Why the automatic choice shouldn’t be a manual

I’m curious as to why UK drivers have such a bad relationship with the automatic gearbox.

Now, I must clarify that Im not talking about the newer generation dual clutch autos from the last few years but rather the traditional park, neutral, drive, reverse style boxes.

There’s no doubt that certain cars will be transformed for the worse with two pedals rather than three. I mean, any able-bodied person choosing an automatic MX5, for example, would surely be making a mistake.

Mazda MX-5 automatic interior
Mazda MX-5 automatic. You’re doing it wrong. (image:Autotrader)

But what’s with the surprising number of people that insist on driving manual versions of mundane 2.0 diesels.

It’s as if constantly switching between first, second and neutral in traffic is somehow enjoyable. I wonder, how many people would genuinely enjoy their car more if it were an automatic?

The linear poke of modern diesel cars makes them perfectly suited to an automatic box, yet so many drivers still insist on driving manual examples (image: Luca Castellazzi/Flickr)

I say this after switching to an auto after years or driving only manual cars. My current daily driver, the 190E, uses Mercedes’ classic 4-speed automatic. It’s a crude yet delightfully reliable box that was fitted to literally millions of Mercs for 15 years. It isn’t particularly fast but neither does it feel dimwitted. Yes, the tallest gear leaves you buzzing away at ~3,500rpm before you even break the motorway speed limit here in the UK, but I can easily forget this.

Why? Because I don’t have to use my hand brake for short stops at traffic lights. I don’t have to play a lame balancing act with my feet through congested city streets either. Sometimes, I barely have to think about driving as the experience is so damn relaxing.

So, why all the hate?

I can’t quite pinpoint it. Surely it’s not the additional fuel costs associated with an auto. Perhaps it’s the bad wrap that certain car mags and reviewers have tarred automatic boxes with. Somehow many of the drivers I know would actually be embarrassed to drive an automatic car, and I’m willing to bet most of them have not even driven one.

Sometimes only a manual will do (image: Red Rose Exile/Flickr)

I love a great manual box, I really do. From the stubby throw of an MX-5 all the way to the agricultural movement of a Borg-Warner T5. But for a daily driver, for something that spends so much of its time at walking speeds or racking up motorway miles, I doubt I’ll want another manual.

If you hate autos then that’s fine. Just make sure you’ve tried one before you come to that conclusion.

Article lead image: Ford Focus by Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

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