Evaluating pros and cons of a manual vs an automatic transmission.

Eventually I’m planning on buying a new car, possibly as soon as this summer, more likely within the next year or two. I’m thinking something small, and right now a VW GTI is at the top of my list, along with others like a Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, etc. Strongly leaning towards buying new.

My current car is stick, and I like driving stick (mostly), but I’m trying to decide if it really makes sense to go that route anymore. Big factors, besides the fact I just liked manuals, when I decided to go with stick the last time, were it cost a little less upfront, I thought it would get slightly better gas mileage, it would be less expensive to fix if transmission problems did come up.

This time around money is less of a concern, so the upfront and repair expenses are not as big of a deal to me. Also, from what I understand, current automatics have surpassed manuals in terms of fuel efficiency, and the automatics typically get better MPG now, right?

Now, logically, or on paper, are there any good reasons to get a stick anymore? When I start to put pros and cons on paper, the auto seems like a slam dunk, except for that I just intangibly “like” the manuals and think they’re “cooler”. Besides personal preference, what are the smart and/or logical reasons to chose a stick over an automatic?

I like manual because I’m a control freak. But I think I get slightly better mileage. Extra plus: hardly anybody can steal your car cuz they can’t drive it.

The only issues I see are personal preference, resale and the expense of replacing the clutch down the road. I drive a Dodge Challenger with a 6 speed manual. Love it.

I prefer a manual but have an automatic because it’s getting harder to find manuals anymore.

Besides preference, especially in snow where I feel like I have more control, the main advantage is that fewer people can ask to borrow my truck.

Q: Will you ever truly be happy with an automatic if you’ve Loved driving stick? Will you think about losing skills over time w/o regular practice? Theses are two valid questions for your mirror.

I’ve always loved stick in that I’ve always felt that I was truly in control of my driving experience (possibly a false perception). I always felt that if I truly loved driving, that I would enjoy the open road
with windows down, a song playing the sound of the motor and nothing else. A stick can still offer that simplicity, that freedom. Imagine: No factory bangs and whistles, no GPS, no bluetooth, no phone,
no apps. Nothing to whir, beep, chime, ring, buzz, or chirp… just the simplicity of gauges, the will of the driver, and that smile that (for me) just… happens…:smiley:

Still, there are some things which are harder to find in stick such as 4WD (and its a hardy driver who cheerfully stops and walks outside in 2 feet of snow every time they want to lock/unlock the hubs).
Also, there are your transport needs. Will you be carrying passengers? Car seats? Will you be hauling loads from COSTCO and HomeDepot? Will you need to entertain [del]a standard[/del] an exceptional family
of four while hauling a weeks worth of clothes / gear / groceries on a family vacation?

In a world of Wants vs Needs, Needs is almost always Trump.

For a small car like the Focus or VW, just go with the automatic. The computers are so good now that I doubt you could get the same MPG with a stick; I know I can’t, when comparing my (standard) Camaro with a buddy’s otherwise identical automatic. FWIW, he gets 4 miles per gallon more than I do.

Still, I love my car, and wouldn’t trade it for an automatic. The caveat, though, is that it’s a pony car, and the 6-speed just seems like the natural way to drive one of 'em.

If you live in a place with any sort of significant stop-and-go traffic, especially, get the auto. I live in a rural place, so it’s super rare for me to have anything but open road. Went to a conference in Austin last fall and made the mistake of arriving at rush hour. An hour and a half of first-to-second-to-first-to-second-to…and I wished I’d just driven the (auto) Accord.

I bought last summer and specifically went for a manual - in large part because I learned with my last car that no, I’m not happy on an automatic with how much I love a stick. When I bought the Focus, the dealership talked me into the automatic with some discounts and the like. That meant that the one thing I was looking for when I was shopping last summer was a stick shift. Any push for an automatic from the dealership meant that I walked away (and there were a couple: they couldn’t conceive of the idea that a woman, driving in Atlanta traffic, would prefer a stick - I don’t know which was the harder notion for one of them in particular).

As far as losing the skill - I’d been off an stick for 9 years, and it was fine. I made it home with no stalls that first day and by now I’m zipping around like I never was away from it.
But drive both. See which you prefer in the cars that you’re testing and go with that.

My current vehicle is an 09 Jeep Patriot, my first automatic transmission ever. Hate it.

I prefer manuals because I enjoy driving and to me it makes the car more fun to drive. That’s about it. It might help a little in the snow or in cases where starting in second gear is helpful to not spin the wheels, I might get slightly better mileage out of it (although I doubt it makes much a difference with my driving style.) Otherwise, for me it’s fun and it gives me something to do. Yes, I even like it in traffic. And I guess there’s also the feeling that you’re more closely connected to the car. It’s odd, as I’m not really a “car person,” but I enjoy being more in control of shifting, even though today’s automatics are at least as good if not better at it for the majority of driving situations.

The main disadvantage (and this may be an advantage, depending on your view) is that it’s difficult where I’m at to find others to drive it if I ever need somebody to move my car. Or if I’m out on a road trip with my wife, I like to bring my car, but that comes with the knowledge that I will be driving the entire time. Luckily, I enjoy driving, but it would be nice to have the option. She has actually driven me home in it once (her first time driving a stick, and she was a natural at it), but we haven’t had a chance to practice regularly.

High traffic days I prefer an automatic, sunday mornings or long mountain drives I like the stick. Sold my last stick a few years ago and will likley never own another as I consider the auto more all purpose.

Isn’t a manual better for driving on snow and ice?

With modern vehicles, not really. The most automatic transmissions now have a wide enough gear range (compred to the three speed automatics of the 'Eighties), and on many cars which are offered in both manual and automatic transmissions, the traction and vehicle dynamics control systems are generally more functional on the automatic version. (There is no inherent reason that stability control can’t be implemented equally on a manual transmission but because of differences in layout and the low volume of manual transmission equipped vehicles sold, manufactureres tend to upgrade the automatic versions first.) The only domain in which the classic synchromesh manual transmission has any advantage is the domain of high performance street or rally driving in which rapid changes of gearing are necessary to obtain optimal performance, and even in that area computer controlled dual clutch spiderboxes and sequential manual transmissions are becoming preferred as they can shift much faster than the best professional driver. The H-pattern floor mounted shifter is about as much of an anachronism as white wall tires and ginormous front grills. But they’re a lot of fun on twisty mountain roads, and clutchless launch control just isn’t a fun as getting some good tirespin and some healthy tail-wagging.


Manuals used to have an advantage over automatics in terms of reliability and fuel economy. Both of those advantages are pretty much gone now. late-model automatics are extremely reliable, and their fuel economy is better for a couple of reasons:

-Automatics are designed to cruise in a very high gear, resulting in low engine RPM and relatively large throttle opening. This is an efficient condition for the engine, resulting in good fuel economy. For any given cruising speed, drivers of manuals tend to select a lower gear than the automatic transmission computer would.

-Manuals tend to be designed with a shorter top gear, so when you’re on the highway, it’s simply not possible to get the engine RPM as low (and as efficient) as the automatic. Manufacturers do this so you don’t have to downshift every single time you want to accelerate. Automatics, OTOH, will downshift at the slightest touch of the accelerator pedal to give you the acceleration you want, and then happily return to an almost-lugging RPM afterward to get back to good fuel economy.

The 2014 Honda Civic illustrates this nicely, albeit with a CVT instead of a conventional automatic. Look at the fuel economy numbers for the LX model: they’re 2-3 MPG lower for the manual than for the CVT.

TL,DR: The objective advantages of manuals over automatics are pretty much gone. If you choose a manual, you should do so because you enjoy driving a manual more than an automatic.

It’s also sweet to roll down a hill/driveway, pop the clutch and start up even though your battery is dead.:wink:

I tried that with my last car (2003 Nissan Maxima), and found that the ECU absolutely refused to run the engine unless I started it by turning the key. This, despite the battery being perfectly healthy.

All I know is the GTI is awesome in manual. 2013 Autobahn edition here. Test drove it a couple times and bought it, never tried the DSG option.

As far as actual pros, I find that manually selecting gears helps me maintain legal speeds on low-speed limit roads. If I keep it in 3rd or 4th I’m less likely to wind up going 60 in a 40 :slight_smile: I guess in theory you can do this in an auto with manual mode, but I haven’t driven one long enough to really try that out.

If you like the continual rowing, manuals are great. If you like driving, there hasn’t been any reason not to buy an auto for about 25 years.

Other than tradition, there isn’t really a good argument for manuals any more. Not weight, not fuel economy, not performance, not maintenance and not even cost. Autos are par or better on all counts.

Stranger gave you an excellent technical answer, and I’ll give you one from someone who drives a manual transmission car in snow and ice for six months of the year - I prefer a stick.

I select which gear the car starts in, and which gear I use to engine-brake when touching the actual brakes would be a bad idea. I had to drive down a hill that was almost sheer ice once, and I think I would have ended up on the sidewalk in an automatic - I was able to use my shift-preference almost exclusively to inch my way down.

Sometimes that makes all the difference in the world, and I don’t think car computers can make those decisions based on so many factors yet.

My daily driver is a manual 2005 Corolla, and I rented an automatic 2013 Corolla recently when my car was in the shop - I hated it. I was always in the wrong freaking gear. I didn’t have the same pick-up at stop lights as I would have in my stickshift. I wasn’t able to downshift and engine brake (well, I kind of could, but it wasn’t the same). I was using all three gears all the time to get the best performance out of the car, and if I’m doing all that, I might as well be driving a stickshift and have *all * the control.

I’ve owned several manual transmission cars. 1. I don’t find that I lose the skill after years away from it. 2. I don’t see anything particularly “fun” about shifting gears manually. It becomes second nature and I don’t even really notice it much after awhile.

None of this demonstrates any superiority of a manual in demanding conditions. I drive three different automatics in some seriously shit New England conditions, and can select any gear I want at any time in any of them… and without the danger of a clutch slip snapping my drive wheels loose. One is like most newer autos - it has a specific manual-shift mode, over and above the “D-3-2-1” selector. Pull the lever towards me, and I’m driving a six-speed ratchet-shift manual.

ETA: Lest anyone think I’m anti-manual, I’ve owned many, loved the ones that would slide between gears like oiled glass, and my one remaining manual is a close-ratio 1:1 5-speed that lets me hook just over 500 HP to the ground in highly amusing ways.

Are there shitty autos out there, with soggy shift characteristics and shift points chosen to maximize EPA mileage? You bet. The solution is to buy a better car in the first place - there are excellent drivelines in every car category - or have the tranny in an otherwise good car rechipped or reprogrammed for better shift points and tighter shifting.

Manual transmissions require more driving skill in poor conditions when a bad move can kick you into a slide in the blink of any eye. But saying they’re better because a low-end (rental, yet!) auto was crummy is way too selective.