Clash of the Transmissions – Manual or Automatic?

“Work smarter—not harder.” or “Hard work pays off.” Which one is right?

by | Jun 27, 2019 | Features & Trends

Photo Credit: Elias Garcia

Clash of the Transmissions – Manual or Automatic?

“Work smarter—not harder.” or “Hard work pays off.” Which one is right?

by | Jun 27, 2019 | Features & Trends

Photo Credit: Elias Garcia

No one likes manual labor. Why perform something yourself when you can have a machine perform the tasks for you? Need to dig a large hole? Why use a shovel? Large machinery will do it for you! I’ve always been the type to think, “Work smarter—not harder.” My father on the other hand has always said, “Hard work pays off.” Which one of us is right?

When it comes to driving, I’ll need to side with my father on this one. Now I know this will start a huge internet fire, but hear me out: I prefer manual transmissions over automatics. 

With all of the automatic innovations, why would I still want a manual? Even with VW’s superior DSG system, VW is currently offering a manual in their latest performance trim Jetta. They’ve even produced a commercial where the driver doesn’t lock his car because he trusts the third pedal as his anti theft device! And we’ve all seen those news reports where thieves were stopped in their tracks when the car they tried to steal was a manual. 

For me, it’s partially about nostalgia. My first car was a manual transmission, which I drove around the block at 12 years old. (Now that I’m a parent, I realize how incredibly dangerous that joyride was back in the day!) However, I truly believe that learning on a manual made me a safer driver. Driving a manual car is an involved experience, leaving no room for distractions. Even with all the advancements of modern day automatics, they can’t predict what gear you want to be in at that moment. In emergency situations, I’m still able to shift to the gear that I would like, instead of a computer awaiting my throttle input to know what gear would be ideal. In a manual car, your muscle memory knows what to expect when shifting to the gear that you select. 

 Manuals are also typically cheaper than automatics. With newer technology comes higher costs for parts and labor if a repair is in order. Many newer automatics also require more frequent maintenance, which adds to the cost of ownership.

I’ll always choose manuals first and then automatics. Why? I feel more in control and involved in the driving process. My father owned manual vehicles all of his life, up until his latest F-150 purchase. Sure, I poked fun at him for it, but at 84 years old, I don’t blame him for retiring the third pedal. He still has his older, manual F-150 in Nicaragua, which he drives when he’s on vacation. Is it worth switching from manual to automatic? Would I lose any power or control when driving?

Certainly, there are some advantages to today’s more advanced automatics, such as dual-clutch transmissions. Of course, they’re not advanced in the traditional sense, where the vehicle has torque converters. However, this is what many performance vehicles are being equipped with today. If I were to retire the third pedal, I have to be upfront that today’s automatics are a lot more tempting with the significant improvements made in recent years. 

Gone are the days of the slush boxes, hard shifts, and bad fuel economy. It’s a drag race if you were to compare the automatic and manual transmissions in the same modern vehicle. In the past, launching the car off the line is where manual transmissions excelled, but that has changed. Now, the automatic will win the majority of the time.

With manual transmissions, when you shift from first to second gear, you let off the gas, put the clutch in, move the gear selector to 2nd, let off the clutch, and finally, get back on the gas. The dual-clutch automatic system already has 2nd gear ready to be engaged in a matter of milliseconds. I recently tested the new DSG equipped Volkswagen Jetta GLi, and the gear changes are lightning fast! The Volkswagen Auto Group seems to have mastered the dual-clutch system better than other manufacturers.

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With many cars offering their own flavor of launch control, they’re able to load up the automatic transmission similar to having a manual clutch making contact with the flywheel. My brother owns a manual C7 Corvette and we were discussing how his launch control worked. We watched a YouTube video that showcased the process of the automatic launch and the manual launch. Needless to say, the automatic was significantly faster off the line. That alone gave me the realization that it may be time to consider switching to an automatic for the ultimate performance. Regardless of the results, my brother didn’t even begin to doubt his manual decision.

When it comes to fuel economy, the manual option used to offer better miles-per-gallon over their automatic counterparts, but that isn’t the case today. Now, many automatics have both dual-clutch and traditional torque-converter-equipped units. With computers controlling virtually every mechanical component in the vehicle, car companies have been able to program the components to work together more efficiently than ever before. Eco modes, which are virtually a standard feature now, program auto-transmissions to shift at a more efficient RPM range. Let’s not forget that everyone loves an automatic when stuck in the chaos of stop and go traffic.

Although I’m invested in that manual transmission life, I have to admit that the automatics have vastly improved. Would I make the switch? It would depend on the car. Maybe, when I’m older, and if there are self-driving cars, then I’ll retire the third pedal. Until then, I’m ready to continue shifting gears on my own terms with my manual transmission. 

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