I drive a car with a manual gearbox. In 2021. This is my brief on what it feels like to drive a manual car in this decade.
Dude why a manual?
The car in question is a 2014 Peugeot 208 GTi. The car came with only a manual gearbox. I was in my late 20’s and was a bachelor so my left hand was always accustomed to……. shifting gears.
When you’re young-ish, most of us want something flashy, and for some of us something that’s seemed like a ‘macho’ choice. Commuting 100km per day in absolute standstill traffic was no biggie. Adding a clutch pedal to the mix meant you get bonus points to commitment. And you can call your friend that had no option but to drive an automatic, but just as enthusiastic as you, but since he bought an automatic he tries hard to make it work, a female cat.
Like all motoring enthusiast ‘youth’s’ I blew most of my paycheck on this car because it was one of the last brand new manual’s produced. And nothing else mattered. Because ‘real men drive manuals’ right?
Is it as bad as they say?
In short, yes. Especially when you go from single to dating. While others who drive automatic get to hold their partners… hands, you are still grabbing stick. While she has her hands free to text someone else. And since you are nervous in impressing her, that never-have-i-ever gear grinding takes place.
When I bought the car I was a reasonably built late 20 year old. Today I’m a mid 30’s father of two with an ever growing belly. That knee cap that coped for years with 100km stop and go traffic is now clinging on to its quadriceps for dear life. It’s a hard life.
But stickshift beats auto’s anytime right?
Of course, that’s why manual’s right? Or so was the idea. Automatic’s have come a long way since then. Simply put, no 6 speed manual box in the world can answer a 7 speed double clutch or the 8 speed torque converter box you get in today’s cars. All they have to do is press the accelerator and they are gone. While you are still at 3rd gear with intensifying Eurobeat, unaware you are unable to catch up.
At least it will save me fuel right?
Wrong again! The age old 4 speed gearboxes were the ones that consumed more fuel due to their weight and lack of gears to spread the torque band effectively.
Today however most torque converter automatic’s have a minimum of 6 forward gears, and going up to 10 speeds in some cases. Manual gearboxes, except for some Porsche’s stop at 7 speeds. They are far more efficient at clocking better consumption.
And to add insult to injury, not even Karamjit Singh can match the shift speed of any automatic or dual-clutch gearboxes with more than 6 forward gears.
But…. manual’s are cheaper!
Until you have to change your clutch. This particular car’s clutch kit, including labor set me back 4 digits. I managed to coax my clutch for about 156,000km. Some clutch surfing superhero’s fry their’s at just 70,000km.
Automatic gearboxes require maintenance too, like the Double clutch gearboxes clutch pack, and the ATF replacement with transmission filter for the torque converter kind. However without the human factor involved in inflicting wear, they are pretty consistent about when they require replacements.
What’s the point of a manual?
There is, and its a big one. You are driving. It’s the last piece of technology which reminds us that a car was a purely mechanical device.
Our steering system is electronic, brake’s are modulated by ABS, engine’s drive by wire, but with a manual gearbox, you are totally in control.
When you drive a manual car you cannot be fiddling with your touchscreen, try to send a voice note on Whatsapp, or check your WeChat feed.
You have to commit to driving and driving only. Sit in the wrong gear the car either revs too high or shudder. You are constantly working.
So I pay to do work with a manual?
No matter how sophisticated the dishes get in a fine dining restaurant, the satisfaction of having some finger lickin good action at your local KFC is priceless (not paid by KFC in any way).
Likewise, no matter how high tech and efficient the automatic gearboxes get, it cannot replace the satisfaction of shifting your own gears. Not because its efficient, not because its fast. Because its, fun.
Route Hunters document the best driving roads in Malaysia. You know what all these roads have in common? You can have the same fun out here in a 50hp car or a 500hp car. Add a manual gearbox into the mix, your fun level multiplies enormously.
Because out here you are only thinking about driving. Nothing else matters, not the girlfriend, the job, the bills. Just you, your car and the open road. And since a manual gearbox is as involved as you can get with driving, without requiring a racing suit, its the best option out here.
And since you have no talent scouts or sponsors waiting at the end of any Malaysian touge roads, it makes more sense to go for involvement instead of outright speed. Remember these are public roads and not race tracks.
So what you’re saying is?
I still am very much in love with my 208 gti. Its an amazing hot hatch with an extremely talented chassis, which require commitment to get the best out of it. Having the manual gearbox just makes the experience a whole lot more rewarding and engaging. And the 100 odd Peugeot GTi owners in the country will agree with me.
In fact most of them have a hard time finding a replacement to the 208 GTi, simply due to the manual gearbox factor. This manual car is pretty livable with on a daily basis, except during extremely bad traffic. But this kind of traffic is going to be hell in any car.
Out on our amazing B roads though, I would’t want to be in any other car. Dropping the gears for the corner, heel-and-toeing on the way down, nailing the apex, and shifting at the right torque sweet spot is endless fun. I’ve driven 1200km in this car on B-roads over a weekend straight and still couldn’t get enough.
The manual transmission as a technology is outdated. Bobby Ang is right about that. However, there’s no replacement to involvement. That’s why some modern performance cars are still being offered with a manual option. It’s no longer the only way, but for the brave, its a rewarding one.