The Manual Transmission: “I Ain’t Dead, Yet”


Don’t drink beer out of green bottles, don’t forget to stretch, and always remember to write your grandmother a thank-you note. Along with these basic rules for success, when researching new cars, I’ve always eliminated options that were available only with automatic transmissions. Car enthusiasts argue over almost every imaginable detail, save this one. Perhaps it has to do with their beloved “involvement” with the machines that they adore, but manual transmissions have long been a unanimous preference for card-carrying members of the local gearhead union.

Unfortunately, automatics have not-so-slowly begun to dominate the market, with many manufacturers dropping manual transmissions altogether. Acura, for instance, no longer produces a car with a manual transmission. The company that brought us the Integra GS-R and Type R—enthusiast favorites available only with row-your-own 5-speeds—now utilizes only 6-, 8-, and 9-speed automatics. Likewise, Mercedes-Benz, maker of the legendary 190E and its dog-leg 5-speed, now produces only slushbox-equipped luxury autos. Lexus is another—from the CVT in the CT 200h to the 8-speed auto in the RC F—no manual transmissions are anywhere in sight. Like a gearhead’s beloved 400,000-mile ‘86 Jetta, it appears the stick shift has run its course.

Corolla Ad

Or has it? While I was leafing through the latest car magazine to reach my mailbox, one particular advertisement got me thinking. The car in question, a 2016 Toyota Corolla, has never really been considered a vehicle focused on driver engagement, instead focusing (and succeeding) on representing Toyota’s commitment to economy and reliability. So, in trying to sell shoppers on the Corolla’s potential sportiness, what did Toyota emphasize? A manual transmission. “Clutch in. Boredom out.” The ad read, “The 2016 Corolla brings even more excitement to your drive, thanks to an available 6-speed manual transmission.”

Advertising campaigns aren’t cheap, and the ideas behind them are rarely half-baked. Toyota has identified the manual transmission as an option capable of attracting buyers, and has decided to actively promote that option. Likewise, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we learned this past fall that Porsche will begin selling a 911 R, equipped with the naturally aspirated engine from the GT3 and, you guessed it, a manual transmission. Between the marketing value of manual transmissions for cars like the Corolla and the potential for manuals to become specialty options in high-end vehicles like the Porsche 911, maybe the stick shift isn’t dead after all.

Do you still think manuals are on the path to extinction?

-Matt Smith

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