To paraphrase Shakespeare: manual or automatic gearbox? That is the question. Until recently this was a question that in very few cases crossed the mind of a car buyer, at least in our market.
Traditionally we have been drivers of cars with manual gearbox helped by a purchase decision conditioned by the scarce supply of automatic gearboxes and their high cost. More and more the automatic side of the scale is gaining weight, so we are going to explain the advantages and disadvantages of manual and automatic gearboxes.
They are more sweet potatoes. Here is the main argument for the popularity of manual transmissions. They have a lower manufacturing cost with price differences that can range between 1,000 and 2,500 euros on average (or even more depending on the type of car), which becomes a decisive element when making the purchase decision.
They have the behavior that the driver wants to give them. Once the driver has got hold of the clutch, the car will behave the way he wants it. The decisions of when and how to change gears, at what revolutions, or how to use the gearbox to take advantage of the engine brake will be the sole and exclusive decision of whoever is behind the wheel.
Greater precision. We are not referring to when to change gear, which will be done autonomously by an automatic gearbox. The precision, understood as the millimeter control that we can give the car with the regulation of the left pedal, is much higher in a manual. Maneuvers at the throttle, on slopes, or especially anticipating changes (or avoiding them) through experience, can only be achieved with a manual.
They provide a mystical plus to driving. The connection between the human being and the car by acting on the gears of the gearbox, therein lies the greatest charm of the manuals and their uncompromising defense of motor enthusiasts. That may be why aspirational cars continue to rely on three-pedal transmissions, although this is also changing.
The manual transmission is doomed to extinction. The emergence of electric cars and autonomous driving is a clear sentence for three-pedal gearboxes. With few exceptions, electric engines lack gears, and any car that considers incorporating any level of autonomous driving forces its manufacturer to use an automatic gearbox.
They are more uncomfortable. The biggest drawback of manual transmissions is the need to always be aware of what is happening to the engine. Luckily, most drivers have it so assimilated that gear changes become instinctive, but there are situations such as traffic jams or complex maneuvers in which the left foot ends up asking for a break.
They are more susceptible to breakdowns. Due to their constructional structure, but above all due to incorrect use, the clutches of manual transmissions have a greater probability of passing through the workshop. Yes, their repairs are generally less expensive, but surely you have ever smelled like a clutch or know of someone who has lost their clutch due to excessive use.
They are more comfortable. There is no discussion when it comes to day-to-day operations. Automatic transmissions are infinitely more pleasant to use, especially if we are drivers who spend a large part of the time in the city or, directly, in traffic. The absence of the third pedal and the gear lever allows us to focus solely on accelerating, braking, and steering the wheel while the left footrests.
They are associated with more and better technology. As we mentioned before, there are a number of driver assistance technologies that stare at autonomous driving, but require an automatic transmission to function. This is the case of intelligent speed controls with stop-start function or automatic emergency braking systems.
They are getting better and better . Historically we have criticized automatic transmissions for their flat performance, for having no soul. Before it was true, with the boring and bland behavior of the typical torque converter. Now the technique has evolved enough that dual-clutch or even modern torque converter gearboxes closely approximate that of a human driver.
They are increasingly widespread. Until a few years ago an automatic gearbox was associated with a type of car with a luxury profile or with certain premium aspirations. Today practically all compacts are offered with optional automatic gearboxes and not only for the most powerful engines in the range. Its popularity is growing as its operation is refined, to the point that it is really difficult to find powerful sports cars or supercars with manual transmissions.
They usually have manual mode. If you want to keep control of the gear shift, don’t worry. The vast majority of automatic gearboxes have an M (manual) or S (sequential) mode with which to decide when to engage a gear more or less through the lever or the paddles located behind the steering wheel.
More expensive maintenance. Despite the fact that their maintenance periods are more spaced (especially those of torque converter), automatic transmissions raise the bill when they have to go through the workshop. They have more moving parts and much more electronics, which increases the cost of repair.
Higher consumption. Automatic transmissions, on average, consume slightly more than manual ones. This figure is gradually approaching thanks to the advancement of technology and even in Volkswagen’s DSG transmissions lower consumptions are announced thanks to a more continuous push, without interruptions of push between gears.
Less sensations. Although automatic gearboxes are much better than they were a few years ago and even if they have a manual mode, they are still less emotional than the bond that is created with the clutch and lever of a lifetime. The touch is filtered and sometimes a little slow, which makes you lose part of the personal aspect of driving.