I’ll start with a confession. I have never owned a car, that was MY primary vehicle, with an automatic transmission. That’s right, in over forty years of car ownership I have never purchased anything but stick shifts for my use. I’ve never really found an automatic that I liked that would preclude purchasing a car equipped with a manual gearbox.

And I’ve driven a variety of automatics and automated manual gearboxes over the years, and yet still prefer the manual option (and it is one reason I drive a BMW now – it was one of the few cars in its class available with its combination of powerful engine and manual transmission).


But, we’ve reached a crossroads for manual transmission lovers, especially for high performance cars. The automatic and automated manual gearboxes are actually the appropriate choice. More so if the car is one that you intend to use on the track.

The newest automated manual gearboxes shift faster and more appropriately than almost any driver can accomplish with a manual gearbox. It rev matches on downshifts and always seems to be in the appropriate gear. And since the automation for the gearbox includes a level of intelligence (without the accompanying ‘red mist’) they won’t destroy themselves in an ill-chosen downshift from sixth to second on the track.


It makes sense then that the M6, M5, M4, and M3 would be better served with the automated manual gearbox – and that the take rate for a three pedal arrangement should be quite small. But, as we saw with the M5, we expect a manual gearbox will be made available for the M3/M4 in the North American market.

And yet in Europe there is no need for a manual option. What is different about European consumers that they eschew a manual gearbox for an automated transmission? Europeans grew up driving cars with manual transmissions coupled to fairly small engines. And there was nothing sporting about that proposition. In addition European cities seem to have denser traffic (at slower speeds) than most North American counterparts.

Shift quality is also a key component of how Europeans view the transmission (and it is a primary reason BMW employs a clutch delay valve in their manual gearboxes – it actually improves the perceived shift quality), and an automatic or automated manual gearbox will deliver superior shift quality compared to a traditional manual gearbox.

However, in the US market less than 4% of all car sales in 2011 were equipped with manual gearboxes. In the US it is a sign of sporting character, a badge of honor, that you drive a car with a manual transmission (with some interesting exceptions – hello hypermilers!).

But, given the capabilities for fuel economy of transmissions like ZF’s 8 speed automatic, and the astounding capabilities of the 7 speed double clutch automated manual transmission that is available, why would anyone want a manual gearbox.
[POLL] How important is a manual gearbox option for the M3/M4?