My brother in law recently got hired on by the local BMW dealer as a service tech and one of the perks of the job is that from time to time he gets to drive a customers car as he attempts to duplicate the issue(s) reported by the owner that caused them to bring the car in for service.
During this time, he has had a number of 3-Series and other common BMW models, but a few months ago he showed up with a first generation Z4 which aside from him not getting it to duplicate the problems the customer had reported, the car itself was equipped with an automatic.
Yeah, I know, most people buying cars these days buy the automatic. Of course, the fact he had shown up at my house with the Z4 was cause enough for us to go out for a bit and drive the car, and I did enjoy driving the car. Styling aside, the Z4 really is a great little sports car, the steering is so direct and precise, you barely move the wheel and the car changes direction. It’s as if the steering rack is hardwired directly to your brain and can read if the most minute of detail coming from you when driving the car. It really is a great car, but one that would be even better if the ability to change gears via a traditional clutch and gear shift where present.
Fast forward to last night when he arrived at my house in a new generation Z4 S-drive35 with the DCT (dual clutch) transmission. I heard him coming from almost a block away as he ran the car through the gears, and as he came down my street listening to the engine blip the throttle for each downshift really was a thing of beauty and engineering. The question posed from him after showing off the really cool mechanical top to my 2 young kids was of course, “Do you want to go for a ride?” to which my immediate response was, “Yes, give me the key, I’ll drive!”
He insisted on driving first to show me how cool a transmission the DCT was, and I have to confess I was truly impressed with the seamless power and delivery and constant stream of torque uninterrupted by each upshift. After a few miles, he pulled over in an industrial park and I took the wheel. He set the car to the most aggressive shift settings and told me to floor it. Immediately the car took off, and flicking the shifts using the steering wheel mounted controls had me to well over 80 MPH in a matter of seconds, and a big stupid smile on my face confirmed that the experience was good.
I spent the next 15-20 minutes roaming various streets, truly marveling at the DCT and how good a transmission it really is. And knowing you could throw the transmission into a normal automatic drive mode and not have to worry about anything means that your wife could easily drive the car daily without knowing the demon within.
But, as good as it was, there was still something missing.
And I don’t know about you, but I like having three pedals to drive with, and “NO,” the third pedal isn’t the dead pedal as I had some moron say to me a few months ago. The third pedal is a clutch, and it’s what keeps your left leg busy while driving. It’s sad that so few people actually get to enjoy the act of shifting a car manually using a clutch and gearshift, getting to know and understand the mechanical/human interface afforded by such a setup. A surprising number of people can’t drive a manual transmission anymore, my wife included (because she refuses to learn), and I think it is a shame.
I remember years ago you couldn’t get a Ferrari or Lamborghini without a clutch. Heck, even Porsche was predominately manual, and BMW prided itself on how many manual transmission 3 & 5 Series cars they sold. And yeah, with BMW and Porsche you can still get a traditional clutch pedal, Ferrari no longer offers that option, and Lamborghini isn’t far behind I’m guessing once the Gallardo is brought to market.
When I was young, I was always obsessed with German sedans. The original E30 BMW M3 and the Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 where cars I lusted over, but for different reasons. I wasn’t quite old enough to drive yet, but I wanted the M3 because it was pure sex on four wheels, but the Merc was different, I lusted after it because it unlike most of the MB models of it’s day had a manual transmission, a rarity then, a “unicorn” now.
This got me thinking though, how many of us have actually had the chance to drive a car that offered up a manual, but actually finding one and driving it was a hunt in and of itself. I know for me personally, 2 cars stand out as ones that I actually got to drive the actual manual version of, in my case both being Mercedes.
As I grew older, my desire to own a Mercedes-Benz faded as BMW had stolen my heart with me driving a BMW almost uninterrupted since 1999, most of those being manual. But when Mercedes came out with a new C-Class in early 2000, I needed to go drive one as it offered a manual transmission. I remember it took quite a few phone calls to finally locate one on a dealer lot, but thankfully House of Imports in Buena Park California had one coming in, and when it finally arrived the sales guy called and I had a chance to drive a Mercedes with a clutch and shifter.
The build-up and anticipation was greater than the car itself as the shifter really didn’t feel connected to anything even close to feeling mechanical, and the clutch was as limp as a over cooked pasta noodle. But, and this is the important thing, I was able to say I’d driven a manual Mercedes.
Surprisingly the opportunity arose again a year or two later when I stumbled upon a Mercedes SLK parked in the back of a dealer lot collecting dust, but looking through the window I saw a stick shift. Knowing this was a 2-seat car, and not wanting a pesky sales guy to go along for the ride, I strategically came back with my wife and they let us take the car alone for a test drive. Even though it was better than the C-Class, the shifter and clutch set-up was weak and non-communicative compared to not only the 3-Series BMW I was driving at the time, but quite honestly most other manual transmission cars of the day.
But again, I could add 2 rare car combinations to the list of cars I’d driven.
So, I ask you, what rare or unexpected manual transmission cars have you had a chance to get behind the wheel of and drive. I know for me, the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne are two that I’d love to drive just to say I’ve driven, and the elusive Porsche Panamera is out there in manual form, and if I had the money and the need for such a car, the manual transmission is the car I’d seek out.
Nothing, and I do mean NOTHING beats rowing your own gears the traditional way. Yes, I know the new transmissions do it better and faster and more intelligently than we as humans ever could, but isn’t that learning curve part of the fun of driving? The Nissan 370Z will match your revs perfectly when downshifting by blipping the throttle for you, but what fun is that when you could be learning and doing it yourself?
So answer the question below, is there a car that you’ve had a chance to drive in a manual transmission set-up that people normally wouldn’t think of as being a manual? And while we are at it, what car currently on the market do you lust to drive that still has a manual transmission. I know for me I can’t wait to get my hands on a Porsche 911s with the 7-speed manual, but that will opportunity hasn’t presented itself to me, yet.
So chime in and enlighten us to your list, short as it may be, of the manual transmission car you’ve driven or want to drive. And if you, like me or fortunate enough to still have a car that makes you actually be engaged in the driving experience, why not share that with us as well.
After all, isn’t the love of cars the reason we are all here anyways?