Modern Cars Need Modern Transmissions

Interesting, Others | March 19th, 2015 by 7
bmw m3 dct 750x500

This morning started out like usual for me, getting a cup of coffee and popping on the computer to see what new and exciting things …

This morning started out like usual for me, getting a cup of coffee and popping on the computer to see what new and exciting things were happening in the automotive world. During my many stops along the long highway of interwebs, I stumbled upon a Car and Driver article about the new F80 M3. In this article, the author talks about the DCT gearbox, and while it makes the car very, very fast, he’d prefer a row-your-own style gearbox. This isn’t a new concept, most car enthusiasts prefer manual transmissions and aren’t shy about voicing it.

Now, of course everything comes down to preference. There’s never any debate as to whether or not the modern automatic transmission is the better performer. It is. Fact. But still, many enthusiasts prefer to drive a manual transmission, knowing it is the slower car, because they get satisfaction out of interacting with the car that little bit more. It’s akin to fans of Horology, who’d rather own a mechanical watch over a battery-powered one; less accurate timekeeping but more enjoyable experience to own.

bmw manual dct 750x345

I’m somewhere in the middle on manual transmissions. On one hand, I enjoy them greatly. They offer a level of interaction between man and machine that an automatic simply cannot achieve, despite car makers’ best efforts. However, everyday driving for many people, myself included, consists of mind-numbing traffic or boring highway stints, both of which deny the enjoyment of a manual. What difference does it make, which transmission is in the car, when you’re driving at a steady speed in sixth gear for an hour? Modern automatics, and especially DCTs, offer the luxury of easy motoring with 80% of the fun a manual would give when using paddles.

2015 bmw m4 paddle shifter 750x500

I really think it comes down to the car. Certain cars simply need a manual transmission, regardless of surrounding traffic. Cars like the Ford Mustang, Subaru BRZ and Mazda MX-5 are better to drive with a 6-Speed manual. Their old-school style of performance means that a manual will offer the best driving experience. Some of the cars that used to fit that bill are the BMW M3, Volkswagen GTI and Porsche 911. All of these cars were manual only to the people that knew any better. However, now it seems as if the tables have turned for those cars and I think it’s because the cars simply have become so damn good.

Yes, manual transmissions will always be more “fun”, but when every other part of the car is so efficient and so high-tech, a manual can feel like the weakest link. With modern, turbocharged engines and different programmable modes for every part of the car, a manual seems a bit behind the times. It’d be like buying a brand new computer, loaded to the gills with the hottest tech and hooking it up to a CRT monitor. When driving a modern high-performance car, like say a BMW M5, with a manual, it can make you feel like you’re slowing the car down because you simply cannot shift fast as fast as what the car can handle.

When driving an old-school sports car, a manual is the only way to go. You can develop a rhythm with the car and you become in sync with the car. But with hyper-fast, extremely powerful cars, when driving a manual, it feels like the transmission is bottlenecking its performance. If modern automatics and DCTs can open up a vehicles full performance potential, then why wouldn’t that be the best option? Manuals still do have a space in the automotive world, in cars that prioritize fun and simplicity over performance. But these modern performance cars need modern transmissions to unlock their full potential.

7 responses to “Modern Cars Need Modern Transmissions”

  1. Justsaying says:

    we have to define a “modern” transmission first. while all manufacturers put more money on the automatic transmission(dual clutch), the manul one seems to be old-school or less-modern . Still , i could understand car manufacturers doesnt offer MT on most cars , but some of them should be kept (like 911 M4 Corvette … those cars should focus on what we feel , not about how fast they can go on the track .

  2. daniel says:

    You lost me on this one nico. You are smarter than that .
    You won’t make me believe that you will pick your M4, a car that has so much torque that it could run with a manual box with only 3 gears ;-) , in DCT just because it’s some tenth of second faster than the manual.

    If so, that would mean that you will drive at FULL throttle ,FULL rmp 100 % of the time because you really
    NEED that tent of second quicker the DCT offer.
    For me (just my opinion, right ?)
    1 ) unless you plan to take your car to the race track and HAVE TO do
    laped track time (gentleman driver race, etc…) the auto trans is not a NEED, it’s a CHOICE. And personal choices are not debatable.
    2 ) Has for modern sports car. Have you seen some of the numbers they put down ?! Those are not cars
    anymore, but bullets !!! With the kind of power and torque they make, they pull hard in every gear at any speed ! It’s even became hard to fell a difference in acceleration between close gears.
    So why add more soup to something that is already souped up by an over powerfull engine ???

    • I appreciate that, but I’m not so sure I’m smarter than that :)

      However, I actually would take the M4 with a DCT. I love manuals, but in cars as technologically advanced as the M4 (fancy turbocharged engine, adjustable everything and even a synthesized exhaust note), the DCT just fits the nature of the car a little bit better. At least for me it does, as I just feel with the extreme performance modern sports cars are capable of, the manual trans seems to bottleneck them. But I understand completely, the desire to row your own gears.

  3. MEBII says:

    After careful consideration and several test drives and 12 years with my 6MT 330i ZHP, I have ordered an M235i with the ZF8. My reasoning is mirrored in this article. While sacrificing the visceral connection of the MT, I opted for modern technology, improved performance/economy and convenience for day to day driving. It seems the car was designed for the ZF8.

  4. Tinky-Winky says:

    Most modern automatic transmissions have become so great that for me AT is both good for sitting in rush hour and doing some faster laps on the local track. Changing gears by myself is fun but when I don’t have to do it I can concentrate on other great things.

  5. Stan says:

    The people who argue against “old-fashioned” manual transmissions are almost invariably the people who’ve never understood the immense satisfaction and pleasure derived from complete physical coordination with the car, immersing oneself in controlling the machine to make it do your bidding and doing it artfully and smoothly. This requires proficiency with a manual transmission, and few people ever get the opportunity in today’s car market to reach that level of mastery unless they buy a manual transmission and make a commitment to the art. It’s the commute in bumper-to-bumper, stop and go traffic that scares most people away from taking that leap. Too bad; many will never learn what they missed. That they can be quite happy with a DCT is great. But it’s not the same level of communion with the car. Please accept that and don’t deny us our manual transmissions.

  6. Istvan Buda says:

    April’s fool article?

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