Around a year ago (I think), I took part in some market research for Hyundai in regards to what makes a good hot hatchback. Within that I stressed that a good manual gearbox is paramount to making a worthwhile hot hatchback. However, it's not so black and white nowadays as some models don't even give you option of manual and you have to make do with an auto whether you like it or not.
This isn't always a bad thing though, as it can offer better fuel consumption (boring, I know), plus it means you can hit 62mph quicker. For example, the Audi RS3 is able to hit 62mph in 4.1 seconds, which is bonkers. There was a time where supercars could only dream of hitting times like that, and here we are in 2017 being able to do that in a hatchback. Ok, so you'll need to fork out over £40,000 for the pleasure, but still, you can't deny it's impressive.
The Audi S Tronic gearbox is certainly impressive, but I'd still rather have a manual for better engagement
I've driven the BMW M140i with the DCT auto and I have to say it was savage. Thanks to its 3.0 litre straight-six engine it will hit 62mph in 4.6 seconds. The changes were snappy and made driving fast effortless, but I'd rather have the manual given the choice, although I have heard that the manual option for the M140i is a bit notchy, so maybe that's not the best example.
Here is the M140i I drove last year
What I'm trying to get at is that for me, a hot hatch NEEDS to have a manual gearbox where possible, but I concede that dependant on the model, an auto is the better choice. However, I actually think I would rather have the slick nature of the 6-speed manual fitted to the Civic Type R, which I believe is the best to be found in a hot hatch at the moment. That however, due to its lack of four wheel drive, means that the 0-62 time is a 5.7 seconds, which seems to be a fair way behind.
I understand that for a daily commute an automatic is better, especially if you hit constant traffic. My left knee plays up every now and then due to an old football injury so constant clutch action in crawling traffic can be far from my idea of fun. That is when I think an auto would be ideal, but thankfully I don't face that scenario often so it's of little issue to me, but I can see the appeal in ditching the clutch pedal in favour of two paddles on the steering wheel.
I still can't believe Renault thought it was a good idea to offer the latest Clio RS with no manual option *facepalm* Picture sourced from Autocar
A manual gearbox is simply more engaging though - I drove my Ibiza FR for the first time in quite some time the other day and I had great fun moving the gear lever around its 5-speed 'box. The throws are a little long for my liking but it's precise and snappy enough to make driving the car joyful and the replacement of a flappy paddle set up wouldn't offer as much fun for me.
So what do you guys prefer, an old-school manual, or a more efficient auto? Let me know which you prefer and why in the comments section below.