Save the Manuals? Not So Fast: 4 Enthusiast Vehicles where the Automatic is the Better Choice
Auto enthusiasts love manual transmissions. They are fun, they are pure, and they provide a wonderful connection between the car and the driver. For a long time, they were also the choice for better for performance, better fuel economy and better reliability.
Today though, the automatic transmission has become the defacto choice for most vehicles, with their abundance of gears, quick shifts and ability to maximize performance and fuel economy in a way that automatics of the past could not.
And while I generally take a pro-manual position on most vehicles that are bought for fun and performance there some notable exceptions to the idea that a manual transmission is always the better and more rewarding choice for an enthusiast. Here are four enthusiast-favorites where you might be better off going with the automatic over the stick.
1. Chevy Camaro ZL1
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is a beast of a car, espeicllaly in ZL1 1LE form where it becomes one of the most capable track vehicles ever to sit on a showroom floor, with 650 horsepower, 650 pound feet of torque and a chassis optimized for road course use.
The ZL1 can be had with either a six-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic transmission—either of which make the ZL1 a monster. But with that much power, grip and performance on tap in the ZL1, the quick-shifting 10-speed auto is going to be faster in both a straight line and on a road course.
And while we loving shifting gears on the track, a “numbers” car like the ZL1 1LE is optimized with a responsive and modern automatic gearbox. After all, there’s a reason why Ford decided to forego a manual transmission altogether on the new Shelby GT500, the ZL1’s chief rival.
2. Volkswagen Golf R
The Volkswagen Golf R is one of the most capable hot hatchbacks you can buy, packing a turbocharged 2.0L engine with a sophisticated AWD system that brings grip and performance well beyond its FWD competition.
And while you can get a Golf R with a six-speed manual transmission, it’s pretty obvious that the car was optimized for the “DSG” dual clutch automatic gearbox. Not only does the DSG in the Golf R give you a launch control system to make the most of the AWD grip, it can also hold a lot more power, with manual Golf Rs requiring stronger clutches once owners start modifying them.
While we commend VW for offering a stick shift in the hottest of its hatchbacks, unless you are absolutely committed to rowing your own gears the DSG is the easy choice in this car.
3. Honda Accord 2.0T
And just was we commend VW for offering a manual in the Golf R, we also commend Honda for offering a manual gearbox in its Accord sedan up until very recently. With its detuned 2.0L turbo engine from the Civic Type R, the Accord Sport is a great car for those in the market for a quick, affordable family sedan and Honda earned a lot of praise for offering the Accord with a six-speed stick shift.
Unfortunately though, it was hard to make a logical argument for the stick shift Accord. It wasn’t any cheaper, it performed significantly worse when compared to its 10-speed automatic counterpart on the track and the new six-speed didn’t have that same great feeling that so many of Honda’s manual gearboxes are known for.
There’s absolutely some street cred to be had for driving a family sedan with a stick shift, but in the case of the Accord its not hard to see why sales were so low that it axed the manual option for the 2021 model year.
4. Subaru Crosstrek
You would think the Subaru Crosstrek would be a prime candidate to “get the manual,” mostly because the alternative is a CVT automatic, which car enthusiasts are usually not fond of.
In the case of the Crosstrek though, the six-speed manual option not only forces you into lower trim levels, its not particularly enjoyable to use and it doesn’t help make the most of the modest power from the 2.0L naturally aspirated boxer engine.
The biggest strike against the manual Crosstrek though is that the new optional, more powerful 2.5L engine for 2021 is only available with the CVT. If that’s not enough to opt for the automatic, you are a serious manual purist.
In addition to these, there are plenty of other models where the choice between a manual and automatic is a toss-up, and there are also other plenty of enthusiast cars where the manual gearbox is still the overwhelmingly better choice.
As always. test drive them, read owners' reviews and make your decision wisely.
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- On the other hand, if there were to be a Subaru Crosstrek WRX the manual would naturally be the right choice.