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Say No to the Seven-Speed Manual

Adding the extra cog removes some of the fun

I have yet to find a seven-speed manual gearbox that I like. Yes, I understand that they offer an increased ratio spread and lower the revs on the highway. This helps acceleration as well as refinement and fuel economy but the complicated gear pattern and extra ratio simply isn’t enjoyable to use in the real world. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to name one car that’s better because of the one-more-than-six layout. Putting it different way, show me one of these cars that would be less satisfactory with a six-speed gearbox.

Take Aston Martin. When it said its outgoing V12 Vantage S would gain a manual gearbox, I was initially excited as at that point, it was only offered with the rather terrible seven-speed paddle-shift gearbox.

Aston’s marketing department worked their magic to promote the dog-leg setup on the new seven-speed manual that would be limited to a run of just 100 cars for the U.S. But Aston should have just offered the car with the six-speed manual instead. The seven-speed carries clunky linkage and the gearing is too short. Why did they use such ratios with a powerful, torque-rich V12 engine?

Sadly, rumors are that the new Vantage will also use the seven-speed manual. As before, the AMG-supplied, twin-turbo V-8 has so much grunt that the extra ratio is a waste. The old V12 Vantage (before the ‘S’ version) and the DBS both carried a much-nicer six-speed manual, as did the V8 Vantage. Aston shouldn’t have bothered with the seven-ratio ‘box.

The Germans aren’t any better. I recently had the pleasure of driving the new Porsche 911 GT3 with Touring Package. The exterior profile of the minimalist 911 is stunning due to the lack of the disco rear wing and the six-speed manual is a total joy to snick through the ratios. That same day, I drove a friend’s 2017 911 Carrera 4S and the feel of its seven-speed manual was such a comparative letdown. The linkage isn’t as tight and the shifter moves around slightly while in gear. It’s clearly a less-precise setup.

When the 911 Carrera T was announced, I was hoping it would be a poor man’s 911 GT3. One of the best moves Porsche could have made was to fit a close ratio six-speed gearbox instead of the standard 911’s seven speed.

The Brits and the Germans aren’t the only guilty parties. There’s also the Corvette. Why in the world does a car with that much torque—yes, even the base Corvette has gobs of power—need so many ratios? I understand that extra ratios make sense with an automatic transmission because the driver doesn’t have to move a stick around and select each gear but it’s a waste with a manual.

There’s a bigger picture here. We all know the manual gearbox is dying. If the antiquated but visceral transmission is going to stick around, car companies need to make sure they’re a joy to use. Just because seven is a bigger number than six it doesn’t mean it’s better. Yes, the seventh gear does allow lower revs and that saves fuel and lowers CO2 emissions but the complicated setup dilutes the joy of driving a car with three pedals. Buyers don’t choose the manual because they’re looking for the ultimate 0-60 mph time or top-spec fuel economy—they’re looking for driving enjoyment and purity. The key is stopping at six and realizing that seven is simply a diminishing return.

Hopefully Porsche remembers this with the next-generation 911, Aston gets fixes things with future Vantage variants, and Chevy goes the preferred route for the next Corvette. There’s a campaign led by a competitor publication to ‘Save the Manuals’. It’s a valiant campaign and one that I support but they need to add an asterisk: Except the 7-speed ones.

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