When I received my driving license at 17, I promised my young self that I would never buy a car that had front wheel drive, a diesel engine or an automatic transmission. In my eyes, a true petrolhead would never do such a terrible thing, or at least that is what all the automotive journalists were telling me at the time. I lived by this noble mantra for well over a decade but, unfortunately, this month I broke that promise to myself.
I like to think I made this decision because automotive technology has moved on since I was 17, and that diesels and autos are much more engaging than they once were. While true, it’s also because I’m getting older and my priorities have changed. Sadly, ‘Comfort’ and ‘MPG’ are now ranked above ‘Engagement’ and ‘Exhaust noise’. However, you will be happy to know that the new purchase, although automatic, sends its diesely torque to the rear wheels. I haven’t given up on life just yet.
I am not the only one switching to two pedals and, as a result, the life of the manual transmission looks numbered. Audi recently announced that its A4 and A5 models will be auto only in the U.S., as only 5% of buyers were opting for the joy of working a clutch. The SMMT’s figures suggest that the number of automatics sold in the UK has doubled over the last five years with them set to overtake manual sales in the near distant future.
This all plays perfectly into the hands of vehicle manufacturers, who have an opportunity to slimline driveline options in their increasingly diverse vehicle ranges. Simply offering a single transmission for a specific model rather than a choice has significant benefits on vehicle design, development and production. Electrification is also much better suited to having the cogs changed automatically; calibrating torque infill, energy harvesting and deployment is much easier when an enthusiastic petrolhead isn’t crunching gears. Not to mention the benefits of removing the driver from another aspect of vehicle control as we move closer to fully autonomous vehicles.
What about keeping driver engagement alive, then? Well, the number of teenagers taking their driving test has dropped by 30% in the last decade, so fresh interest in driving is declining, never mind perfecting the art of heel and toe. So the market for ‘drivers’ cars is dramatically decreasing. Like the horse then, I imagine that the future for manual cars will be in driving for pleasure on a Sunday, probably on restricted roads or tracks, away from all those driverless cars.
So, if you like driving cars, my advice is to get yourself a manual while you still can and enjoy… oh wait… what have I done!?