, we wouldn't have dismissed choices like the Scion iQ or Nissan Juke (well, Mercedes might, as she isn't a fan of its looks). Plus, if I was OK with an automatic, it'd open up a whole world of vehicles so saddled with an "autotragic" trans. I could easily find first-gen RAV4s, Chevrolet Trackers; the Kia Rio 5 Door would be an option to buy, and it'd be much easier to simply find the car I want.

Maybe it's time to end this obsession. It's not like I have to give up all of my manual transmission-equipped vehicles if I did decided to go to the dark side ... er ... the automatic side. (Sorry, force of habit. Holy crap, I think that was a Star Wars pun ...) I might actually enjoy it, right? I drive plenty of automatics for my review cars and don't cry out in despair—WHY GOD, WHY? I CANNOT DRIVE THESE SELF-SHIFTING CARS ANY LONGER! It simply doesn't happen. However, occasionally, I actually think it might be nice to have something with an auto. I still think most small cars are more fun to drive with a manual, especially the lower-powered ones, such as the Chevy Spark or Mitsubishi Mirage. So maybe I'd only consider certain vehicles with an automatic.

My dad always had manuals, and maybe there's something to that; a feeling like I'm not carrying on this obsessive-compulsive shifting behavior. Then again, maybe I need to just suck it up, buy the car that would really fit my lifestyle, even if I need to leave the shifting to someone else. Did you hear that? I think my dad may have just rolled in is grave.

Until I need to make my next car buying decision, however, I'll keep my foot near the clutch, and my right hand on the shifter. I definitely love the manual transmission, but perhaps I'm starting to question our monogamous relationship. 


Pecci said...

There is no way I will ever drive an auto. tranny car. The way I look at it ... as the manuals disappear in the market, so do my choices. An easy way to whittle down the choices for me.

Barry Traylor said...

I own both a car with a manual and another with auto (my wife refuses to learn the manual and I want to keep her around). To be honest living on the east coast it ain't a lot of fun creeping along in a traffic jam with the manual.

Anonymous said...

For last 3 years I had auto, not because I wanted, because of it was shared car. Now I got a new car for myself. And guess what it is NOT an automatic.
Auto trans has become a symbol of instilling laziness into americans, alongside with Iphoe, Iwatch Ieverything. Just wait few years, people will hype about driverless cars...


Pecci said...

Yes, driving has become less fun for those that enjoy it. The government restrictions and requirements etc. are taking our passion away.

Unknown said...

Otoh, cars are far more competent and faster.

bluesun said...

When I set out to buy a Fit, I was really wanting to get a manual, but it seems, at least for the 2016 model year, they just aren't making any LX's with a stick. The more I thought about it and read about it, the more I thought that I could live with the CVT. My reasoning was, I do most of my driving commuting to work on the highway, and with the Fit the manual has some weird gear choices so you're somewhere around 3,500 rpm at 75 mph, where with the CVT it's at around 2,000. Then, as I've got really long legs, the manual is just more cramped. I could have upgraded to the EX, and indeed I test drove a manual EX, but I hated the touchscreen headunit. So given those factors, I decided that I'd rather compromise on the transmission than anything else. It's still quite a bit more fun to drive than my big truck that I was driving everywhere, so maybe my perspective is skewed from someone who's coming at it from the other end, but I'm still really happy with it.

nlpnt said...

They'll have to pry my clutch pedal out from under my cold, dead left foot.

Well, OK, *maybe* a suitably cheap/high range/fun full electric will win me over but I'll still shift into N at stoplights (unless it lets me program zero creep in D and why don't DCTs/CVTs do that now?). MAYBE.

Socarboy said...

The new 2016 Toyota Tacoma isn't even available with a manual. It's like "the final nail in the coffin" for the small traditional Japanese pickup

Andy Lilienthal said...

Actually the new Tacoma us available with a manual. Maybe not in all areas byt in the Pacific Northwest we had a V6 manual in our shop at my day job. I went and saw it and sat in it.

Andy Lilienthal said...

Actually the new Tacoma us available with a manual. Maybe not in all areas byt in the Pacific Northwest we had a V6 manual in our shop at my day job. I went and saw it and sat in it.

Unknown said...

At last auto show there wasn't an option for V6 Taco. I was pleasantly surprised when I learned V6 can be had with manual...Thumbs up.

Andy said...

Andy hit the nail on the head

I'm in the market for a 2-3 year old Subaru Outback, Impreza or Crosstrek. Only interested in sticks. I use auto trader, 200 mile radius from Duluth, MN. One page for all three models. And five of 'em were new.

Forgot to check the "manual" box on a search one day. Bam, 7 pages of those three Subarus between $10,000 and $22,000.

Really got me thinking if I should throw in the towel and settle for a CVT. Nah. Not going to. Even in traffic, I like that engagement with the car.

I've turned into my Dad. We were the last people in town to get color TV. And he didn't get rid of the rotary phone until he had to.

nlpnt said...

@socarboy: Toyota's online configurator is infamous for showing only what dealers have in stock near you rather than all the possibilities.

@Andy (not Lilienthal): Try going up to 5-6 years old. My theory is that people who buy manuals are mainly *buyers* rather than lessees and pretty much never fleets, so they keep them longer. Although a coworker is leasing a stick Honda Fit.

Pyr Sheps said...

Don't give up!! Every time a manual transmission driver gives up and changes camp, they are confirming to the dealerships that nobody wants manual anyway, and they are the ones buying cars off the manufacturers in the US (it's different overseas), so this in turn tells manufacturers that there is no demand for manual versions.

I have been trying to replace my current car for three years now, and my list was rather short: I wanted a crossover or small SUV with manual transmission, a sunroof, beige heated leather seats, and all wheel drive.

I really like the look of the Nissan Juke, alas the manual is only available without AWD and heated seats, and only black seats at that, and if i buy it new this year, i can't even have a sunroof. The worst, though, is that in the past 3 years, every time i checked, there was no manual Juke that I could test drive in a 100 mile radius arond me. It's insane.

I also like the Fiat 500x, but the manual version that is presumably available (but really not, because nobody ever has it in stock, and they will only order it for you if you give them a down payment first), only comes in FWD, with black cloth unheated seats and no sunroof. What the heck?!

So then I lowered my expectations for cuteness and tried to test drive a Mazda CX5, which, again, nobody has in manual around me and is only available in, you guessed it, FWD, black cloth unheated seats.

To make a 3 year long story short: my only options were to get a Mini Countryman or something with manual AWD and try to have the dealership add the heated leather seats and sunroof afterwards. Manual AWD in a crossover is only available on the Jeep Renegade and the Subaru Crosstrek. So I ordered a Subaru. Never even considered the brand until I pretty much had no choice. I almost got the Mini, but it appears to be unreliable and i did not feel like getting a car that needs premium gas. The Renegade's motor was too underpowered.

Sure, I would have had many many choices if I drove automatic, but then I'd be one more driver telling dealershipts and manufacturers that we don't need manual options in the US :(

Anonymous said...

I struggle to convince people that my '08 Grand Vitara is a fun vehicle to drive. But, DAMNIT!!!, Manual transmission???!!! I'm the sort of driver who thrills at the thought of getting a new vehicle at a huge discount. Manual transmissions are usually up to $1500.00 bucks cheaper. So I nearly shit myself when local Suzuki dealers advertised inventory at $7,000.00 off MSRP.

I'm currently shopping for a Forester. The 2.5i looks promising. But I've got this nagging feeling that I'll regret trading in the GV. Should I forego the stick for a turbo version 2.0 XT Forester? (I'm thinking NO) The other option is to keep the GV and buy a second vehicle with a stick. A WRX STI maybe. These and other intriguing factors yet to be determined.

As cathartic as it is to post my thoughts online, ultimately the anxiety and indecision will haunt me in my sleep. At this point I'm leaning towards the manual STI.