Electric Vehicles with Manual Transmissions and Clutch Pedals: An Enthusiast Fantasy Or Realistic Possibility?
Along with plenty of benefits and technological improvements, the ongoing and some say inevitable transition away from internal combustion and into electric vehicles has also brought with it a large number of barriers and hesitation. Not just from mainstream car buyers but from enthusiasts as well.
And for that second group, one of the biggest areas where they find EVs lacking is fun factor and driver engagement.
We all know that EVs can be fast, often incredibly so. But in a world where cars are faster than ever, the enthusiast buyer is often looking for things beyond just acceleration figures or great grip.
Manual Transmission Forever
And nothing elevates a car’s fun factor like a manual transmission, something that’s basically non-existent on electric vehicles. In fact, few EVs allow gear changes of any type — manual or otherwise.
It’s unlikely we’ll see a mainstream production EV with a genuine mechanical clutch and manual gearbox, and even if it could be done, the development costs would be huge for such a niche market. What’s much more likely is automakers coming up with software systems that approximate the experience.
Now this might sound like a silly gimmick. And in many ways it is. You might say that if electric motors don’t work with real manual transmissions, why not just let it be? It's not like a manual gearbox would make an EV any faster or more efficient.
On my own Tesla Model 3 I’ve fully accepted lack of gearshifts, simulated or otherwise, as part of the package. I’m used to it now, and it actually makes me appreciate my manual cars even more when I drive them.
But the idea of bringing that extra bit of engagement to EVs is one that can and should be explored. After all, it’s not like automakers haven’t already been pumping in artificial engine noise on internal combustion cars for years now — all in the name of tickling the senses.
And the concept of bringing (simulated) gear changes to EVs isn’t some theoretical thought for long in the future. Automakers are currently working on doing just that.
With the new Hyundai Ioniq 5 N, we’ve seen Hyundai integrate software that simulates both the power delivery and gear changes of a dual-clutch transmission, all in an EV that has no actual transmission.
From most accounts, the software does a convincing job, and even if it’s not 100% real, it adds a much-needed layer of driving engagement to a car that’s being marketed as an electric hot-hatch.
Then there’s Toyota, who has taken things further with a prototype H-pattern shifter and clutch pedal setup that works on electric vehicles.
The Toyota solution actually sounds quite similar to some of the high-end pedal and shifter setups used for racing simulators, and though it still needs to be refined, initial impressions from those who've tried it are positive.
The Future of Fun?
Could you imagine an electric Toyota GR86 or electric Supra complete with one of these production-ready “manual” systems? It sounds like it’s gonna happen sooner or later.
In a way, like electric vehicles themselves, these simulated versions of the transmissions will probably need some more time in the oven before they can fully win us over.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely these “neo-manuals” will ever eclipse the satisfaction of a real stick shift, just as even the best racing video game will never be better than the real thing.
But racing video games are still incredibly fun. And we are glad automakers are at least working at solutions to welcome old-school auto enthusiasts into a new era.
Because in a (hopefully) distant future where there are indeed no more gasoline enthusiast vehicles on sale, this might be our only option.
Here’s hoping they can pull it off.
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