Greetings, true believers! As we well know, the manual transmission is simultaneously disappearing and vastly more interesting than any alternative. We know this because while automatic and flappy paddle systems can generally be described in one word ("Quick" or "smooth" or something of the like,) entire sentences can be written to describe a manual transmission. There is simply so much more interaction, from the feel of the shift, to the length of the clutch engagement point, to the amount of vibration felt through the gear lever. When driving a manual, every gearchange is a cacophony of sensation.

Of course, it's up to the automaker to choose weather that sensation is pleasant or not, but good or bad, manual transmissions are at least describable and so describe a few of them, I will.


Feel free to add others in the comments, I'm only going to describe transmissions I've had a fair amount of experience with and part of the goal of this post is to learn stuff about cars I've never driven.

1. BMW E36 328i 5-speed

Description: I've driven a couple of E36 BMW's in both 325i and 328i trim. Their transmissions might be the all time standard for me. Medium length throws combine with a perfectly silky smooth action and a buttery clutch. Every single time i've ever stepped out of an E36 with a manual transmission I think "Yup. That's just about right" The beautiful thing about this transmission is that it feels sporty when you want it to feel sporty and feels relaxed when you just want to get where you're going. It somehow manages the trick of being incredibly rewarding to get right while at the same time being not particularly punishing when you get it wrong. It's like a chair that is perfectly contoured to your body and thus only needs a minimum of padding.

Rank: A+

2. Mid 90's Honda Civic and Acura Integra 5-speed

Note: I put these together because they both feel similar and both are incredible.


Description: In a lot of ways I look at mid 90's Honda products as the last normal cars to feel small and light. Sports cars from Lotus, Scion and Mazda can still capture this feeling in the modern day and age, but non-sports cars have all but given up on feeling light and tossable. The Honda Civic and the Acura Integra managed this feat in large part because of their perfectly matched manual transmissions. The clutch and the throw were both extremely light, yet neither lacked in feel. Every single shift is accompanied by the nagging thought "I could probably do that faster while still being just as smooth." When combined with a proper 8K redline, and an engine that could be kept in the sweet part of the powerband if shifted just so, its easy to see why so many people became addicted to these cars.


Rank: A

3. Nissan 350Z 6-speed


Description: Full disclosure, we've left the realm of "transmissions I love" and entered the realm of "transmissions I have a lot of experience with." I've owned a 350Z for seven years, during which time it's been my only car.

That said, the Nissan 350Z has a pretty nice shifter. It's nice and stubby, so throws are short, but there's also a ton of feel and a fair amount of resistance between gears, unless transmission, wheel and engine speed are all matched up perfectly. A lot of this is owed to it's direct linkage rather than cable actuation, offering tons of feel and plenty of vibrations thrown back through the gear lever. However there is one very serious downside, the car's way too heavy flywheel. This means the engine is slow to put on and shed revs. While this is fine for fuel economy and for saving me from stalls on Seattles steep hills (If i kick the clutch immediately after stalling, the flywheel is so heavy the engine will just restart its self) its a huge bummer when it comes to shifting quickly. Unfortunately due to that oh so feelsome direct linkage, drivers quickly become aware of that heavy flywheel. I mean it's like right there, no vagueness in communication to drown it out. Which is a bummer, because otherwise the transmission is great. Nice easy to modulate clutch, and just a very sporty feeling shifter and shift action. Except for that flywheel.


Rank: B-

4. 1988 Toyota Celica All-trac 5-speed


Description: The 1988 Celica All-trac I owned had a remarkably nice interior. It also had a remarkably tall shift lever. Not just tall, but like...comically tall and totally unbefitting of a sports car. Shifting the All-trac required moving your entire arm from the shoulder down, first and second were in different area codes. Adding to the woes was a slightly vague feel, though to be fair, with each gear in a different area code, it was hard to get them confused for one another. But the transmission wasn't so bad that you couldn't grow to love it. It wasn't so aloof that it didn't appreciate a good shift either. Properly rev match on the downshifts and it would provide almost no resistance between gears, letting you know you really got it right, since most of the time getting it into gear required a fair amount of effort. But truth be told, it generally felt like a truck transmission. Ultimately that was fine, because the car was more "hilarious" than "sublime" anyway. Plus it gets bonus points for being notoriously indestructible, even when given lots of power and AWD.

Rank: C

Alright that's all i've got for today. You guys add your own in the comments!

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