Why have manual transmissions become replaced by paddle shifters and such? What are the benefits in terms of performance?


Why have manual transmissions become replaced by paddle shifters and such? What are the benefits in terms of performance?

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Manual transmissions are slower to 60 and less fuel efficient than current automatic transmissions. So there is very little reason to produce them anymore.

Paddle shifters have the advantage of the quick and precise shifts of an automatic transmission, but with the individual control about when to shift that comes with a manual transmission.

They are still produced here actively. Never seen a paddle-shift being sold that isn’t on a really expensive vehicle.

I like manual transmission anyway, adds to the fun of driving.

From my point of view in the 1980s manual transmissions had three major advantages over automatic transmissions:

1)Manuals were faster. The automatic transmissions weren’t slow but they did not allow for shifting at the highest RPMs, where an engine usually makes its highest horsepower. This was borne out over and over in the testing records of the various car magazines.

2)Manuals gave more control. Downshifting when I saw some stupid nonsense approaching gave me more options to do something with just my right foot: slow down with engine braking, maintain the same speed at a higher RPM, or accelerate out of the trouble by picking a line and threading the needle before it closes. Until the Porsche Tiptronic came along, manually moving between an automatic’s gears, like going from D to 2, was rough and harsh on the transmission.

Notice none of those options involve hitting the brakes, which before ABS could be a real problem. Skidding would mean going straight into whatever you were aiming at when you hit the brakes. As I became a better driver more advanced moves like double-clutching and speed shifting became options. (Although I spent way more time trying to learn it and practicing and getting in trouble than I ever did getting *out* of trouble with those tricks!)

3) Manuals are less expensive all around. The car itself was always cheaper if it had a manual, and not just because manual transmissions were cheaper to make. Manuals usually came with a no-frills baseline package that drivers like me recognized as lighter weight and easier to fix. That would include hand-cranked windows and a crummy radio you were likely to replace anyway. There was less mechanical complexity in a manual, so it cost less to maintain and far less to fix, although nobody wanted to have to replace a clutch.

Steadily over the years much of that has changed. Car brakes are awesome now and allow for control while emergency braking. Total game-changer, that one. Performance transmissions are computer controlled to shift at ideal points, far quicker than a human can throw a lever like a gearshift. They will furthermore refuse to risk blowing the engine in a mis-judged double-clutch down two gears. Manufacturing tolerances are so much better that a complex system like an automatic transmission can last the life of the car.

And the power. Modern cars have lavish amounts of soupy torque and soaring horsepower that one could only dream of in the 1980s. Sometimes far more power than a normal driver can manage with a manual transmission–that was part of the art of mastering race cars, and while many of us wanted to be that, we were not. Sometimes it’s just far more power than *any* manual transmission can manage.

If I could hop back into my tiny 1.6L Miata and toss it around the mountains like a toy, I surely would and to hell with safety. But in the real world I would have to think rather seriously now about how a manual transmission is right on the verge of *giving up* safety, performance and control, instead of *increasing* it, like it so obviously used to be.

And I guess that right there underscored some attitude difference between drivers which I’m sure still helps define the automatic/manual divide. Some drivers wanted to have more points of control so that they could be more in the moment of driving. Others wanted to put less effort into (and pay less attention to) driving. And looking back the ones I considered “lazy” weren’t wrong. They were coming to terms with the modern reality that for most people your car is sitting around in traffic, waiting. Why would you want to row your car to work and back every day?

You have an automatic transmission. Some years ago, some companies let you put the transmission selector level into a little slot with + and – to allow you to force the transmission to go up or down a gear based on your input instead of its own devices. Paddle shifters are the same thing. You get the option of choosing your own gears like a manual, but the benefits of not having to shift when you don’t want to.

Sometimes it’s not an automatic, but a dual-clutch, which is sort of computer-controlled manual that can work in automatic or paddle mode.

Performance? Automatic vs. manual? Long ago there was a huge gap, especially because automatics had fewer gears. Today that’s close, with six and seven speed automatics available, and they can shift faster than you can. The dual clutch ones can shift extremely fast.

The only downside is you can’t select your own gear directly, like fourth to second for a curve, you have to go 4-3-2.