Have EVs Killed the Manual Gearbox?
Well the short answer is no, but there’s a whole lot more to the death of self-shifting than the emergence of EVs. And in reality the main reason that manual gearboxes are dying out is thanks to the lumps of meat in the driving seat and our relentless laziness. But why should we care about how we shift gears?
Personally, I won’t mourn the loss of a manual ‘box in a daily driver, shlepping across town, up a motorway or driving a car full of rubbish to the tip. That is nothing more than a task and honestly I’m more than happy to let the car do all the work. I don’t know a single person who enjoys continuously pressing the clutch in and out when stuck in traffic, it’s boring and is a part that wears out. My last three cars have all had Volkswagen Group’s fantastic DSG gearbox and even though they were all ‘performance’ versions of the cars they served as my daily driver, and I’d have hated a manual in them.
The thing is, people see this as a relatively recent issue but look back to the turn of the new millennium and the rot had already set in – the BMW M3 CSL, one of the most revered sports cars of the last twenty years always came with a caveat in the reviews – because it came with an automated single clutch paddle-shift gearbox. It’s now universally agreed that the CSL would’ve been much better with a manual ‘box yet at the time the self-shifter was deemed to be more ‘race car’ and indeed there’s now a healthy market in converting CSL’s to manual and making them ‘perfect’.
There are two groups affected by this though – normal cars and then sports cars. For me, anything normal can easily be automatic, zero problem there for the reasons mentioned above. I do mourn a manual gearbox in a supercar sometimes, but let’s deal with the more ordinary side first. There was a time when the option of an automatic was a really odd choice – they were slower, thirstier and more expensive. But with the advent of the dual-clutch automatic gearbox that was turned on its head, now DSG (or its equivalent) cars are faster, more economical and far easier and more pleasant to drive than their manual counterparts. This is down to the ease at which you can program a DSG ‘box to cope with stringent economy and emission regulations and tests – a tweak to the ECU map at the mandated 32mph/3800rpm is imperceptible to Joe Public, but can mean a huge amount to the official testing figures.
We can also see the manual disappearing in hot hatches – sure the warm hatches like the Golf GTi and Hyundai i30N still have a manual as standard but there’s always a dual-clutch option and once you move up to the Golf R, Mercedes A45S, Audi RS3 etc they are all dual-clutch only. This is the trickle-down effect from performance cars, and it means the manual will slowly but surely continue to disappear. But – and this is the controversial point – does it matter now? By 2030 you won’t be able to buy an internal combustion engine (ICE) powered car in Europe and EVs don’t have gearboxes.
So the simple fact is – within 10 years you won’t be able to buy any car with a manual gearbox because everything will be electrified. Of course that won’t stop you from being able to buy second hand cars, not yet anyway and that’s the subject for another article. As the owner of an EV and an ICE car with DSG, it doesn’t bother me one bit for my daily driving duties. But what about cars for the enthusiast in the next 9 years? Will there be the ability to self-shift? Well, yes and no.
You haven’t been able to buy a manual Ferrari since the California of 2014 and even then they were special-order only (as they were on the 599 GTB and 612 Scaglietti), the proper mid-engine 430 was the last ‘proper’ manual offered and that died when the 458 came along in 2010. The Gallardo was the last manual Lamborghini offered and that died out with the Huracan of 2013 (before the Lambo fanboys start up – the e-Gear was categorically NOT a manual). McLaren has never offered a manual (excluding the F1). Not even the ultra-rare like Koenigsegg offer a manual on their newer Jesko. Pagani too.
There’s one tiny glimmer of hope in the hypercar world in the form of the Gordon Murray Design T.50, a new take on the McLaren F1 by it’s designer with a screaming 12,000rpm naturally aspirated V12 and – shock horror – a six-speed manual gearbox! But the seven-figure price tag isn’t exactly ‘accessible’.
So what of the more attainable sports cars, are there manual options? Well you can get a manual in a 718 GTS and GT4, ‘proper’ drivers cars, along with the Porsche 911, and the GT3 still offers the manual option too. Which for me is about as far as I’d actually want a manual to go – 500bhp in a road car is plenty fast enough in reality and even then, when racing towards a 9000rpm redline it’s quite a rush to grab another gear in the manual. For track work, absolutely get the PDK. The best small sports car in recent times – the Alpine A110 – only comes with a dual-clutch gearbox and in my opinion this is the greatest shame of all. For such a small, lightweight, nimble sports car, having the option of shifting gears would have been fantastic and may have opened it up to a greater audience. Lightweight and low power is a great combo in these days of 400+bhp hot hatches.
There are a few saving graces though if a manual is your thing. Firstly, the only manual V8 car on sale is the latest Ford Mustang, including the epic Mach-1 model – a lovely manual giving access to all that wonderful V8 burbly goodness – helped by the fact that the auto option is Ford’s somewhat baffling 10-speed unit which seems to be continuously shifting gears. The other is the new Lotus Emira – a stunning 2-seat coupe that looks like it costs double the £75k asking price. For that you get relatively low weight, a 400hp supercharged V6 and as standard a gorgeous exposed-linkage manual gearbox. Lastly there’s the new Toyota GR86 – a 230hp, small coupe which has a manual as standard and should be huge fun for under £35k. Oh and there’s of course the venerable Mazda MX-5 too.
So what to do with the manual? Well sadly we know it has at most a 9yr shelf life in new cars. In small, lightweight cars (ooh, forgot about Caterham!) a manual ‘box is a revelation, giving you a connection to the driving experience that an auto simply cannot do. But do I miss shifting gears in a 700hp twin-turbo V8 missile? Not really, nor in daily driving.
I’m sure there will be loads of ‘petrolheads’ screaming at their screens now, saying that they want to ‘SaVe Teh MAnuALs!!1!’ etc but in reality have never bought a new car, thus never actually putting their money where their mouth is. The DSG Golf GTi outsells the manual 4 to 1 so don’t be surprised if that disappears very soon. People simply didn’t buy manuals when offered, so it’s about to be gone forever. And I’m okay with that.