COLUMNS: It's Time to Get Over Losing the Manual Transmission

June 24, 2014
Dyer Consequences
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We’re all passionate about cars. And passion can work in both directions -- we love what we love, but we also reserve a deep well of outrage and disgust for car companies that dash our dreams. With the news that the latest Porsche 911 GT3 wouldn’t have a manual transmission, a great many Porsche diehards grabbed their go-bags and fled to their doomsday compounds, certain that this news portended the end of civilization. Legend has it that the wilds of Montana are still populated by a tribe of survivalists who went to ground when Porsche announced the Cayenne. Well, I’m here to say that the time has come -- time to get over it.
Now, I’m not saying that your chosen cause, your pet aggravation, is without merit. I, too, wish that Ferrari still cared about the manual transmission. But its customers don’t, and therefore the world moves on with automatic Ferraris. Pining for the past gets you nowhere. Never mind the manual transmission -- we’re rapidly moving to the place where transmissions are obsolete. Take a peek under a Honda Accord Hybrid. Someday you can tell your grandkids about the good old days of the crisp-shifting ZF8.
Electric power steering is another go-to gripe. Steering feel is about as subjective a critique as you’ll find, and the transition to electric assist has brought a veritable rending of garments over numb steering wheels. And while I’ve definitely driven a few funky electro-helms, I think we’re at the point where most people couldn’t tell the difference. Furthermore, hydraulic assist doesn’t automatically trump electric. I can drive a hydraulic-assist vehicle anytime I want, and I’m reasonably certain that my Ford Bronco’s steering isn’t quite as good as a 991-generation 911 Carrera 4S’s.
In the case of transmissions and steering, at least I can understand where the angst is coming from. But the anti-SUV people—by which I mean the people who are aghast that their favorite company is building one -- are a mystery to me. Look, companies are going to make some products you like and others that don’t do it for you. Just because I think Google Glass makes you look like a nerd from the future doesn’t mean I won’t use Google to find a photo of the Bentley EXP 9 F, thus causing me to reconsider whether Bentley should be allowed to make SUVs. In conclusion, the Lamborghini LM002 totally rules.
Speaking of Porsches and their ilk, fans and critics alike decry the price of modern options packages. I look at car shopping like going to a baseball game. Once you’ve paid for parking, hot dogs, beer, and souvenirs, you’re doubling the cost. On the other hand, nobody’s making you buy a pennant and $10 beers. If you can be happy just watching the game, then the pricey extras become irrelevant. Likewise, if you can be happy with the essential goodness of a Porsche Cayman S, then you don’t need to gripe over the cost of Porsche Active Suspension Management or lime-green seats. Of course, if you get a Rolls-Royce Wraith, you’re going to need that $4975 starlight-headliner option.
As prices trend upward, so, too, does size, which brings me to the gripe about our favorite cars bloating into leviathans. I say fear not, because eventually they’ll make a smaller one. Look at how the BMW 1-series became the 2-series. It’s like BMW declared that in twenty years the 2-series will be the size of a current 3-series. Then they’ll bring back the 1-series so they can once again have something the size of the 2-series. Except, in keeping with coupes getting even numbers, maybe it’ll be called the 0-series. See also: Audi A3 sedan, size of the A4 of yore. In another decade, Mini will probably release the Mini Mini and we’ll be back where we started.
Automatic transmissions, electric steering, expensive options, SUVs from sports car companies, and dimensional bloat: I’m over it all. But that’s not to say that we should give up whining entirely. Sometimes, if you whine long enough, you get what you want. Whining got us a half-ton diesel pickup, the Alfa Romeo 4C, and a manual transmission in the BMW M5. The Chevy SS is here for everyone who whined about the Pontiac G8. It’s a matter of choosing your battles. So I’m gonna whine that we don’t have a Land Rover Defender. Diesel, while I’m at it.

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