An unassuming question that asks if you would rather change gear yourself or let the car change gear for you. Regrettably, answering this question isn’t quite as simple as it may sound.
Manual gearboxes are engineered to be simplistic to use, allowing the driver change gear with the clutch and gearstick. Automatic gearboxes however aren’t so straightforward in terms of engineering. Yes, it’s true they’re simple in terms of changing through the gears for you automatically, but not all automatic gearboxes are the same. Some automatics allow you to change gears manually too.
Manuals are typically less expensive than automatics and give the driver a larger sense of involvement when driving. More physical effort is needed though so they can become a chore in stop-start traffic.
There are some driving enthusiasts that swear by manual gearboxes. They believe the mechanical connection between driver and car when selecting the ratio they want is fulfilling in itself and adds a layer of involvement that’s unrivaled to any automatic.
This is all great if you actually enjoy driving but if your main priority when driving is to get from A to B then the effort of driving a manual can be known to grind on you. In urban areas where the roads are gridlocked the effort of applying the clutch and gearstick could be too much for you, especially if you’re not paying attention and you end up stalling the car or even worse, damaging the clutch or gearbox.
In general, autos are easy to use. They deliver seamless gear changes and provide you with a comfortable all-round drive. You don’t have to worry about pressing the clutch pedal because there isn’t one! This makes stop-start traffic easier to manage and completely rids the fear of stalling or being in the wrong gear because an auto gearbox is always engaged even if you are stopped.
Automatic gearboxes are quite varied though, but the conventional autos use a system known as a torque convertor to transfer the power of the engine to the tarmac of the road. This type of auto is better off left to its own devices which means the cars they’re usually fitted to are more suited to a relaxed cruise rather than a drive down winding country roads.
Luckily for you there’s a gearbox option known as ‘semi-automatic’ that goes to extremely complicated lengths to reintroduce the driver involvement. The dual-clutch automatic, found under brand names such as PowerShift from Ford, still operate with a clutch system, but this is controlled by the on-board computer or steering wheel paddles instead of a physical clutch pedal. The advantage of having a dual clutch gearbox is that they respond to the driver changing gear much quicker leaving the driver feeling in control of vehicle.
If you want to take full control of the car and be as involved with the driving experience as much as possible then the best way to do that is with a manual gearbox. If you’re doing a lot of driving around busy urban areas and you want to feel comfortable when doing so then the automatic gearbox is for you! If you’re split between the two worlds then you should consider the semi-automatic as these allow you to select manual gearing whenever you like whilst the electronics do all of the work.
Ultimately it comes down to a personal preference towards the kind of car you want and the style of driving you do.
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