Automatic vs manual debate isn't about masculinity. It's choosing between forks & chopsticks


HomeHome / Blog / Automatic vs manual debate isn't about masculinity. It's choosing between forks & chopsticks

Sep 15, 2023

Automatic vs manual debate isn't about masculinity. It's choosing between forks & chopsticks

(function() { /** CONFIGURATION START **/ var _sf_async_config = window._sf_async_config = (window._sf_async_config || {}); _sf_async_config.sections = dataLayer_content.pageCategory;

(function() { /** CONFIGURATION START **/ var _sf_async_config = window._sf_async_config = (window._sf_async_config || {}); _sf_async_config.sections = dataLayer_content.pageCategory; _sf_async_config.authors = dataLayer_content.pagePostAuthor; /** CONFIGURATION END **/ function loadChartbeat() { var e = document.createElement('script'); var n = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; e.type = 'text/javascript'; e.async = true; e.src = '//'; n.parentNode.insertBefore(e, n); } loadChartbeat(); })();

A few days ago, while driving to a meeting, I saw a car next to me with a sticker on it. And what it said triggered me enough to write this column, “Real Men Use Three pedals”. This is, of course, a feigned superiority that those who drive cars with a manual transmission have. It was not the first time in the recent past that I’ve seen such vitriol. A few weeks back, someone on Twitter—or is it X now? —wrote, most likely to drive engagement, “Automatics are for cowards.”

Here is the amusing part, over the past week I have been driving the new Maruti Suzuki Jimny, and the manual variant at that. In fact, the car has two gearboxes, a regular five-speed one and another to control the four-wheel drive system. Would the two gearboxes make me twice a man? What’s even funnier is that I was driving to the launch of the new second-generation Mercedes-Benz GLC in Gurugram, and Mercedes-Benz India, or for that matter all its rivals, does not sell any vehicle with manual transmissions other than a few limited performance cars. So, does that make any man who buys a German luxury vehicle, ‘not a man’?

Also Read: Why is the demand for Innova Hycross over the roof? There is a hybrid reason

Listen, it is not for me to quibble about masculinity but I write about cars and I know a thing or two about transmissions. Like anyone who learned to drive in India until fairly recently, I too learned to drive a manual transmission. I used to find it particularly hilarious how drivers in the US did not know how to drive a ‘stick shift’, a colloquial term for a floor-mounted manual transmission. So much so that when I visited my British-born cousin in New Jersey in 2004, he joked about how cars with manual transmissions had a lower insurance premium because even car thieves couldn’t drive them.

There is a reason why cars with automatic transmissions are getting increasingly popular. Even entry-level hatchbacks like the Maruti Suzuki Alto have a clutchless gearbox, which makes it a two-pedal car. Recently, at the drive of the refreshed Kia Seltos, I spent time with Hardeep Singh Brar, vice-president, marketing at Kia Motors India. He told me that demand for automatics is almost half of the total demand for the vehicles Kia sells in India and only rising, particularly in bigger metropolitan areas. I can tell you quite easily why that is the case. If you are a daily commuter covering 20-30 kilometers or more, spending time stuck in traffic at places like the Barapullah elevated road, Western Express Highway, Silk Board Junction, or the OMR, you really don’t want to give your left foot a workout.

I understand that driving a manual has a ‘feel’ to it. Give me an open, twisty mountain road and a car like the BMW M2, one I recently wrote about—which had a manual box—and I will be the first to advocate for a manual transmission. The sheer joy of hand-eye-foot coordination as you surge ahead, letting the rear slide just a little bit before you put the power down. It’s brilliant. But for a car that is primarily used for a daily commute or an occasional long-distance drive on a poker-straight Expressway, I’d choose an automatic every single time. My wife, who like me learned to drive on a manual, owned several manual cars before she got her current automatic one. She now grimaces when I have a manual to drive. As she tells me, it’s not that she can’t drive a manual but she would rather not.

I have written in my past columns that there is a veritable alphabet soup of automatic transmissions out there. Hyundai, for instance, offers five different types of automatic transmissions on their cars and each of them have their merits and drawbacks. However, all of them eliminate the need for a clutch pedal and make life easier for both the driver and the passenger. In top-grade automatic cars, the concept of ‘shift shock’ and the jerkiness often experienced while changing gear is removed. Automatics are not only easier to drive, but also more comfortable. Earlier there were only three-four speed automatic cars available in the market and they had despicable fuel efficiency. Modern automatic transmissions are actually more efficient than manuals. The ARAI-certified fuel efficiency figures for the new Honda Elevate are 15.31 kmpl for the manual and 16.92 kmpl for the automatic CVT variant.

In the new Mercedes-Benz GLC, which has a nine-speed automatic transmission, you don’t even know which gear you’re in until you look at the instrument cluster. The reason why luxury cars are offered with automatic transmission only is to protect the engine and transmission. Automatic transmissions and engines have a predefined ‘performance envelope’—they are ‘drive-by-wire’ cars, just like the ‘fly-by-wire’ Airbus A320 that replaced the conventional system. While such extraordinary limits allow you to have a lot of fun, on cars like Mercedes-Benz’ AMG, they keep you inside the envelope and protect you along with the vehicle from damage.

Sure, I would agree that learning to operate a manual is a life-skill that a driver should ideally possess. Just like you should know how to use chopsticks if you enjoy eating East Asian food. But what you ‘should know’ and ‘must know’ are two wildly different things. You can easily enjoy dim-sums with a fork just like you can enjoy driving an automatic car. Yes, not knowing how to drive a ‘stick’ (again, an American term) might restrict your choices. But let me tell you this: all that talk of electric cars you’ve heard and read about in my previous columns? Well, all of them—from two-wheelers to trucks—have to have automatic transmissions.

Moreover, the increased efficiency of automatic transmissions will also drive their adoption even in internal combustion engines. That’s also because manufacturers would need to adhere to stringent Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) norms in India and elsewhere.

That said, I will be sad to see manuals gradually disappear. While they won’t go away, they will become rarer. And I suspect that newer drivers will only learn to drive automatics. That is the fact, whether the gentleman with the car sticker, that Twitter user or even I for that matter, like it or not.

@kushanmitra is an automotive journalist based in New Delhi. Views are personal.

(Edited by Ratan Priya)

var ytflag = 0; var myListener = function () { document.removeEventListener('mousemove', myListener, false); lazyloadmyframes(); }; document.addEventListener('mousemove', myListener, false); window.addEventListener('scroll', function() { if(ytflag == 0){ lazyloadmyframes(); ytflag = 1; } }); function lazyloadmyframes(){ var ytv = document.getElementsByClassName("klazyiframe"); for (var i = 0; i

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism

Also Read: