I wonder if someone that learned to drive with a Model T ever actually wrote to a motoring publication with the view:
“Three pedals and one lever is way too easy. I like to feel the man and machine connection by mastering the timing of synchronised movements between my left foot, right hand, left hand and right foot while trying to steer at the same time. It’s no wonder there are so many accidents when you consider people don’t even have to concentrate on driving because they don’t need to alter the air/fuel mixes themselves when changing speeds!”
Now, I’ll grant you that the “move with times you’ll not miss it” point of view is a little obvious and obnoxious. I simply can’t argue against the great joy in controlling the gear box with a fairly simple mechanical connection. I’ve no doubt that there will still be some more analogue cars built around a stick shift for the purist, the playful and those that love the challenge for years to come. However we are now in an age where many cars drivetrains are not built around a manual transmission, and that makes for some contradictions being typed into comment boxes across the internet by the hardcore manual gearbox fetishists.
The contradiction is in those people holding onto the idea of stick shift as the be-all and end-all of motoring perfection, and it's often the same people salivating over technologies such as torque vectoring and adaptive suspension. These are technologies becoming commonplace that genuinely cause the car to require less skill and understanding to drive at any pace. The computer is actively dialling out the pressing need to understand the surface you are on, and dialling out any oversteer and torque steer for you.
Let’s take the darling of the automotive world at the moment, the Ford Focus RS. If you visit Fords introductory webpage on the car you will find this statement:
“… the Ford Performance All-Wheel-Drive System intelligently distributes power for maximum benefit, both front and rear as well as left and right. ”
That’s basically the computer and associated technology controlling the entire dynamics of the cars handling and adapting to the conditions you are driving in, thus removing a fair amount of responsibility of control of the car. The same applies with the simpler pure front wheel drive Focus and Fiesta ST models. All this amazing computer controlled technology is designed to turn the car into a precise handling instrument, yet people want to depress a pedal, move a lever, then release the pedal every time they want the car to change gear. Many want to add a blip of the throttle on the downshift with *the same foot that is doing the braking* - yet at the same time the computer is deciding when and how much braking to apply on different corners of the car and how much to split the power between the front and rear of the car to keep it stable and maximise grip.
At that point driving a stick shift is nothing but an illusion of control.
Now, I’m down for doing things for fun in a car designed to put a smile upon my face. The ST model Fords are fantastic fun and driven well they are quick, but the disdain shown when any popular car comes without a stick shift option is most often nothing short of absurd. On top of that, the disdain is inevitably shown by people that haven’t driven the car and were never going to buy a new model in the first place.
At this point I’m sure there are engineers all over the world absolutely baffled that these amazing cars they have designed to drive and handle beautifully are being slammed in website comment sections because people are demanding an archaic form of control over the gearbox. It must be all kinds of frustrating that instead of the slick finger controlled masterpiece the entire drivetrain is based around, the loud people want to disengage drive with a foot pedal and remove their hand from the steering wheel to move a lever before reengaging the engine manually instead.
So where does that leave us?
It actually leaves us in a place where we have cars serious about their performance and looking to give people something exhilarating to drive based on current technology… and it’s getting a bit weird to keep trying to impose a contrivance that is tottering over the brink and into becoming old school technology.
It gets worse though for the "I only drive a stick" crowd. They aren't buying enough new cars to save their blessed manual. Car makers are very good at making what people want, and they only make money on the first sale. Most car enthusiasts, myself included, buy used cars because either they can't afford a new high performance car, or so they can get more for their money without taking the huge depreciation driving it off the dealers forecourt. Or both.
So if you are one of those manual fetishists, do yourself a favour and give automakers a reason to make manuals by actually buying them new, otherwise just accept that they will be dying out. Eventually you'll have to move on and give some of the ferociously good cars with with paddles a go anyway.