Is it Time to Stop Obsessing Over the Manual Transmission?

Subaru WRX manual transmission

Today, Subaru debuted its 2024 Impreza. It’ll be available only as a hatchback. It’ll now be offered in sporting 2.5 RS trim again, and it also drops the manual transmission. That’s right—no more manual Impreza—it’s CVT or nothing. Subaru also recently debuted its 2024 Crosstrek, but hasn’t officially said no manual transmission. But does the majority of the car-buying public care? As enthusiasts, is it time to stop obsessing over the manual transmission?

We’re Die-Hards, But Should We Be?

We’ve never owned a car with a fully automatic transmission. Every vehicle we’ve owned—and it’s quite a lot—have been manuals. Our brand-new 2022 Subaru Crosstrek is a six-speed manual and may be the last of its kind. We love the ability to row our own gears and to have the most control of the car. Frankly, it’s just more fun.

On paper, however, the latest crop of automatic transmissions, whether CVT, twin-clutch, or traditional autos, often are more efficient and sometimes faster than a manual transmission. Franky, there’s not much advantage on paper to most manual transmissions anymore.

Manuals Are Going Away

2022 Subaru Crosstrek with a manual transmission, Reika Seeker wheels, and BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tires.
Our 2022 Subaru Crosstrek (six-speed manual) with Reika Seeker wheels and BFGoodrich KO2 tires.

It’s no secret that the manual transmission’s existence is waning, at least in North America. Take rates are down for most cars and for the reasons mentioned above, there isn’t much reason to own one anymore. A story by Autoweek estimates a paltry 0.9% take rate for manuals through the entire industry during the first half of 2022. (The Autoweek article says Subaru had the highest take rates. Subaru’s PR team also stated Impreza and Crosstrek take rates are under 5%.) So with over 99% of new cars sold with automatics, it makes manuals more of a novelty than anything at this point. With Subaru’s Impreza announcement today, that number will fall further, although the WRX has nearly an 80% take rate with manuals. Then again, the WRX isn’t a volume seller either.

Why We Love The Manual Transmission

We all have our reasons for loving the manual transmission. I grew up with a father who was a die-hard manual driver. From Jeeps to Volvos, everything he had was equipped to be shifted manually. That fault trait was passed down through me as every singe one of the 30+ cars I’ve owned (sans a 1979 Honda Civic 1200 with a manually shifted automatic Hondamatic transmission co-owned with my college roommate) has been a manual.

Fellow Crankshaft Culture writer (and my wife) Mercedes, has also owned nothing but manuals. From Hondas to VWs, every car she’s had the keys to was also a manual.

“Not only does it give me greater control over my vehicle in any type of condition, it gives me increased enjoyment,” says Mercedes. “I find it fun and engaging to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission. I also find it challenging to drive an older one off-road, when it doesn’t have the fancy bells and whistles like hill hold or hill descent control.” Mercedes adds stick shifts are also becoming a valid theft deterrent.

Frankly, I feel the same way Mercedes does. Sometimes I wonder if we’re missing out on some really good vehicles simply because they’re not available with a manual.

The answer is probably a resounding “yes.” There are some truly excellent vehicles of all sorts that aren’t available with manuals. From sports cars and pickups, to off-roaders and touring cars—there are some amazing vehicles out there for sale today regardless of the transmission type. Are we missing out because we can’t get them with a stick? Probably, but so far we’re dying on this hill.

The Last of Their Kind?

With 99.1% of cars being sold with automatics (according to Autoweek‘s estimate), it’s safe to say we’re probably in the last stages manual transmission availability except perhaps from highly niche vehicles. When we bought our ’22 Subaru Crosstrek, we figured the next iteration could very likely be auto-only. We’re glad we got the variant we did—it might be the last new car with a manual transmission we’ll ever buy.

So what are your thoughts? Do you like manual transmission cars? Why or why not? Leave a response in the comments section.

8 Comments

  1. It’s inevitable. And, I’ll add, a precursor to the ultimate fate–and fanfare–of the internal combustion engine.

    The control and efficiency claims we all got from our fathers growing up were based on sloppy, primitive automatics. Less-than-premium-tier-models aside, everything high performance runs an automatic these days.

    Think how many years it’s been since we all heard Clarkson lament “flappy paddle gearboxes” when discussing the general state of supercar development. At least a decade.

    Jatco Consistently Volatile Timebombs aside, it’s a clear inflection point. With the ICE likely becoming a mostly heavy industry (think: commercial trucking, tractors, etc ) holdout as the passenger space moves to electric automation, people looking for more power and control are going to have to go back to school to evolve alongside.

    Considering the prevalence of CVTs and their relative inability to handle more power than rolled off the assembly line, and the ICE going the way of the stick shift, it doesn’t make sense to invest time into learning how to modify commuter grade hardware when it’s a decade away from being even more obsolete.

    I guess you could say I think the loss of the manual gearbox is a sign that anyone interested in performance modification in the years to come is going to have to learn electrical and computer programming.

    There are real issues with this. No doubt. See the personal freedom enabled by the automobile vis-a-vis that of the cell phone, for example. But with numbers like these, it’s clear those of us who enjoy driving and keep our machines until well after they’re paid off need to lose our petty, tribal vanities and come together if we don’t want our driveways going the way of Main Street (Walmart) and forums (Facebook).

    We are the minority in the industry. Our entire lives. If you still can, shift into L for life lessons or something.

    PS: Mercedes is a “mountain wife”? 🤔

  2. Auto make more sense to 99% of the population also. Majority of people live in large urban centers where manuals are a bigger pain to drive. For instance one time went to San Francisco with my manual subaru baja, my left leg was killing me after driving there one day with all the stop and go traffic.

    Also say 10-12 years ago you went to a dealership they had say 20 examples of a car the ratio of auto to manuals would be 18/2

      1. Yes it was. Majority of cars were manual I saw over there. I’m curious what the dealership offerings are on manual/auto have been over the year and say where the peak was for manuals and when the auto took over. I’m going to guess late eighty’s mid ninety’s. Also prior an automatic transmission was more expensive comparatively to the manual.

  3. The comments on commuting are spot on. I spent exactly one year driving 110 miles round-trip commuting through downtown Seattle twice a day in a Nissan 300ZX. In that time I was beginning to have left knee issues as well as anger issues at my fellow drivers stuck in the same inane traffic. This was 1999. I’m not sure one could do it today without having replacement clutch discs and artificial knee joints on the garage bench at home.

    I’ve enjoyed manual transmissions over the years. I learned how to drive in a ’67 VW and my first cars were Datsun 510s. I’m glad I know how since I still drive my Dad’s old Ford tractor and don’t stall it. Otherwise, the only dog I have in the fight in 2022 is a 2008 smart with a single clutch automated manual with paddle shifters. It’s fun but it’s not the same.

    As I’ve aged and tried the stick in my offroad avocation, I realized finesse came with an automatic. Towing my offroad car on a trailer was made easier with an automatic, the monthly fuel budget was lower with an automatic and over time the reliability alongside the modern complexity combined to provide more economy, comfort and reliability.

    It’s the passing of a part of who we were. We’ll probably be okay.

  4. All my cars were manuals until I got married and we ended up with one car, a 2006 Forester with an auto. My reason for always buying manuals was more practical; buying an automatic would have been a much bigger gamble. A manual reduces the number and expense of the things that can go wrong. Now I don’t feel like that’s an issue with current used cars.

  5. I to have grown up with Manual trannys and love them. I’m looking to get a Subaru Outback Wilderness and would kill if I could get it with a manual! Alas I agree we and they are a dying breed. Very sad.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *