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Top Gear Philippines

Manual transmission

Since the ’90s, cars sold in our market have increasingly been equipped with automatic transmission. Filipino car owners have welcomed it with open arms, if sales statistics are anything to go by. And why not? The slushbox is convenient and easy to use, especially in a congested place like Metro Manila.

The clutchless gearbox is a natural consequence of modernization. Sure, General Motors' Hydra-Matic--the world's first fully automatic transmission--had been available as far back as 1940. But back then, stick shifts still had the overwhelming upper hand because not only did they offer a more exciting driving experience, they also made for better fuel efficiency.

Several factors, however, have conspired to make the automatic transmission the favored type of gearbox these days. First, there’s the advancement of automatic-gearbox technology, the most notable of which in recent years is the dual-clutch system, which ensures that a gear is engaged at all times, practically eliminating gear-hunting shift lags that old automatics had been plagued with.

A good dual-clutch transmission can be so precise and so efficient that Ferrari has retired the traditional manual tranny on all its models. Why? Because even Sebastian Vettel will no longer be able to outshift a DCT. A DCT-equipped California (the last Ferrari model to offer a stick shift) will zoom to 100kph from rest in under four seconds, while a manual unit driven by Ferrari’s best test-drivers will only manage some 4.2 seconds.

Second, also because of technology, most automatics are now just as fuel-efficient as manuals--if not even more so. Imagine computers performing nearly seamless shifts, requiring just the exact amount of fuel for every single gear change. This is most true on high-end supercars, but even mass-market models are slowly getting there. The new BMW 1-Series, a small car, has an eight-speed automatic shifter, enabling the diesel 120d to squeeze out 22km from every liter of fuel.

Third--pardon the rather chauvinistic observation here--more and more women have taken control of the steering wheel through the years. I don’t have actual statistics for this, but I think it’s safe to say that damsels and matrons prefer automatics by virtue of expedience. And with the female of the species now having a bigger say in every household’s car-buying decision, it’s easy to understand why the auto industry would want to perfect the automatic transmission.

Fourth and finally, the world is simply running out of asphalt. Traffic congestion today has gotten so bad that drivers, male or female, have progressively lost all taste for the practice of rowing through the gears themselves. Tell me you hanker for a stick during the rush hour of a Monday morning, and I will tell you you’re an idiot.

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But we gents have to bring back the good old stick shift, for no other reason than we are men. Because real men drive stick shifts. I’m sure it’s written somewhere in the bible of automobiles. There’s just something in the way you wield that cold metallic shift knob that oozes unadulterated machismo. Believe me, your female companion thinks the same way. Having both your hands permanently wrapped around the wheel is pure geekiness. Picture it.

Moreover, a manual stick allows you to be one with your car. It involves you in your steed’s operation. You’re not this mechanically inept and passive creature that depends solely on the automated practicality of your car’s electronics. You own the horse and you tame it, just like the Marlboro Man. Good thing Porsche continues to give stick-shift fans a rare reason to rejoice. The current-generation 911 comes with a seven-speed (no typo here, guys) manual transmission, as if taking the fight to modern automatics.

Most important of all, we need to drive stick because we have to be responsible for our actions. No more whining and passing the blame. If you drive a manual, there’s no way you can cite “unintended acceleration” as your bullshit alibi if you crash into your neighbor’s Merc. You just own up to the blunder and pay for the damages. That’s what being a real man is all about.

 

Vernon B. Sarne
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