Is the Manual a Dying Breed?

Is the manual a dying breed? According to Road & Track who looked at the numbers, the answer isn’t what you might expect.

Based on the numbers it would appear that manual buyers aren’t shrinking. Rather it’s the cars that have been traditionally manual that are picking up more automatic-minded buyers. The article references the VW GTI to prove this point but I think the same could be said for the Cooper S which until 2004 was only available with a manual transmission.

Even with MINI’s six speed Aisin transmission being dramatically improved in the F56 (and a 9 speed on the way in two years) we expect traditional manual drivers will continue to opt for MINI’s excellent six speed manual transmission.

  • MrJCW

    I think it all comes down to what type of car. So for example I prefer to drive manual in cheap small fun to drive cars (Ie cooper, gti, frs, miata etc) but for something bigger say a BMW M5 or an Audi I’m perfectly fine with driving an auto if its a decent one (dsg or decent 8 speed).

    • walk0080

      Pretty much agree…

      For my everyday sporty car (say my current R56 JCW or something like a future BMW M2), I would want a manual. It’s just more fun and engaging to drive (plus I hate – hate the automatic on the R56). I really don’t care if it’s 0.5 seconds slower to 100km/hr. I’m not drag racing on public roads.

      If I had a second car like an SUV, crossover or wagon, I would most likely go for an auto-box (plus my spouse doesn’t like manuals anyway – sigh – but it keeps here from driving the JCW!).

      If I also had a dedicated track car, I would probably want an auto-box. The reality is that in terms of pure performance now, you need an automatic. Besides (wishful thinking here) – I still have the JCW for manual driving track fun!

  • lawrothegreat

    I do think that the availability of manual transmissions in mainstream cars will decline across all markets, but I think that it will be a slow process. We’ve hit a tipping point with the technology whereby automatics are now becoming faster, more economical and are emitting less emissions than their manual counterparts. That matters to manufacturers and consumers. As greater focus is given to this technology, costs will be driven down to the point that it is only financially viable to offer one type of transmission, however I think this is still ten years’ away or so. You could argue that niche sports cars will still offer manual transmissions and for the Caterhams of the world this is probably true. But look at how bold the supercar market has been in this respect and you can guarantee that everyone will follow suit. I wanted an F56 Cooper S and I was ready to take the step if a decent 8/9-speed would have been offered. As it happens with the only auto choice being the six-speed, albeit dramatically improved, I’ve decided to stick with the manual option. It comes with rev match however and I’m excited about that! Sadly it may well be my last new manual purchase….

  • Wolfgang Gullich

    What does this sentence even mean: Rather is the cars that have been traditionally manually that re picking up more buyers and thus being sold in greater numbers equipped with various kinds of automatics???

    • Kev50027

      I was wondering the same thing. Must be some new MotoringFile language.

      Reading over your stuff before publishing never hurts…

    • racekarl

      It means that a car, say the GTI sold 1000 copies (for illustration purposes) in 2006 and they were all manual. In 2007 it sold 2000 copies and 1000 were manual and 1000 were automatic (DSG). So the number of people who purchased a manual did not decline.

      • Wolfgang Gullich

        I really don’t know how you deciphered that non-sensical sentence.

        • Re-read. An old proof went live for a few minutes yesterday.

  • Even though I prefer a manual, I just ordered an F56 w/auto+paddles. Why? I’m often driving in bumper to bumper traffic during my commute and it gets to be tiring.


    During the 1960’s when I was in my 20’s, I had several sport cars which were all 4 speed manual trans…2 used 1952 Jag XK120’s, a used 1958 Porche 356A Coupe, & a new 1965 Sprite. When I got married, I continued with all manual trans for my commuting 2nd car, while the family cars were all automatics. The manuals have continuing right up to my past 2 cars…both MINIS…an ’08 MCS hatch & my current ’12 JCWCoupe. But I’ve reached the stage in my life at 73, that my next daily driver MINi (perhaps the F55 4 door hatch this fall) will likely be an auto/paddle shifter with its faster shifting & more efficiency than the manual!!!…..

    • Kev50027

      Wow, you’re 73 and drive a JCW Coupe? That’s impressive! How do you like it? Any rattles? Suspension too stiff?


        A few years back when I saw the Coupe about to come out, I jumped a the chance to go back to my 2 seater days from the 1960’s. I’ve had my JCW Coupe for just under 2.5 years. No rattles or any other problems & the suspension, although stiff, is fine with me!! Love the handling & performance!! Been to the MOTD events the past 4 years but will skip this year due to other commitments during that early May time. About the only negative I’ve found with it, is the marginal limited rear visibility…. especially the rear quarters. I do have the rear monitoring detection system which helps a lot when backing up in crowded areas. Being a 2 seater, it’s also limited in carrying capacity, thus my plan to go for the new 4 door R55S later this year…much more practical for me but still close to the new F56 size & expected handing.

        • walk0080

          Lucky – my R56 creaks and rattles a lot. Twice in the dealer and still not fixed. I try to think of it as part of the character of the car – doesn’t always work.


          I had my previous 2008 R56 MCS for 4 yrs & the only issue outside of routine maintenance was a problem with the AC at about 18K miles which was fixed under warranty. On my current JCWCoupe, there was an issue with the Bluetooth, also about 18K miles which was also fixed under warranty. That’s it for both cars over 6.5 years. Neither had/have any squeaks or rattles, leaks, or anything else to deal with.

  • sugurunishioka

    I have everyday commute with bad traffic going in and out of San Francisco. My R56 is manual, and my next MINI will be manual as well. Riding motorcycle for 20 years since I was a kid (and not always lived in places you could do lane splitting), traffic/MT combo doesn’t bother me beyond, you know, being in traffic in general. You have a roof and music and AC and everything else going on for you. That’s a luxury. 🙂 You don’t even have to do the clutch work with your freezing fingers.

    Anyways, MINI is one of the very few (or probably the only one?) mass-produced car brands which offers MT as standard for every trim, every model in the US, and I hope it stays that way a bit longer. I’m sure the inevitable day is coming, but I like MINI sticking with their core value of pure driving fun as long as they can afford.

  • Tim H

    I just hope manual exist long enough for my daughter to learn to drive manual. I think, in my experience and opinion, people who learn on manual trans tend to understand cars more and to some degree respect them more. it’s no toy. but, fun, freeing and still a very serious machine. (yes i know many of you probably drive a bit crazy in your manual too LOL exceptions to prove the rule) LOL 😉

  • R.O

    In reading the article and comments especially the thoughts on the future of Man or Auto, a recent study by the NHTSA and another group (can’t remember who), that many next GEN (16-18 and 18 to 28) aren’t getting their drivers licenses for buying cars, especially in cities. Public transit use, walking and bicycling use has dramatically increased for for those groups.

    I’m wondering what impact will this on Car makers and Man vs Auto will have in the next 20 plus years?

    That and the alternate fuel cars, there may not be manuals in the future.

    It’s funny, so many people want new technology (no more CD’s. etc) such as all in one smart phones (computers) but think about it, manuals are old (some may say – outdated) technology which isn’t very efficient in many ways. Manuals trans are like what some are saying about CD’s, nice but old stuff and not needed anymore.

    • Jon

      I see it like this: the automobile remains an area where I crave for a more engaging and “analog” experience. In a car, I care more about the experience of driving/motoring, than I do about technology. In fact, I like cars without automatic climate control and navigation. Give me knobs for the HVAC, where I’ll have absolute control. Nav is great on the rare trips we take, so we’ll suction cup the Garmin to the windshield, but for everyday, it’s an ugly, distracting hole in my dashboard that I don’t want, (sorry, Gabe).

      So because of this desire to be actively motoring, and not a daydreaming schlub just going monotonously to my gray cubicle-farm job everyday, I prefer taking the backroads and twisties. While doing this, I prefer having full control over the vehicle. I want absolute control over when the car shifts. No automatic transmission I have ever driven has done what I want it to do, when I want it.

      Flappy-paddle DSGs come much closer, but the enthusiast in me feels like it’s cheating, or that it’s simulated. They’re the blow-up doll of transmissions. Sure, they’ll get you off, but I’d just rather have the real thing, you know.

      Worst yet, the decision by Porsche to make the newest GT3 no longer available with a manual (even as an OPTION) is the biggest slap in the face to people like me. It is Porsche’s most visceral, most raw driving experience, and therefore the one car of theirs that is most suited to a manual transmission. (Not that I can afford a GT3, but the point still holds water). Such a terrible decision by the Porsche execs.

      In fact, manuals in all the bedroom-poster-worthy cars are almost completely extinct. Ferrari’s, Porsches, and Lamborghinis are likely soon to go next. We have no manuals in the supercar territory (major players, that is). So kudos to the Corvette and Viper teams for keeping it, but celebrating it. Thanks Chevy and SRT! And MINI, too!

      • R.O

        Got points. To each his own. I’ve always said give folks (buyers) a choice and for people not to criticize the person who makes the choice for one or the other.

        The new tech on the horizon that really worries me is: drive by wire steering. Talk about loss of having control. Especially when car makers get cheap (save on costs) and run all the info through just one wire instead of separate wires. Not looking forward to that tech.

  • piper

    I love manuals, but I must agree that there days are numbered. In fact, the days of internal combustion engines may be numbered. Give the incredible success of the Tesla, it’s only a matter of time. I will certainly miss the music of high revving cylinders.

    • walk0080

      I look forward to more cars like the BMW i8. It has a great exhaust note from that 3-cyl engine. Not so interested in all electric – I think that is a long way off until we see broad acceptance outside of select large cities.

  • piper

    I love manuals, but I must agree that there days are numbered. In fact, the days of internal combustion engines may be numbered. Given the incredible success of the Tesla, it’s only a matter of time. I will certainly miss the music of high revving cylinders.

  • Kurtster

    I’m 48 and I feel like the day I buy an automatic car is the day I officially feel old. Just can’t do it no matter how good it is.


      Sounds similar to those that would prefer carburetors instead of fuel injection, drum brakes instead of disks, bias ply tires instead of radials, incandescent light bulbs instead of LED, overhead valve instead of overhead cams, etc etc. I’ve been driving for 57 years. During that time I’ve had 11 cars with manual transmission & 6 with auto trans…most of those were the family car when I was married. I’ve always preferred manual because I like to ‘drive’ not just steer the car. But with the improved efficiency of the new autos now better than manuals, as well as much quicker shifting than the manuals, I find it hard to discount moving on to an auto….just like I moved on to other improved auto technology.

      • Kurtster

        Spicy, you and I drive the same car, so that shows we both have excellent taste! I just don’t see this as analogous with holding on to old technology. I’m definitely not one of those incandescent light-loving, drum bake, vinyl-instead-of-digital people. In fact, I’m a pretty early adopter and always have been. There is a visceral feeling I get when I control downshifting into a turn that just mashing the gas pedal doesn’t give me.

        Can an automatic transmission shift faster than I can? Sure. Can it decide when I want that shift to happen? No. The automatic just does its thing when it thinks is appropriate based on someone’s algorithm or whatever went into deciding shift points. That isn’t any fun for me. It doesn’t know if I’m wanting to overtake another car, do donuts, get somewhere more quickly or just playing around – I do. The manual transmission gives a higher level of control over when and how shifts happen.

        I find this subject more analogous with smartphone operating systems. For example, the Android OS gives people lots more control over tweaking their devices than Apple’s iOS does. That said, I use iOS because I am not interested in that kind of control on my phone. I want it drop-dead simple even if it means fewer features. I know what I could do with an Android device, I just don’t want it. For some, they think it’s crazy to use iOS because it’s so “limiting” or “closed” to them. So when it comes to the transmission in my car, I’m more like the Android user – I want the control in my hands. Both coexist just fine, but if automatic were the only way to get a MINI, especially a JCW or GP, I don’t think I could stick with it.

        If I were to go automatic it would have to be with some kind of crazy beast of a car with like 500+ horsepower to guarantee more power than I could want, whenever I want it. Still, I’d have to drive it and have it sell itself to me.

      • otter

        It has been my experience that automatic transmissions only outperform my shifting under specific conditions. Even with adjustable modes for street & track the performance envelope for an automatic is limited and in the cases where it handles things better than me it is usually marginal at best. As to efficiency, I have found that driving autos hard usually results in considerably lower millage than I get rowing the gears myself. Another point might be immersion in the driving experience, whilst rowing one’s own gears there isn’t as much down time to be distracted by texting or mindlessly drifting through stop signs, in and out of lanes, and forgetting that green means go. Ultimately I think many manual addicts, like me, just get bored with driving automatics regardless of how good they may have become.

      • walk0080

        Not sure if the analogy is quite the same. I had no issues with my car having direct injection… or turbo vs. supercharger. I welcomed having xenon headlights because IMO the MINI halogens on the R56 are crap at night. There are clear advantages to having fuel injection, forced injection, direct injection but I’m still not 100% on automatics (depends on the car of course). I don’t see a clear need to have all cars automatics other than giving auto manufacturers greater profit by eliminating the second transmission option.

  • otter

    I have owned a mix of auto and manual transmissions, and while I greatly prefer a manual, I could live with an auto if it had an H pattern shifter and a clutch. I realized this while I endured owing a car with a CVT; even though it had paddle shifters and “virtual gears” it was still a black hole for anything resembling fun. A clutch allows one to shift into any gear before re-engaging the drive line which is a must for certain maneuvers. The H pattern shifter eliminates the need for sequentially clicking through each gear and is just plain fun, not to mention that paddle shifters aren’t very accessible when the steering wheel is turned more than about halfway. So, if a car must have an automatic why not have a “virtual” H pattern shifter and a “virtual” clutch? It could have manual, semi auto and auto modes. It could be employed in most types of auto transmissions and if done right it could look, feel, sound, and perform close enough to a real transmission to satisfy most drivers.

  • Jordan

    I plan on buying an automatic JCW. I know that will make some people want to burn me at the stake but it’s way more convenient. But if I had the money I would buy a GP too for weekends

    • walk0080

      Your money, your choice right? 🙂

      If I had the money, I would keep my JCW manual and have a track car with fast automatic.

  • Glangford

    I have the 328d w/ 8 speed auto. I love it. I can manual shift if I want. I had a r56 cooper, and although the 6 speed manual was engaging, an 8 or 9 speed would be awesome. I’ll hold my breath about comments about the great 6 speed Aisin, Yawn…

    • Chris

      The 6 speed AISIN is a joke. Mini is supposed to be a premium European hatchback. Meanwhile all the other European hatchbacks offer a ZF gearbox or some type of dual clutch. Mini is still using the same transmission as a camry. The GTI has had a dual clutch for years, this is unacceptable.

  • Hunter

    I love my R56 (manual) and I loved my R53 (also manual) before it, and I’ve driven manuals since I was about 9 years old (I’m from rural Louisiana, and it was mostly on back roads and on my grandfather’s vast empty property). I really have an obsession with manuals, and I have since childhood, and I truly hope they don’t go away any time soon. I’m 25, and already most people my age drive automatics, but there are some who still like to row their own gears. My younger sister (20) used to “steal” my R53 from time to time and drive it to high school, though her current car is an auto. My mother even considered a manual for her E46 and E93, but opted for an auto instead both times; her best friend, however, has stuck with manuals (she now drives a TSX manual), and I really love that about her. I also think that the manual ratio varies greatly by city, as here in New Orleans there seem to be more manual drivers than elsewhere in the state–don’t know if it has something to do with the more “European” culture or what–I live in Montreal for a couple of years, and there were always far more manuals than in the US (in my experience).

  • Evan

    I love manual transmissions. It’s one of the most involving aspects of a car next to the steering feel/handling. The engine tech can improve, bodies can get lighter, electrical systems faster and less bulky but engaging a gear successfully and having full control of the throttle and the revs is addicting magic. My wife had never driven a manual before my Cooper and when she went to buy her Civic (10yrs ago…) I told her she needed the manual- she got it and is plotting her next manual car.

    The thing is- she wants an AWD manual car which is a very, very short list of possible vehicles now. It’s basically the Countryman All4, Subaru WRX, and VW Golf R. Right? And the problem with the mainstream auto manufacturers is that you have to get a bare bones model to get the manual. Even ZoomZoom Mazda offers the manual only on the smaller engine 3i and base CX-5. The Grand Touring 6 is also auto only…

    My next MINI will be a manual. I have a feeling a time may come when you pay extra for the manual over the automatic, and I’m okay with that as long as it means the manual is still an option.