Nissan, and how Bad Stickshifts Make The Case For Automatics

One of the popular memes here is "saving the manuals". "They gotta save the manuals brah. Why don't they make manual 4 banger Camrys anymore?" Let me tell you something. Some manuals are not worth saving.

I have oscillated between stickshift Hondas and Nissans in my ~14 year driving career, and if there's anyone who's making the case for abandoning stickshifts, it's Nissan. My first car was a 95 Maxima, and in my youthful exhuberance I didn't notice its awful gear changing mechanism. I had 2 Hondas, another Maxima, another Honda, and am now selling a Z to cover the Civic I just bought. So I am pretty familiar with the brands, and in that have seen the two extremes of how good and bad stickshifts can be. What exactly makes a good gearshift?


The shifter

The good- I go back and forth between my Civic and Z daily for various reasons and so I get to see first hand what makes the Civic's shifter so much nicer than the Z's. With the Civic, you get in the car, no matter what the temperature is outside or in the engine bay, the mechanism is accurate, light and fun to use. It's fatigue free when I'm tired, and it can take a beating when I'm not. It's pretty much perfect in all conditions.

The bad- The Z on the other hand has a moody shifter. When it's cold, the shift action is noticeably heavier. The shifts are short, but the action is never really precise or satisfying. When I'm tired, it's heavy and laborious. But when I'm thrashing it, I have to take care and not hurry it up too much. The 1-2 and 2-3 shifts eat up a good second or so of shift time, and I don't want to nuke the tranny to make it faster. It's not great.

The ugly- The old Maxima shifters were bad enough that if not for the loss of a ratio and the inefficiency of autos at that time, the auto would have been a better choice. The shifter had long throws, and the engagement never felt positive. Very, very rubbery and not at all fun to use... only valuable in that it was objectively better (faster and more efficient) than the auto. BLECHH.


The clutch

The good- again, Hondas reign supreme here. Their clutches are disarmingly light and short, but they engage at just the right point and give good feedback. They don't get in the way of shifting, which is their job. They are great for beginners to learn on.


The bad- the Z fights back with a He-Man clutch effort, and a high engagement point. It also has a bit more throw and a lot less feedback. After a year and a half of driving it I still have jerky shifts every now and then. Not cool.

The ugly- the old Maximas had the same clutch problems as the Z, but with an even longer action, and even less feedback. It was a shame, because the VQ with an exhaust sounded absolutely glorious:…

The engine

I have been fortunate in that all Hondas engines and the VQ zing no problem. However, anyone who knows K20s or the Genesis Coupe has heard of "rev hang", which makes smooth shifting a real pain. Some engines are just crap in general, like the lump in the W123 240D I drove in Ghana. No fcking thanks.


The conclusion

After 1.5 years with the Z and seat time in various cars (including a DSG GTI, F430, 458 etc) I must say a good automatic is much more fun than a bad stickshift. A good stickshift still rules (which is part of why I got a 140hp Civic over the 200 HP GTI), but a slick DSG would work much better with the Z than its recalcitrant manual. It's no wonder the 370Z is faster with its 7AT than the 6MT by an appreciable margin.


So when you cry "save the manuals brah" make sure they're manuals worth saving! All manuals are not good manuals.

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