Manual Transmissions are Better, Right?

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Well, not always. Ask anyone over the age of 30 about the difference between manual and automatic transmissions and you will likely hear that automatics are nice but cars with manual transmissions are cheaper to buy and get better gas mileage. The problem is: this isn’t always true today.

Take, for example, the 2012 Ford Focus. The manual transmission version is rated 28 mpg in the city, 38 mpg on the highway with a 31 mpg combined. If you spring for the Super Fuel Economy option package, which uses Ford’s six-speed automatic transmission, fuel economy increases to 28 city/40 highway and 33 mpg combined. In this case, advantage: automatic transmission.

Now let’s take a look at the price issue. In most cases, the manual version of a car will indeed cost less, but in many instances, it will be about the same price as an automatic. Take, for example, the sporty Chevrolet Camaro. In many trim levels, the cost of a manual equipped Camaro is essentially the same as the automatic. The same goes for other General Motors cars such as the Chevrolet Cruze, Buick Regal, and even the Cadillac CTS.

The folks at Deery Brothers let us know that many new cars don’t even come with manual transmissions now. Some history is appropriate here. Sometime ago almost all manufacturers offered their models standard with manual transmission, and, optional (Read: higher cost) with an automatic. Not today, in 2012 64% of the car models on the American market come loaded as automatics only. Some of these are even sportier models which historically have always had a standard transmission because customers demanded them.

By the way, there is one argument in favor of stick-shift cars that doesn’t have a ready true-or-false answer. The theory is that because fewer people know how to drive stick shifts these days, cars equipped with them are less likely to be stolen.Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which tracks car-theft trends, says he’s not aware of any data to support or refute that idea. Many in the automotive business insist that this statistic is true, though.

When the argument in favor of the stick shift is based on how much fun it is, it’s undeniable say many car journalists. They insist that coordinating the shifting of gears and clutch engagement is fun to perform; certainly in a sports car. That being said, according to the NADA, only 7% of the cars sold in the US marketplace today are equipped with a standard transmission. While this number may vary over the years, it is unlikely that standard transmissions will ever become extinct. There are some drivers that will always feel that the feel and performance of a standard gearbox is preferable to an automatic. OK, a small number percentage-wise but still that’s a lot of cars.

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