The lost art of stick shifts
As the industry moves towards full-fledged automation, Lenspeed laments the dying art of self-serviced satisfaction
Manual gearboxes are an increasingly rare option in Singapore. To put things into perspective, there’s absolutely no reason why drivers nowadays should opt for the old school stick shift to go about their daily commute. It requires the coordination of two more limbs, hinders your movements when you style your hair at 50km/h and yes, it holds you back from answering the phone on the move.
Couple these with cars that are primarily fitted with automatic gearboxes as standard when we look into the local context. You can opt for a manual, but that would come at a hefty cost at point of indent. Automatic cars allow the driver to “hoon” the car faster, too. Simply put pedal to metal, and let the electronics settle the rest. And with the proliferation of smooth, fast and efficient automatic transmissions, there is no way a manual gearbox can match them – pound for pound.
So, it’s a lost cause for the stick shift, yeah? Not really. Majority of the German population are still opting for the old school approach when acquiring modern cars. You might argue that the autobahns require less shifting action than congested Singapore, but other than cost savings, the manual gearbox is the preferred choice for most Europeans – ladies included!
Why then, is a manual gearbox favoured? In my opinion, nothing can replicate the feeling when you shift through the gates, managing the clutch and biting point along the way. You can gather a deeper sense of communication with the car, too. I call this an intrinsic feel – a sensation only a traditional petrolhead can understand as those who haven’t driven a manual will only marvel at the prospects of faster, better technology. But are they necessarily more fun? I beg to differ.
Fun can be had with mainstream cars, too. An aging car with a couple of years left on the COE cycle can be more fun than a new, tech-laden car. If your sense of appreciation for the stick shift spans way beyond technological advancements, you’ll understand where I’m coming from. And this, I reckon, is the beauty behind the more traditional way of driving.
While manual gearboxes keep you dialed in the action, this can translate to the need for more concentration behind the wheel, too. And yes, having no hands for the smartphone is a good thing – even when Whatsapp is crying out for your response!
But that does not mean fun will be entirely diluted without a physical shifter. The BMW i3 focuses on the future; even the gear knob is located on the steering column, integrated with the ignition button in its bid to save space on the centre console. In spite of the tech-centric focus, there’s genuine fun behind the wheel to keep keen drivers engaged, with the chassis, tyres and battery working in unison to supply instantaneous, authentic excitement. We’d still opt for a stick shift in an i3 but that wouldn’t be possible!
The next time you’re on the hunt for a daily drive, keep an open mind and place a couple of cars with a manual gearbox on your shortlist. For all you know, you might be smiling more than ever during every commute – for the self-serviced satisfaction can never, ever be overpowered by a smarter machine.
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