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Standard vs. Automatic

EDIT: 19Nov13, 2117
So, I originally asked if there were true advantages to a manual transmission. That’s because I didn’t know the subject like “pound for pound” (which sounds like the title of a Biggest Loser episode to me) asked the same question. So, I’ve read some of those responses. But, still looking for any feedback on these paddle/clutchless things out there…

I’m shopping for a new car. I currently drive a standard, I generally like cars with over 200 horsepower, I’m looking for a mid-size to full-size sedan and I live in NY (lots of snow, slush, and such). I like the control that a manual transmission gives me to downshift around curves, ramp it up quickly when I’m trying to punch forward, and particularly in snowy conditions. Being able to downshift in order to slow down instead of using my brakes in snow or on ice is priceless to me.

The problem is, it seems like the availability of a manual transmission out there is getting pretty darn slim!! Getting a manual transmission as the Standard option is almost nonexistent and getting it as an available option is very slim. Many cars, however, have some form of “paddle” shifting or “clutchless” shifting of some sort. I’ve never driven one.

So, here are my two questions:

  1. Are there any real, true advantages to manual transmission over automatic transmission, or am I just being biased?

  2. How do these “clutchless” or “paddle” shifters compare to a manual transmission, or to an automatic? Are they really worth anything or just a gimmick to make people feel like they’re in an arcade?

I can think of three reasons to prefer a manual transmission.

  1. We manual-o-philes can keep the engine/transmission in its optimum power range for the situation. Keeps the ride smooth, and it provides an additional margin of safety; we are in a position to quickly accelerate out of a developing traffic problem, should that be helpful. No matter how smart an automatic transmission is, it isn’t as smart as us. Only we can see what’s happening around us, and only we know what we want to do, where we want to go, and how we want to get there.

  2. Comparing configurations sporting the same fuel economy, the manual transmission version will usually yield a faster 0-60 time.

  3. Manuals are more forgiving, requiring less maintenance. What’s in a manual transmission anyway? Just a bunch of hardened gears, 2 or 3 shafts, and gear oil. Compared to automatics, manuals rarely need to be rebuilt. The biggest expense a manual transmission gives to the car owner – for most folks anyway – is an occasional clutch job. Much less expensive and time consuming than rebuilding an automatic transmission.

You’ll want to try out new cars with paddle shifters, see how you like them. There’s no answer that we can give that addresses your particular wants and needs.

Texases – true, you’re not going to know my personal preferences. But I’m sure people out there who have driven them have opinions on them. That’s what I’m curious about - maybe someone will have some insight I wouldn’t have thought about on my own.

Well, then I’ll disagree with 1 and 2 above, automatics are now typically faster and equal or better economy, and can react more quickly to changes in throttle than a person with a clutch.

I drove an MR-2 several thousand miles not long ago and I was impressed with the paddle shift. It didn’t have the response of a manual with its direct mechanical drive train but neither did it have the problems of operating a clutch in heavy traffic or double clutching to downshift. The paddle shift may replace the standard transmission on all but the really high performance cars. Possibly even them. Or do Ferrari and Aston Martin already have it?

Actually, you can’t buy most Aston Martins or Ferraris or Lamborghinis with a manual, only dual clutch automatics.

There is definitely no advantage to downshifting too aggressively in slippery conditions with a manual. You loose the effectiveness of abs and you can equally down shift with an auto. I like a manual but am mature enough to understand they are more for control freaks as computer controlled autos are more often in the best gear for the situation.

Paddle shifter will allow you to chose your gear manually. The difference especially in snow and ice is the paddle shifted auto trans engages harshly. With a true manual you can slip the clutch when needed. This can be a huge advantage in slippery conditions.

" In our tests, we’ve found that a stick shift can improve gas mileage by a notable 2 to 5 mpg, compared with an automatic transmission, and can cut a car’s price by $800 to $1,200.

Manual transmissions also improve acceleration, sometimes significantly."

It probably varies car to car. If you search on the web, there are some Porsches that get both improved mpg AND better 0-60 times with an automatic compared to the manual version. And maybe things have chanced since Feb 2013, but back then Consumer Reports tested the following fairly typical everyday-driver cars, and according to what they measured, all of them had better mpg AND faster 0-60 times with a manual transmission compared to the automatic version.

Car-name MPG-Man MPG-Auto 0/60-Man 0/60-Auto

Chevrolet Sonic 30 28 8.9 9.3
Hyundai Accent 32 31 8.5 10.3
Mazda2 Sport/Touring 33 30 10.3 11.1
Mazda 3 i Touring 30 28 8.6 9.4
Mini Cooper/Clubman 33 29 9.1 10.5
Scion xD 34 29 9 9.7
Subaru Forester 2.5X/Premium 24 22 9.1 10.2

All of the various pairs I’ve looked at on show equal or better economy for the automatic, Acura TSX, VW Golf, Mazda 3, and Chevy Cruze. I assume those number are from CR’s tests, which I’ve found to be pretty stringent.

Bottom line, the difference in mpgs is quite small, often to the benefit of the automatic, and is no longer a significant factor.

Interesting. Does the website give the 0-60 times also? edit: The reason I ask is I’ve heard that complaints about auto mpg have caused the manufacturers to detune the automatics -make them slower – in order to improve fuel economy.

Maybe in years past. Now manuals are extremely rare, few cars with both, so no need to alter tuning. And 6 to 8 or more speed ATs have broader speed range than most all MTs. Used to be a 3 speed AT had to be geared short to compete with a MT on acceleration, at the expense of mpgs. Mazda did this frequently.

You made me sea sick just talking about all the shifting and corner turning. I think its time to just give it up and go with the automatic like everyone else has done.

When I pull my trailer, I put it into manual mode for the sake of the transmission. It get pretty irritating after a while shifting all the time. At any rate, when you put it into manual mode, you just push the paddle or shifter up or down to change gears. Mine will go back to first when I stop, and won’t really let you rev too high or downshift too soon to damage anything. Its just essentially to give you a little more control of shift points when you want a firm shift or extra RPM. Just rent one for a day or two.

Wth all due respect, tests be darned !
The difference between autos and manuals is really subjective and totally dependent upon the skill of the driver of the manual transmission. Even if tested differences show a manual is superior in some area, it certainly isn’t true for everyone, nor is it true for even the average driver, few of whom can even drive one.

Mess up just once and jump on the wrong gear of a rwd car in snow and you can go into a skid…while your punching through. Downshift too abruptly in snow in fwd, to slow or accelerate, you loose your steerage. Manual transmissions in fwd cars are for potential longevity and low initial cost only. Any performance advantage in a drive train whose sole purpose is to create more room in the interior and plow through every turn, is an illusion.

Except for an expensive few, the vast majority of today’s sedans ( and nearly ALL those used as examples) are fwd and there is little or no thrill in in driving these mass produced plow horses, manual, paddle shifters or automatics. The illusion is that one fwd with a manual may handle better then another. But, compared to rwd and Awd cars, that’s like saying you own the fastest turdle. It’s still a turdle. The extra weight over the front drive wheels will help the poorly prepared and unskilled driver get going. After that, for most drivers, manuals on most (all) fwd cars are at more of a disadvantage to a computer controlled auto then at an advantage especially when coupled to today’s traction control devices…on all surfaces !

Most of the models I’ve been considering have a negligible difference in mpg between manual and automatic – negligible enough, at least, that I know a few choices to stay in low gear or whatever will make up the gap pretty quickly. The cars I’ve considered that are RWD with an AWD option automatically give up the manual transmission option if you choose AWD – a sad thing given that AWD on a light-weight sedan would be great in the NY snow. Someone linked manual transmissions with immaturity and I guess maybe I’m going to have to agree with it – manual transmissions are just fun, damn it! I like interacting with more in my car than the too-many-buttons center console. But it seems like to get the best variety to choose from, I’m going to have to open my options to AT.

Manuals ARE fun to drive. I’m 60 and still like to drive a manual. And manuals are better in driving in snow. You can control wheel spin easier with a manual. The vehicles I tend to buy because of my towing needs…don’t have a manual option anymore. If they did AND I didn’t have my pop-up…then I’d probably get a manual.

You hit the nail on the head @MikeInNh

Manuals can control wheels spin better. But, for most drivers, that’s NOT a good thing. And manuals ARE better in snow ? Yes, but only if you are skilled vs an unskilled person driving an auto. But, even for the expeienced slippery road goer, traction control devices work better with autos, which makes them…safer. Plus, the off road world gets it. Newer off road vehicles do much better with autos where traction is at a preminum then with standards. Manuals are fun to drive…absolutely, for you and me. But they ain’t for the white knuckled, fearful winter driver who looks at snow as something to be feared and not enjoyed.

Give me an Awd car with an auto and I can go through a set of pylons faster in a snow covered parking lot then almost ANY other average driver can with a standard version of the same car. Will they have more fun careening off the marks ? Sure ! Autos and two foot driving is vastly superior in cornering in driving in snow.

The inexpensive, Awd Subaru Impreza…with a manual transmission, may just be your thing ! Manuals are available in nearly all Subaru models except the largest SUVs. They cost very little more, are nearly as efficient as many fwd models and are as reliable as nearly all other cars. And, they love snow fun.

I like to keep things simple as I get older. I love manual shift vehicles but I would never buy another one.

Historically the main disadvantage of the automatic has been the fluid-coupled torque converter.
Its slippage reduces acceleration and fuel efficiency.
All modern autos with one have a locking mechanism that can achieve a direct coupling that’s as efficient as a manual.
Earlier “lockup” converters didn’t engage until the transmission shifted into top gear at ~40mph and the vehicle cruised at light to moderate throttle, so in stop-and-go city driving there was no advantage.
Newer autos use the lockup more aggressively or have eliminated the converter altogether.

That said I still prefer a manual because there’s a lot of teenagers stealing cars in my town.
I’ve owned 2 automatics ('76 Nova, '85 Accord) and they were both stolen.
Anti-theft systems are much better now so maybe my next car will have an auto.