When I learned to drive I remember the dawning realisation that all this time I had been wrong. Every time I’d played SEGA Rally 2 I had selected Automatic and it has done the gear shifting for me. It had ratioed up and down for me as I slide around the mud, trying to reach he next stage’s checkpoint. My virtual co-driver might have found the smoother transitions more comfortable, but ostensibly I had no reason to shift up and down manually. In real life, however, I could rev my Mum’s Fiat Uno (god rest it’s soul) day and night on it’s four-speed gearbox and 990cc engine, with it’s fast acting clutch and bouncy speedometer (where you needed to on the fly take an average of the speed it was bouncing between to get your actual speed).
I loved manual cars. I really did. Reving my Punto up to Aberdeen was get, and throwing it into the corners on the Aberdeenshire roads was a revelation at the time. I loved manual cars right up until the point I hated them.
I drove what might have been considered the worst automatic car ever built, the 2006 Ford Taurus. The boat like air-cushioned suspension and the 20mpg, with it’s four automatic gears and huge 2.0l engine were a travesty, and the whole car was just simply put together by one of the worst manufacturers of cars there is at the time. I mean, for example, my current Passat, which just turned ten years old, is the same age as the Taurus, being a 2006 model, and there is no way that that Taurus is still on the road today; it felt ten years old when it was only four years old, and it had one of those classic “arm stick” automatic gearboxes where you pull it and ram it down. I disliked the act of driving the Taurus but didn’t really mind the automatic functions. It felt right and easy, much like my preference for driving on the right rather than the left.
It was when I went to Canada that I drove for the first time a “modern” automatic. The Dodge Charger I drove was sublime, and since then I’ve avoided manual cars where possible. When we moved back to the UK had no car to drive of our own, so we rented a lot, and it’s a lot cheaper to rent a manual tiny car than a larger automatic, and once we bought our own car I’ve only drive a manual maybe five times since in four years. We bought th automatic Passat because Connie can’t drive a manual with her Canadian earned UK license and I after a while just gave up on it.
I do have to drive a manual as the car that the office has for travel to site is a manual Ford Focus, which is one of the most uncomfortable cars there is. When I need to hire a car for a longer trip now I ask for an automatic car and it’s great; I avoid putting the clutch into the danger zone everytime I forget that crawling traffic requires a shifting up and down.
I know for a fact that the automatic gear boxes are less robust and less efficient, but personally we have no choice, and when I do have a choice I prefer the automatic all the time. Once you’ve gone Auto, it’s hard to even consider going back.