Transmission

Is A Manual Transmission Better Than An Automatic When Going Off-Road?

Automatics are easier and faster on the track, but do the tables turn when the road is taken out of the equation?

Enthusiasts side so firmly with the manual transmission that when asked which is better, the matter would appear to be settled without room for debate. But hold on just a second, because as much as we’d agree that rowing one’s own gears is a way of life rather than a simple option to tick off on a new car order list, there are some instances where an automatic can prove its worth. It has nothing do with driver skill or preference, just the road conditions.

Or in this case, the lack of a road entirely. Plenty of off-road vehicles are available with manual transmissions. Your fair writer even blew the engine of a 1998 Toyota Land Cruiser equipped with a five-speed stick, although that incident occurred on a highway. Here, Team O’Neil Rally School goes off the highway to see which transmission is better than the other when the going gets rough.

Going downhill seems to be the downfalls of an automatic transmission become apparent because, all because engine braking becomes a bit more difficult. Of course this is no issue for newer cars like Toyota’s Crawl Control-equipped models, but the main rule is that drivers of automatic cars are likely to have to use the brakes much more often than those driving manual cars. It’s a similar case going uphill because the manual offers the driver a greater degree of control while the automatic just spins the wheels as it sees fit given its budget of throttle. The real downfall of the manual occurs when driving at slow speeds, but unless you’re rock crawling, why would you want to do that anyway?

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