Manual Vs. Automatic Transmission: Which Is Better?

April 15, 2022

What's going on everyone? Today, we'll be talking about manuals versus automatics for your car's transmission - this is an endless debate and it seems to be the source of solid memes, with your typical fans on both sides of the aisle, just like Console vs. PC, Coke vs. Pepsi, etc.

You'll hear it the loudest from manual drivers, saying that stickshift cars are more fun to drive, better for handling, and all else you might've heard. But are manuals truly better, and is a manual worth it over an automatic when you're looking at buying a car?

At first, we car guys must know the answer to this - of course, manuals are the path of the chosen one, and automatics are for babies. But then we started thinking about automatics and how far they've actually come, especially in recent years, and it's obvious that this is a topic worth talking about. So, let's talk about it!

 

Table Of Contents:

-Defining Manual and Automatic Car Transmissions

-Why Drive With a Manual Gearbox?

-Performance Advantages With Manual Transmission

-Advantages Of Driving With An Automatic Transmission

-Are There Any New Cars That Are Available With True Manual Transmissions?

-Why Are Manual Transmission Cars Becoming So Expensive?

-Are Manual Transmissions Worth It Over Automatics?

 

Defining Manual and Automatic Car Transmissions

First, let's define what we mean by "manual," and also what we mean by "automatic," because technology over the last 20 years has honestly blurred the lines between the two quite a bit.

To us, a manual has to have a clutch - that's the third pedal that you see in all those cringey T-shirts, memes, and stickers that say "Real men use three pedals." So, a manual has three pedals. An automatic doesn't have a third pedal, just two. But this is where things get weird - we have crazy gearboxes now where you can click through the gears using fancy, sometimes even carbon-fiber levers behind the steering wheel. Top Gear famously calls these "flappy paddle gearboxes," which is terminology that we love. For the sake of today, though, flappy paddles are still automatics. No third pedal means an automatic.

Why Drive With a Manual Gearbox?

So, why in the world would you want a manual gearbox anyways? Aren't we advanced enough to have gears selected for us in a day and age where we can have someone do our shopping for us with the push of a button?

Well, the reason that car purists fall back to manuals is the fact that you really feel more connected to the car with a manual. Man and machine become one with a manual gearbox - are you the car, or is the car you? Nobody really knows at that point - what we do know is that a manual makes you feel more involved in the driving experience. You're controlling when to shift, and you've got a full-body workout with your arms and legs, pulling and pushing and getting everything timed just right. It's just a lot of fun.

With this control also comes great responsibility, though, because you can absolutely money shift when using a stick. An example of a money shift, if you're unaware, is usually when you're going from second to third gear and you actually put it from second into first. We call that a no-boy-no move because you can jack your drivetrain badly if you drive a manual wrong.

2020 Nissan 370Z with Aodhan DS02 wheels and BC Racing coilovers

Performance Advantages With Manual Transmission

Also with total control, you have a ton of performance advantages as well, like when you're drifting - you should absolutely have a manual to do that best. When doing any sort of racing as well, having the control of the car and the ability to really stay within the power band and feather the club when needed can be a huge advantage. Also, it's just stupid fun when you're on the track and you have that control and you're involved with the car in that way.

Advantages Of Driving With An Automatic Transmission

Let's jump over to automatics now. Why in the world would you want one? After all, we just went through all the cool stuff with a manual, and frankly, CVT transmissions, in particular, are just bad. They can be trash and not as fun for an enthusiast - looking at you, Nissan. We love you, but they're horrible.

Automatic transmissions can be great though, especially for applications like drag racing. There are guys out there running insane quarter-mile times that are only possible with the lightning-quick shifting of an automatic. A human just can't be that quick, plain and simple - unless you're the Flash, there's no argument.

Also, in our classification of automatic transmissions, flappy paddle gearboxes can be really fun if they're done right. On the Nissan GT-R, for example, automatic driving feels just like a big Maxima - easy to drive, comfortable, and perfect to just turn your brain off and enjoy. Clicking through the gears in manual mode is also fun because you're immediately going fast with absolutely no effort. That same principle can apply to the track as well as the street, as you can get those lap times down and prevent any awful money shifts or missed shifts that we talked about with manuals. There's not really any margin for error with flappy paddle gearboxes.

Are There Any New Cars That Are Available With True Manual Transmissions?

What about the cars, though? Not all of them come in both, so you don't have the option of choosing between a manual or an automatic, which is kind of dumb. Some cars are only available in either automatic or manual, like the new Supra - that was a big deal, and the fact that it didn't debut in a manual was honestly crazy to some people; these are the kinds of things that can cause huge rifts in the car community.

The Type R is available for sale right now in only manual - this might change for the next generation, but it goes to show how people are liking new automatics with the flappy paddle gearboxes - stupid flappy paddle.


Read More: Is A Civic Type R Worth Buying Over a Civic Si?


Why Are Manual Transmission Cars Becoming So Expensive?

Manual swapping is pretty darn common, and something a lot of people do to cars that are automatics. The reverse, of course, isn't so popular without some major technology and a huge bank account. Right now in 2022, manual transmission cars are tending to fetch a higher premium over their automatic counterparts with the same type of car. Let's look at one example here, in the Lexus IS300 - the factory manual versions are kind of rare, but they're going for absolutely stupid prices right now compared to their automatic versions.

Let's also take a look at Mustangs and Z's, and you see the same trend, with manuals fetching a higher price on the used car market. This is happening because true factory manual cars are becoming much less common, though we're starting to see a resurgence of manual enthusiast cars, and we love it.


Read More: How to Mod Your Nissan 350Z


Are Manual Transmissions Worth It Over Automatics?

To answer the question posed in this piece, yes, 100%. A manual is definitely worth it over an automatic, purely thanks to the control you have and how involved you are in the driving process with a manual car. Swapping into a different clutch or changing to a lighter flywheel makes the car feel so much more different, and makes every stop-and-go adventure in traffic that much more fun. You can really change how the car feels with just a few parts and change the driving experience too.

We really enjoy where automatics have come from where they started, but it just isn't the same. The ability to scream through gears with your foot on the floor is fun, but there's nothing like dumping the clutch, lighting up the rear tires, and getting the perfect rev match that you did - not a computer.

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