31 thoughts on “Stick Shifts”

  1. Oh, jeezze,

    I remember learning ta drive in my dad’s ’66 dodge pickup.. Slant 6 and a 3 in the floor.

    I graduated to a ’78 Ford 4×4 with a 400m and 4 in the floor..
    LOVED that truck!!!! I could pull anything and everything ya wanted to pull….

    I’m not a big fan of the current cars or trucks….. give me SOMETHING I can work on myself and I’m a happy camper…

    1. A 64 Chevy pickup here, straight 6 and “3 on the tree”. I later bought that truck from my father, put a small block 350 and a turbo 400 tranny in it!

      1. Just to chime in, a 60-something Chevy Nova, my sister’s, purchased used and rebuilt by my AC Spark-Plug engineer uncle, with three on the tree. I broke off the shifter lever in the cold one winter driving to school in the frigidity. I can’t remember how I managed to get around until I replaced it, but somehow I did.

  2. I drove manual transmissions for twenty years, and I’d take an automatic with paddle shifters any day.

    But it’s true, manuals are rapidly disappearing, thanks to Congresentities believing they’re automotive engineers and telling manufacturers what kind of cars they have to build. It’s now much easier to meet CAFE requirements with an automatic, so that’s where the manufacturers are going.

    Plus you can’t really add all the expensive, high-profit ‘self-driving’ gadgetry if the computers can’t control the gears.

  3. All of my cars were manual transmission until my second car in Southern California. It was a Chrysler Laser, a new attempt by Chrysler to compete with the 280Z. With a 1.5 liter turbocharged engine, it was pretty peppy. But the clutch had such an enormous spring constant that the first time I commuted between Redondo Beach and San Bernardino, I could hardly walk when I got out of the car. Eventually, the clutch pedal failed in fatigue. That was 1885. Since then, I’ve always owned an automatic.

    The first manual I drove recently was a no-name built by Volkswagen. I rented it in Germany, back in 2014. It was such a pleasure to drive! A nice, five speed transmission on a slightly underpowered car, it allowed me to drive safely on the Autoban at speeds up to 160 kph. They’re still available, though maybe not here.

  4. Most Subarus are available with manual transmissions.

    I’ve only ever owned one car with an automatic transmission. It was a 1995 Subaru Legacy 250T wagon. I didn’t hate it, but when I switched from it to a 1997 Subaru Grandwagon (ie Outback) with 5 speed manual plus hi/lo range my fuel economy improved from 10 l/100km (23.5 US MPG) to 8.5 (27.7 MPG) in mixed city driving and 8 (29.5 MPG) on the highway at 120 km/h. Virtually identical cars other than the transmission and the raised suspension on the Grandwagon.

    In January I rented a 2012 Legacy Wagon for about 4000 km, again with 2.5l engine, but with a CVT. Not only was it far more responsive and sporty to drive than either a manual or a conventional automatic, loping sedately along most of the time but with instant urgent power when I wanted it, I was also getting 7 l/100km (33.5 MPG) on the highway and 8 (29.5) in the city!

    My next car will have a CVT. No question. They are simply better. Anyone who claims otherwise hasn’t driven one enough to learn how to get the best from it.

      1. I know lots of people feel that way but as someone who lives in a big city and does most of his driving in stop-and-go traffic I don’t relish the thought of all that shifting.

        1. Again, I do it in LA, and I don’t even think about it. On the other hand, it’s been decades since I commuted. On the gripping hand, if I had to commute, I’d try to use public transport, because LA traffic sucks, stick or slush.

    1. “Most Subarus are available with manual transmissions.”

      Not any more. The Legacy and Outback lost their manual options a couple of years back, and the Forester loses it this year. So it’s basically only the Impreza and Impreza-based vehicles (Crosstrek, WRX, and STI) left.

    2. I am thinking that with computerized control algorithms that an automatic will know better when to shift gears than human drivers who are not powertrain engineers will ever know.

      To the extent that a manual gets better gas mileage, I think this has to do with what is called a “lay shaft” transmission having significantly better mechanical transmission than whatever goes into an automatic these days, even with “lockup” clutches to bypass the lossy torque converter in modern transmissions.

      That a manual can “beat” its EPA numbers may also be a consequence that the EPA applies a gas-mileage reduction fudge-factor to manual-transmission cars on the theory that the average manual-transmission driver is cruising in a much lower gear than needed to “not lug the engine.”

      Yes, you don’t want to “lug the engine” to the point that it shudders because not only does that waste gas from being on the “back side of the specific-fuel-consumption map”, I am told this can scuff cylinders and is hard on bearings. At low loads, however, peak economy may be at much lower engine revs than you think — think of how slowly the engine turns over the automatic version of the same car.

      So manual shift cars may surprise you with their good gas mileage. Going against my theory, however, is that the EPA removes the none-powertrain-engineer-driving-a-manual fudge factor if the instrument cluster has an “Eco-light” or other upshift indicator. I happen to know a little bit about engine SFC maps, but I find that “E-light” blinking on an off annoying as all get out — bro, I know when to shift so stop nagging me!

      1. In keeping with my theory regarding lower mechanical friction, there is this thing called a “dual clutch transmission” that is popular in Europe, to the extent that anyone wants an automatic on the far side of the Pond. It is essentially a manual-transmission with a pair of computer-controlled clutches. The pair of clutches alternate engagement and disengagement to allow continuous power through gear shifts without “grinding the gears” (actually, the grinding is of the “dog clutches” that engage the gears as the gears are always in mesh). It is an option on the Ford Fiesta and gives a noticeable boost to the EPA numbers.

        The dual-clutch transmission used in the small Fords, however, has been no end of mechanical trouble for its owners. I guess it is a Bridge Too Far on the fuel economy front.

  5. If you want an affordable stick, check out a Civic Si or Type R. My last stick was an S2000, but I sold it a couple of years ago.

  6. I learned to drive, and got my license, with a slushbox. My parents had tried to teach me in a stick but used a procedural approach (“now step on the clutch…”) that didn’t do it for me.

    Then I bought my first car, which had a 5-speed, and figured it out for myself. The lightbulb moment came when I realized, “Oh! Pressing the clutch releases the transmission so I can shift gears!” — something no one had thought to tell me.

    1. That’s crazy! Nobody telling you what the clutch does, just trying to tell you when to press it. My father taught me. We drove literally around the block in the old Datsun pickup I’d just gotten, and when I wasn’t already shifting like an expert, he threw up his hands and left me to my own devices. I fell in love, and miss having a standard. My last one was a Sentra I had for 11 years and drove my first two kids home in.

  7. I have never understood the appeal of driving a manual transmission in city traffic. It didn’t help that I learned in a 1980s Subaru hatchback that wanted to either overrev or stall every time I tried to accelerate from a stop.

  8. I’ll second the Subaru comments. I bought a 2017 Impreza Base with 5-speed stick last year during a transportation emergency. In addition to being fairly sporty with the 2L engine and standard shifter, the synchronized AWD gave it that ride-on-rails feel. This year, as my wife is well enough to drive again, I got her a 2018 CrossTrek Premium with CVT, X-mode (and more bells & whistles than we really needed). It does get better gas mileage than the Impreza, and much higher ground clearance. I’m glad I got the Impreza though becaue I’ve been driving stick since the Lower Paleolithic. I learned on a 1950s era milk truck with a 3-speed that had a stripped second gear. I can’t complain about the 2001 Ranger I have either, since it still works fine 18 years after I drove it off the lot.

    1. I was really impressed by the WRX, but it will have to wait until the 2020 models come out — my Civic is lasting as well as I’d hoped, so I can’t yet justify the luxury quite yet! I will definitely be looking at the Ascent to replace Mrs. Thales’ mini-van in the future, as well.

  9. You might want to look at some Kia, Hyundai and Mazda (MX-3, 5) offerings. The former 2 have terrific warranties. I’ve always liked Hyundai manuals (Elantra GT, Sonata and my current Veloster Turbo) and my 2015 Veloster is a blast to drive. Ditto for the wife’s 2013 Genesis Coupe. However, these manuals have disappeared, and I think the Elantra and Accent are the last manuals Hyundai sell. Sad.

    A big problem is that although some manuals are theoretically available, they are usually not carried by dealers and you can’t get a test drive (BMW, I’m looking at you!). Ergonomics with manuals are critical!

    Finally, from our shopping for manuals, we’ve found one transmission that is very sweet: the Ford Mustang. Much nicer than the Camaro as well as cheaper, in our humble opinions. I suspect that the Genesis Coupe will eventually be replaced by a Mustang. Or maybe a Corvette.

  10. The VW Golf line starts at about $20k and you can get manual transmissions in pretty much all the models. I’ve had a 6-speed manual GTI for a few years and have been very happy with it.

    1. How well do VW’s hold up these days?

      My co-worker’s school-teacher wife had one 20 years ago and they had to sell it because the repairs were too expensive.

      Have VW’s improved, or are you still taking your chances with a high-maintenance car?

      1. Available data show the current generation of Golfs and GTIs are pretty reliable. I’m at 26kmiles and no problems so far.

        1. I hope you’re right. I once had a Golf (mid 90’s I seem to recall). It was fun to drive but the clutch travel was a bit extreme as I kept feeling that my left knee was going to touch my nose when engaging the clutch.

          As for reliability, within a couple of weeks of going out of warranty, the alternator failed. But the real killer was the time I needed to replace a headlight. You could not replace the bulb but had to buy a whole new sealed headlamp unit. Very expensive. Overall, the build quality was rather poor. Needless to say, I haven’t gone back to VW. I hope their design and quality control has improved.

  11. On our 3rd VW.
    Our 2000 (1.8L/5speed) Passat was “retired” at 15 years/205k miles for a 2015 passat (2.0 TDI/6speed) with the newer safety features. The charity we donated it to washed it and issued it to a needy vet. He was estatic that I included the service manuls. Both Passats were the only sedans we could find with a stick and a back seat that fits adults.
    The TDI has had all of the Dieselgate work done and the only difference we notice is that it sounds more “dieselly” and the DPF regeneration happens more often. We still get ~50 mpg on the highway and ~35 mpg around town. We just got a Golf to replace a very tired Prius at 200k.
    I was not impressed with the new Prius.

    In the early 2000’s, Bosch had some serious QC issues with their coilpacks and ABS systems, and the early 2k Bosch turbochargers were very sensitive to oil quality and service intervals.

    I only use synthetic oil (now required) and only had the ABS problem. A guy in Florida figured out what Bosch had done wrong (internal module bond wires coming loose) and set up a module repair service that handled Bosch ABS systems for VW, Porsche,Audi, BMW,etc.

    I check the car forums regularly to watch for any issues with my vehicles. (This probably saved my butt when I had a Ford Explorer with Firestone tires, sticking brake calipers, intermittent 4wd,…… (that was also a stick:-))

    My first car (in 1982) was a 65 Mustang coupe with a 289 and 4 speed, probably as a reaction from learning to drive in a 72 VW microbus 🙂
    Both of these needed regular wrenching to keep running.

  12. New cars with immoblizers (“all of them”) are not often stolen anyway.

    People know they can’t just trivially hot-wire or key-guess* on a modern car, so they don’t even try.

    (* I recall hearing about various years and models where there were maybe a dozen different keys for every one made, in total.)

    (This article is from 2015, but nothing has really changed.

    The Accord and Civic are the “most stolen” … but older, pre-immoblizer models.

    For 2015, the most stolen current-production car was the Altima, at 1,104 stolen.)

    If you want a retro-car with ancient technology for the transmission, feel free, but it won’t have any real effect on theft rates on a new vehicle.

    Especially if it was a notional expensive sports car – those get targeted by professional thieves who are quite capable of operating the transmission or just pulling it onto a flatbed.

  13. The Nissan 370Z only sells a stick as their most expensive “sports” version. I was able to save $10k on a new one because nobody wanted the stick.

  14. I learned to drive in a Datsun 1200 with a 4-speed manual, and I still prefer manual transmissions (I drive a 5-speed manual Civic now). I _might_ be persuaded to get a Honda with a CVT if the efficiency and transmission life were as good as with the manual version.

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