Monday, November 21, 2005

Manual transmission axe-grinding

That's what these blog thingos are for, right? Personal axe-grinding?

The demise of the manual transmission in the United States concerns and saddens me. I realize that a higher percentage of cars all around the world are coming with various forms of automatic and automated transmissions, but the US is where the manual transmission is really disappearing. I think this says something negative about Americans' attitude about the car.

Driving a car with a manual transmission is simply more involving than driving the same or similar car with an automatic. I realize that as traffic crawls slowly to a halt in cities all around the US, most people are more comfortable with a slushbox. They don't have to think about driving (?!), they don't have to put down their beverage and/or cell phone, they don't have to do all that awful exercise with their left leg. I am lucky enough to only rarely drive in heavy traffic, because I made the heretical choice to live near my work.

I think that driving a car with a manual transmission is more likely to lead to an understanding of how the car really works than driving an automatic. I'm sure it's possible to know that moving this stick thing and pushing that clutch gadget in this certain sequence causes the car to move forward without thinking about what's really happening, but I like to think that at least a few of the few remaining drivers of manual transmission cars in this country are actually cognizant of what happens inside the black box.

One of the reasons this strikes close to home for me right now is that I couldn't replace my current car with a new one like it... Subaru, which of late markets its products as something appealing to enthusiasts, came out with a very interesting vehicle for the 2005 model year, the Legacy GT sedan and wagon with a retuned version of the North American version of the WRX STi. I liked it so much I bought one. I have a 50-lb Bull Terrier who travels with me sometimes, so I bought the wagon and you've guessed from the preceding paragraphs that I bought the 5-speed manual. It is my favorite of all the daily-drivers I've ever owned, and I have no regrets about buying it.

Subaru, however, has decided that I don't need to remain one of their customers, because for 2006 they no longer offer the Wagon with a 5-speed manual in the US... it's slushbox-only. The sedan still comes with it, the Wagon is offered with the 5MT in Canada, but in the US apparently wagon owners only want automatics. How depressing. I can only hope that Subaru comes to their senses before I'm ready to buy another car, because I'll certainly consider another Subaru but I'm not ready to give up on choosing my own gears.