MF Vault: An Ode to the Manual

This week from the MF Vault we’re re-visiting a couple of features we published last year giving opposing views on everyone’s favorite debate: auto vs manual. With a dramatically updated automatic coming with the F56 (to be introduced late next year) it’s perhaps a good time to renew our appreciation for that ever engaging piece of old-school technology know simply as “the stick”.

It’s the right of passage many of us graduate to early in life that quickly becomes a badge of honor. It’s the subtle cue to another enthusiast that you’re serious about the art of driving and a student of automotive history. In my mind there are cars that require a manual.

The M3s, 911s or even MCS’ of the world just don’t seem as bare-chested with a pair of flappy paddles. And you know the moment. When you peer into either of those cars and see that dreaded auto knob. Your heart drops just a bit. If you’re a manual driver you care about that car. And you know it’s been wronged by someone who chose ease over interaction on the ordering spec (unless of course it’s a dedicated track car).

So let’s be clear about it. The entire idea is laced with testosterone, but you don’t actually need to be a man to own or drive one. You simply need an attitude (and maybe at least figurative attachments). It’s the option for control freaks who don’t mind a little serendipity. In short, it’s a way of life.

Sure you need a little insanity to look at today’s congested roads and choose a manual. But buying a new car with three pedals is a simple decision that separates those of us in the know from those of us unable to see through the monotony of daily life*.

Or just get two cars.

*Exclusions apply to anyone who cannot drive a manual due to injury or handicap.

**There at least a half dozen examples of DCT only cars (mostly exotic) that clearly interest us and don’t necessarily fall into either category above). That said we wished they came in manual form.

  • Clancycoop

    I will be taking delivery of a BMW 135is this week and although the DCT is neat in its own way I had to go for the stick. Driving around town is dull without it.

    • walk0080

      Totally agree – it’s because of all the city driving that I wanted the manual. It’s fun and engaging and faster shift times make no difference. But the R56 auto box is also garbage IMO – and of course the 2012 JCW didn’t even have an automatic option anyway.

      If I had an exotic or something similar for a dedicated track car, I would probably go for a high-tech auto-box. But of course in that case, I could afford many cars right – so I would always have one or two cars with a stick 😉

  • Frank Granados

    I might be getting old (At 41)…. But I am not missing my manual transmission R53 S that much…. For 10 years drove two 6MT R53 S and while fun and all (The Getrag used in the first gen S was a terrific box and never had a lick of trouble with it), the OEM clutches in these cars (More specifically the dual mass flywheels) were junk. My ’05 had the Valeo single mass flywheel clutch kit conversion that really transformed the car for city driving in a big way.


    I guess I am over the “Thrill” of driving a manual at 5MPH in bumper-to-bumper traffic and the 9-10 hours of labor and substantial teardown involved in replacing the clutch on a MINI. I am enjoying the 6AT on my ’11 E90 328i Bimmer. Much better suited for our dense and often gridlocked traffic conditions. Would I have a manual again? You bet, but it will be a good while before I decide to get another MT car.

  • that.guy

    “Sure you need a little insanity to look at today’s twin-clutch gearboxes and choose a manual.”


  • ulrichd

    I have no use or love for automatics, but then being self employed working from a home office I also don’t have a commute. I will say, the first time I saw the Jaguar gear rotary knob rising out of the center console in a commercial, I was briefly smitten by the elegance of that solution. Just briefly.

  • John McLauchlan

    I am a 6MT snob like most of you, however driving an M3 with the M-DCT transmission was a revalation.

    • Nathaniel Salzman

      Yes. If the MINI auto were simply a better transmission (and it soon will be) this would all be a very different discussion.

  • Mike

    It’s funny to see the difference in attitudes to automatics from the US to the UK. Over this side of the pond the majority of cars are manual, with mainly large/luxury cars having automatic boxes. I put it mainly down to the fact that we generally have smaller-engined cars.

    The high price of fuel and taxation on CO2 emissions does that. :-( Automatic drivers are in the minority, especially those that can’t drive a manual.