Sadly, fewer Americans learn to drive stick shifts each year, the sales figures of manual-shifting cars continue to dwindle, and the skill of rowing through the gears is fast becoming a lost art. Manual transmissions are disappearing from entire market segments. Today, they’re mostly found in only smaller or sporty cars.
Our tests show that there remains a performance difference between automatics and manuals. One example is our tested Volkswagen Jetta TDI. It was equipped with a dual-clutch six-speed automated manual gearbox, technology that is touted to be very efficient. Thus equipped, the Jetta returned 33 mpg overall in our tests. However, when we later tested a Golf TDI equipped with a conventional six-speed manual, it got 38 mpg overall--matching the fuel economy of Honda’s CVT-equipped Insight hybrid.
But the extra 5 mpg is not the entire difference. Opting for the manual made the car quicker, more fun to drive, and about $1,000 cheaper than the automatic. (The Golf is a hatchback version of the Jetta, and our test cars weighed in within 75 lbs. of each other).
And it isn’t just diesels that benefit. We have tested several similarly equipped vehicles--identical all except for the choice of transmission. (The Mini Cooper/Clubman was the exception; the Clubman is a bit longer and heavier, but both had the same engine.) As the table below shows, getting a manual can yield big improvements acceleration and fuel economy.
|Model||Fuel economy overall-manual||Fuel economy overall-automatic||0-60 mph (sec)-manual||0-60 mph (sec)-automatic|
|Ford Focus SES||29||26||9.0||10.1|
|Honda Accord LX-P (4-cyl.)||26||23||8.4||9.8|
|Honda Civic EX||31||28||8.6||10.1|
|Subaru Forester 2.5X||24||22||9.1||10.4|
There are downsides to stick shifts. Congested traffic conditions can make rowing a manual and working a clutch pedal a tedious chore. Manual transmissions do have a learning curve, but like riding a bike, it becomes natural after a few days. While starting out on hills can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, many modern manuals have a hill-holder function so you don’t roll backwards.
So if you are looking to shave some money off the purchase price of your new car, save fuel, and have a more enthusiastic driving experience, consider doing the shifting yourself with a manual transmission. Buying making this choice, you will help save the manuals.—Jake Fisher