On my drive home from work today I passed a new Nissan GTR, which got me thinking about the age-old debate: manual (“stick-shift” to any North Americans reading this) or automatic? Of course, the Nissan GTR actually has both fully automatic and semi-automatic “paddle-shift” transition modes, and as a supercar whose least powerful model still puts out an almighty 419 kilowatts of power you have good reason to want to keep both hands on the steering wheel. Of course in such high power vehicles dual clutch transmissions (always auto or semi-auto) are nearly essential; the greatest limiting factor to acceleration times would otherwise be the driver’s shifting technique, reaction speed, and judgement.
But, outside the statistic-obsessed world of performance automobiles, the debate rages on. Even in my household growing up my dad always drove manual cars (as do around 80% of Europeans, or so a cursory google search tells me) whereas my mum won’t get behind the wheel of anything with a gearstick (a sentiment clearly shared by the majority of Americans; statistics suggest as many as 96% of cars on roads in the USA are automatic, a degree of homogeneity I must confess I struggle to fathom within the context of such a significant and competitive market in such a large populace).
The truth is that there is no right answer other than personal preference, which will depend on a colossal range of factors. Having personally driven both types of transmission, my preference – as a commuter and keen driving enthusiast – is manual transmission. My reasoning for this choice is a very simple and primitive one: it is a part of the driving experience I really enjoy. As I have previously discussed at some length, the thing I love most about driving is the sense of freedom and control that it brings me, and this extends in part to my control over the mechanical chariot itself. There is something especially satisfying about a particularly smooth gear change, whilst the frustration of an accidentally (or over-ambitiously) skipped gear or poor shift – and the resulting sluggish acceleration or jarring deceleration – only serve to reinforce the idea that driving a manual car requires a degree of skill eliminated by the automatic gearbox. Something about having to change gear myself, requiring attention to be paid to the feeling of the motor and demanding the physical involvement of all four limbs, just makes the driving experience feel more symbiotic.