When I was little, I rode in the back of our 1971 240z. I would sit right in the middle, so my view was right between the seats. I mimicked my parents as they rowed through the gears. At the time, I didn’t really know what I was doing. What I did know was that the Z was fast and fun and the family Buick wasn’t. Even though the back of the Buick was more comfortable than sitting on the floor of a hatchback, I always preferred the Z.
When I was 13, my dad taught me how to use the third pedal. It amazes me how many people my age don’t know how to drive a stick. When asked, most of them reply that there’s no need. Maybe they’re right, but it sure feels wrong. At this point, the majority of cars on the road have an automatic (at least in the U.S.), and I suppose that’s a good reason to not bother with it. When I was 15, I was talking to my friend Jimmy about being able to drive soon. I expressed that I couldn’t wait to get my own car and that it had to have a manual. He said “Not me! Way too complicated. I want just two pedals: one to go, one to stop.” I was dumbfounded.
As I drive through traffic, it’s apparent that most other drivers feel the same way. “I need to drive north. That road goes north. Push pedal, go. Push pedal, stop. Arrive.” The fastest way to get from point A to point B may be a straight line, but it’s probably not the most interesting. I feel the same way about that third pedal.
I have used many excuses when explaining my preference: better gas mileage, reliability, cost. While those initial reasons have basically disappeared with technological advances, my desire to drive a stick remains. Now, I’ve finally figured out the real advantage. The reason I think everyone should drive a manual transmission is that it forces you to pay closer attention to what you’re doing on the road. If you have to select the gear yourself and engage the engine with the transmission with the clutch, you can’t help but be more in touch with driving. And yet, that’s not why I prefer it.
Objectively, a car’s computer does a better technical job handling the shifting. In the same way, computers could technically be considered “better” at performing music, playing Jeopardy, and many other things that we imperfect humans do. But would you rather hear Cocaine performed by Eric Clapton or Computer Watson? Could a digital photograph be as popular as the Mona Lisa? Subjectively, computers suck.
As someone who is passionate about cars, I want to be immersed in the experience. Sure, I usually have the radio on, and I like my car with ABS, stability control, and airbags, but I really need to have a physical connection with the car. When I have the radio on, it’s usually to distract me from road rage. When I’m not commuting, I often like to drive silently. I like to listen to the engine rev, I like hearing the tires scrub, and I like to hear all of the mechanicals working. If it wasn’t for safety, my ideal car would be front engine, rear-wheel-drive, manual transmission, no power steering, and no power brakes. As it is, I can at least have a manual transmission.
For me, it is imperative that I am pushing in the clutch pedal, feeling the shifter gently pop into gear, squeezing the throttle, letting out the clutch until I feel the friction point, and lightly letting the clutch slip until the flywheel and clutch match speeds. Then, a few short seconds later, I get to do it all over again. And again. Thanks to the heel-toe technique, slowing down is equally entertaining.
Many “manumatic” transmissions exist, including “automated manuals” and “automatics with manual shifting,” but they are not manual. They are oxymorons. It cannot be “manual” if it is, in any way, “automatic.” They do not give the same satisfying emotional feeling. Really, when it comes down to it, every time I shift, I am transported back to being the kid in the back of that Z. If you prefer a manual transmission, what do you love about it?