WHY MANUALS STILL MATTER
evo India|June 2020
Automated gearboxes have their place, but nothing can beat a great manual shift for ultimate car and driver interaction
HENRY CATCHPOLE

IS ‘SNICKETY’ THE MOST DESIRABLE ADJECTIVE? ‘Slick’ and ‘positive’ are oft-used, but I think ‘snickety’ is reserved for special occasions. Is ‘sloppy’ less desirable than ‘agricultural’ or ‘obstructive’? If I said ‘knuckly’, which manufacturer would you think of? ‘Click-clack’ used to instantly summon images of Ferraris until Audi realised there was no copyright.

The manual gearbox has a very definite language. You can still select a gear with a paddle, but you can’t ‘slot’ second or ‘punch’ into third. The exploratory waggle to check for neutral is only available with a stick. Resorting to first while moving is always worthy of mention. ‘Heel-and-toe’, ‘power shift’, ‘dog-leg’… all things that are banished from write-ups on two-pedal cars.

Why mention this? Well, I think it shows just how much a manual shift brings to the driving experience in a car. I don’t want this to be seen as an article that is negative towards paddles. A world without the theatre of a Ferrari 812 Superfast’s rapid-fire downshifts would be a much poorer place. And if you’re trying to set a lap time then there is no question that PDK, DCT, DSG and their ilk allow you to shave crucial tenths and will help get most of us closer to mimicking the sort of metronomic precision that is desirable lap after lap. They’re easier in traffic too.

But as good as paddleshifts are, manuals still matter. They are the vinyl to music’s Spotify. The log fire to the electric radiator. The mechanical instead of the quartz watch. The magazine feature to the online article. It’s about more than the end result of a changed gear, music heard, heat produced, time told or information imparted.

When you ponder what the simple pull of a paddle is replacing, it’s quite astounding. The actual movement of a gearstick from one gear to another is only a small part of the feel and dance of a shift. For a start, there is the way that you dip the clutch. Is that left-hand pedal hefty enough to require gym visits or so light that you stamp the carpet first time out? Does the clutch have a high or low biting point? Engagement like a light switch or worryingly slurry? And how much pedal travel do you have to play with?

Then there is the throttle pedal that requires lifting and reapplying (or perhaps doesn’t if you’re a road tester trying to shave another tenth from a 0-10kmph run). Right foot timed, of course, with the action of left foot, while speed and aggression are appropriately matched with the swiftness of the lever across the gate. Different shifts will require different lengths of time and consequently this might have an impact on your decision to even make them. Last gasp into a corner while braking hard you might think that slamming forward from fourth to third in a six-speed ’box is possible, whereas pulling back and across from third to second with the need to change vertical plane is not.

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