While manuals are available on these cars, the smart choice is the automatic.
Automotive enthusiasts are a tough bunch to deal with for manufacturers; we all have an opinion on how a car could be improved, made to be “more of a driver’s car." Chief among the recommendations is that, “it would be so much better with a manual gearbox!” But there are times when a manual adds nothing to an experience, times when cars would be worse off for a do-it-yourself approach to shifting gears. Here are 10 cars offered with the choice of both, but in all cases, the best transmission is one that shifts on its own.
Porsche doesn’t make a bad manual gearbox. On the contrary, it makes some of the best manuals around in the 911 GT3 and Cayman GT4. Why then would we recommend the dual-clutch PDK automatic in the base specification 911 Carrera and Carrera S? The 7-speed manual utilized in these models is good, but the ratios are suited for cruising rather than frequent shifting. Pair that with turbo torque across the rev range and you seldom need to shift when you’re on the go. The 6-speed from the 911 GT3 would be far better – but since that isn’t available, the 7-speed automatic makes the most of the torque so you can focus on the 911’s impeccable chassis balance.
The M2 is the littlest car from BMW’s M division – a sweetly proportioned, exceptionally balanced coupe that borrows chassis tech from its bigger sibling, the M4. The chassis isn’t overburdened by the 365-hp twin-turbo six, which is why it seems like a perfect candidate for a manual. Unlike the M3/4, with their snappy handling, the M2 is best had with the 7-speed M-DCT auto for another reason – BMW’s manual gearboxes simply aren’t that great. They’re awkwardly weighted in throw, and shifting the stick between the gates is met with rubbery resistance rather than the bolt-action nature a good manual gearbox deserves.
Yet another performance duo that rely heavily on turbocharged boost, the BMW M3 and M4 twins can be purchased with a six speed manual gearbox. But, when the twin-turbocharged S55 six-banger comes on boost, the rear-wheel drive sports sedan and coupe coupling can be more than a handful to control. A manual might let you control the gears, but even the most seasoned professional driver would have trouble controlling the erratic torque delivery in the same way the 7-speed M-DCT dual-clutch auto does – letting you focus on hitting those apexes, or hanging the tail out.
The BMW 3 Series is an iconic nameplate that provided buyers with sportscar-like handling dynamics in the package of a family sedan for decades. But since the introduction of the exceptional ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox buyers of the manual have dwindled to the point that a 6-speed do-it-yourself shifter is now a cost-free option rather than the standard. But the manual doesn’t offer anything special, with a rubbery shift that never quite feels engaged, doesn’t slip from one gate to the next very smoothly, and feels more like a shifter on a PC gaming rig rather than a mechanical item on one of the finest driver’s sedans Germany has to offer.
For nearly 40 years Volkswagen has dominated the hot hatch market with the Golf GTI’s simple recipe – moderate power, great front-wheel drive chassis, and for a long time, a manual gearbox. Hell, it still produces an exceptional manual and should be praised for still offering it. But here’s the thing, the 6-speed dual-clutch DSG automatic is simply exceptional! It’s so good, in fact, that the VW group re-invented it for use in the Bugatti Veyron. The manual may be good, but the DSG is quicker, more intuitive, and deals with almost every situation better than the manual counterpart can.
Like the GTI, the Volkswagen Golf R can be had with either a 6-speed manual or DSG dual-clutch automatic. But the Golf R features the latest generation of Haldex Traction based all-wheel drive. Using electronic sensors and actuators to engage drive to the rear wheels, the R makes use of a plethora of pitch and yaw sensors, wheel speed sensors, and other computers to decide when the rear wheels need driving. The computer systems making these decisions are integrated into every facet of the Golf R – including the gearbox programming. Equipping the R with a manual gearbox dulls its ability to handle and distribute power.
The Ford Mustang is a pretty sweet all-American sports car, and as a fastback coupe, with a rigid body, the manual is definitely the sweeter deal. But the convertible loses huge amounts of rigidity and trades sporting pretenses for stylish ones. The new 10-speed automatic is vastly improved compared to the old 6-speed, and by allowing it to do the work, the Mustang Convertible becomes the perfect top-down showoff cruiser that the drop-top was meant to be. The manual is available, but what’s the point of equipping a sub-par handler with a gearbox made for a sports car?
The Jaguar F-Type is a gorgeous alternative to the Porsche 718 and 911, with a range of endearing engines and an involving drive. One would think that the addition of manual variants would be a gearhead’s wet dream, but sadly this isn’t the case. The F-Type can be had with a 6-speed manual with the supercharged V6 in its 340- and 380-hp guises, but it’s sadly only an average attempt. It may engage in the fact that you move the stick yourself, but it feels rubbery, it’s all too easy to miss your shifts, and it feels like Jaguar added this merely to appease the internet rather than those who’ll actually buy an F-Type.
The Italian Miata/MX-5, the "Fiata" as it’s been called by some, gives buyers the choice of a manual or automatic gearbox with 6 speeds apiece. But in addition to Italian styling, Fiat has equipped the 124 Spider with a 1.4-liter turbocharged motor with a high boost threshold and mountains of lag that you could binge-watch a full season of Game of Thrones in. When you’re flat out, trying to make the most of the turbo-torque, the manual shifter drops you out of boost and slows acceleration. The automatic – though not the sharpest tool in the shed – manages boost far better, provides a smoother ride, and feels like the quicker transmission of a poor pair.
Much like the BMW M3, the Giulia QV features a potent turbocharged six cylinder engine and a choice between manual and automatic gearboxes. But unlike the BMW, the Alfa’s power delivery is predictable and rear end grip is progressive. The Alfa has established itself as an M3-beater by offering responsiveness that borders on telepathy – mainly due to ultra quick ratio steering. This, and the fact that the exceptional ZF 8-speed auto is far more responsive than the 6-speed manual, is why the auto is a better option. The Giulia just feels more cohesive with the auto – the best version of itself it can be – plus you get to use those sweet shift paddles.