Save the manuals? Not for Ian…

Ian Wright runs the motoring blog, Both Hand Drive. He’s a man with many opinions. This is one of them. 

I wonder if someone that learned to drive in a vintage car ever wrote to a motoring publication with the view:

“Three pedals and one lever is way to easy. I like to feel the man and machine connection by mastering the timing of synchronised movements between my left foot, right hand, left hand and right foot while trying to steer at the same time. It’s no wonder there are so many accidents when you consider people don’t even have to concentrate on driving because they don’t need to alter the air/fuel mixes  themselves when changing speeds!”

Manual transmission – a thing of the past?

Now, I’ll grant you that the “move with times you’ll not miss it” point of view is a little obvious and obnoxious. I simply can’t argue against the great joy in controlling the gear box with a fairly simple mechanical connection. I’ve no doubt that there will still be some more analogue cars built around a stick shift for the purist, the playful and those that love the challenge. However we are now in an age where many cars drive-trains are not built around a manual transmission. And that makes for some contradictions being typed into comment boxes across the internet by the hardcore manual gearbox fetishists.

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The contradiction is in those people holding onto the idea of stick shift as the be-all and end-all of motoring perfection. They are also the same people salivating over technologies such torque vectoring and adaptive suspension. These technologies are becoming commonplace. They genuinely cause the car to require less skill and understanding to drive at any pace. The computer will dial out to a large degree the pressing need to understand the surface you are on, and dial out oversteer and torque steer for you.

Let’s take the darling of the automotive world at the moment, the Ford Focus RS. If you visit Fords introductory webpage on the car you will find this statement:

“… the Ford Performance All-Wheel-Drive System intelligently distributes power for maximum benefit, both front and rear as well as left and right.

Manual transmission – do we still need it?

That’s basically the computer and associated technology controlling the entire dynamics of the cars handling. It’s adapting to the conditions you are driving in, thus removing a fair amount of responsibility of control of the car. The same applies with the simpler pure front wheel drive Focus and Fiesta ST models. All this amazing computer controlled technology is designed to turn the car into a precise handling instrument.

Yet people want to depress a pedal, move a lever, then release the pedal every time they want the car to change gear. Many want to add a blip of the throttle on the downshift with the same foot that is doing the braking. Yet at the same time, the computer is deciding when and how much braking to apply on different corners. And how much to split the power between the front and rear of the car to keep it stable and maximise grip.

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At that point driving a stick shift is nothing but an illusion of control.

Now, I’m down for doing things for fun in a car designed to put a smile upon my face. Like the ST model Fords, for example. But the disdain shown when any popular car comes out with no stick shift option is most often nothing short of absurd. On top of that it’s inevitably shown by people that haven’t driven the car and were never going to buy a new model in the first place.

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Manual transmission – what’s the future?

At this point I’m sure there are engineers in all over the world absolutely baffled that these amazing cars they have designed to drive and handle beautifully are being slammed in website comment sections because people are demanding an archaic form of control over the gearbox. It must be all kinds of frustrating that instead of the slick finger controlled masterpiece the entire drivetrain is based around, the loud people want to disengage drive with a foot pedal and remove their hand from the steering wheel to move a lever instead.

So where does that leave us?

It actually leaves us in a place where we have cars serious about their performance and looking to give people something exhilarating to drive based on current technology. And it’s getting a bit weird to keep trying to impose a contrivance that is tottering over the brink and into becoming old school technology.

What do you think?

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