According to You: Vehicles that are better with an automatic

Matt Tierney

Oh boy, this question sparked some controversy among members of the Hagerty Community.

Many of our tribe, naturally, love driving with three pedals and a stick shift. Last week though, I wondered if there was a vehicle that was actually better with an automatic transmission. Watching the waste management truck drive down my street, I imagined the suburban nightmare of stop-and-go those drivers would have to endure. Modulating a clutch every 30 feet or so would be joyless. Automated performance does have its benefits at high speed as well …

There’s nothing quite as stunning as the speeds this Porsche 919 Hybrid achieved on the Nürburgring, complete with a sequential seven-speed automated manual gearbox to make it happen. That said, with controversy comes some great commentary, so let’s see what the Hagerty Community thinks!

Hot Take: Everything is better with an automatic

Robert Elton, longtime guest of our hallowed Community halls, suggested that “All cars are better with an automatic. People should be paying attention to where they are going, instead of massaging the powertrain just to keep the car going.”

Oof, that’s coming in strong, Bob. But he wasn’t alone in this assessment, as Merlin Balke also believes that “every vehicle is better with an automatic.”

This is an impressive, unexpected ante to our high-stakes game, and it generated feedback that was both sharp (“You’re kidding, right?”) and debate-worthy.

Just-as-Hot: Nothing is better with an automatic

Hagerty Community member LarryinMA wants us to consider the polar opposite philosophy.

“All cars are better with a manual. People should be paying attention to driving, instead of focusing their attention on other distractions. The reality is most people find everyday driving – particularly on American roads in American traffic – incredibly un-engaging. Distracted driving has become one of the biggest risks to safety on the roads today.

Consider that every convenience feature that gets added, every function that gets automated, every vehicle and road improvement that makes driving safer, actually makes driving even more disengaging. Inevitably, people look for something they consider more interesting to focus on – something to distract them from being bored. And there are so many distractions readily available now: make a phone call, have a meal, read or listen to a book, catch up on social media, as well as numerous forms of infotainment built right into the car.

An automatic allows people be even less engaged in the activity of driving, and therefore, will make people even less likely to pay attention to anything driving related – especially where they are going.”

Snow Plows, other flaky apparatuses

Ford

OK, let’s get into some more granular responses. Hagerty Community member Clare Snyder takes a page from my book of public service vehicles, offering up something just as good as the trash trucks. While Clare loves manuals in “fun cars” there’s be nothing but disdain for having “a standard on my ’76 Ramcharger 318 with a snow plow.”

This both makes sense and adds another dimension to understanding the value of automatics, while David Cutler added that both “Snowmobiles and side-by-side vehicles work amazingly well with what could be considered automatic transmissions (CVTs, or continuously variable transmissions).”

Anything with a Push-Button Option

Chrysler

Buttons are fun to push, right? It’s kinda what we do in this series … but I digress.

Hagerty Community member Chad wishes to point out that “any Mopar from the push-button automatic era is better with that feature for the sheer coolness factor, especially since the three-pedal alternative was generally a three-on-the-tree.”

And who wanted a column-shifted manual when this was available? But does the same apply to modern vehicles with transmission buttons on the dashboard or center tunnel?

Postal Trucks

USPS old truck action
AFP via Getty Images

Longtime Community member hyperv6 gave us another perfect example: Postal Trucks! These operate much in the same manner as garbage trucks, although sometimes postal employees can park them in a neighborhood and walk to individual mailboxes with more ease and less stress. That really depends on the layout of residences, but hyperv6 gave us another great reason to have an autobox, as it fits the bill for “any vehicle I am driving when I am tired and just want to get home.”

School Buses

Blue Bird Corp

Our beloved Community Member snailish offered a counterpoint to my initial suggestion of a manual transmission school bus, as “most long commuter vehicles make sense as automatics.” But what really got me was the fact that automatic school buses “widen the pool of potential drivers.” And then our own bblhed gave us a reality check into why we need a larger talent pool of bus drivers:

“Back when I was in middle school we had a bus driver that used that Blue Bird 5-speed as an instrument of torture. That’s because she, in her own words, ‘hated public school kids.’ It got so bad that every kid on the bus reported her. I’m sure she would have been able to torment us with an automatic, but it might have been harder. That woman was the worst adult bully I ever encountered in the entire school system.”

That was heavy, but we thank bblhed for sharing such a personal anecdote. That said, we aren’t done with automatic school buses, as E.H. Levering gave further insight into the madness that must be a manual-transmission school bus.

“Any late 60s or 70s school bus [needs an automatic]. It is already one of the lowest paying and least desirable jobs on earth, but a manual, particularly on hilly terrain, had to have been torture. I distinctly recall one little old lady wresting one when I was in elementary school.” 

Early Turbocharged Iron

If you’ve been in a turbocharged vehicle of the Malaise Era, or from an offshoot of that era, you know that Hagerty Community Member Jeff Weimer’s response is so darn accurate it deserves a stand-alone quote:

“Back in the first wave of turbocharged cars in the 1980s, an auto helped smooth power delivery by keeping the turbo spooled up between shifts, since without heavy computer management they were laggy and peaky. It was noted in one of the buff books that the Datsun 280 ZX Turbo was better with the slushbox.”

Honda Goldwings

goldwing on side of road
Kyle Smith

Yes, Hagerty Media covers the world of motorcycles on a regular basis, and Jeff Dulany’s comment fits right in with the car talk: “I have a Honda Goldwing Tour with the DCT (dual-clutch transmission) and in auto mode it shifts so much better than me, I love it.”

Fire Engines

E-One

These rigs don’t mess around, especially in densely packed areas where a fire can cause tremendous personal and physical damage. And that may be why Hagerty Community member Greg said that they are rightly “weaving through traffic, and avoiding the totally unpredictable things drivers do when rolling code. Having the rig shift for you is one less thing to worry about while getting safely to the incident.”

More to the point, John in N.J. added “all fire apparatus, since the early 2000’s are automatic, two hands on the wheel, concentrating on where you’re going, how to get there, and concern about other responding apparatus going to the same call.”

Anything car with a dual-clutch transmission

Porsche PDK cutaway
Inside the Porsche’s PDK Porsche

As previously stated with the Porsche 919 Hybrid, the automated manual (for lack of a better phrase) has serious performance benefits. Manuals are fun, but Tom Parker states that “Most any car with a dual clutch transmission is better than the manual version. I’ve had a number of Porsche 911s over the years, and our current 2010 C4S with 7 speed PDK is faster, more responsive and easier to drive.”

And performance is king, as he notes that “Launch control allows me to embarrass serious drag racers at the strip and the stoplight drags” while his “diesel Jetta with a 6 speed DSG was much better than the manual version from performance and fuel mileage standpoints.”

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that not every DCT is born equal. Dodge had major issues with the dual-clutch in its early 2010s Dart, and Hyundai just recall the high-performance DCT for the Veloster N, Elantra N, and Kona N.

Top Tier European Luxury

Aston Martin

Community member Stuart Dollar shared a fascinating story about why the cream of the crop needs automatic gearboxes:

“Back in the 70’s I wrote away to the Aston Martin dealership in the big city. They sent me their sales brochure on the (then new) Aston Martin V8. I wish I could afford an Aston Martin, because the dealership is still in business, and I’ve always thought it was a kind gesture on their part.

My father and a friend of his were paging through the brochure one day, and his friend remarked, “They’re gonna charge me $25,000 (about $130,000 today) and I still have to shift gears?!” My dad pointed out that an automatic transmission was a no-cost option, which made my dad’s friend feel a little better, though not much. My dad had read the brochure before. Clearly, he had been thinking along the same lines. I pointed out that the Aston Martin came with a ZF 5-speed transmission, something really special at the time. A lot of car makers were still offering base models with a three-on-the-tree.

My Dad’s friend wasn’t impressed: He was a dentist, and had put himself through school delivering milk. The milk truck he drove had a manual transmission with no synchromesh, a heavy clutch and a long throw shift lever. No tachometer. To him, shifting gears was work, and a car with an automatic transmission was a luxury he was going to make sure he had. I’ll bet that with every milk bottle he delivered he dreamed of the day when the only gear shifting he’d do was from park or neutral into drive or reverse. And after he became a dentist that’s exactly what he did.

The Older you get… (He said it, not me!)

embarrassed man with hands on face
Getty Images/PhotoAlto

Hagerty Community member Gary was a little introspective when he said, “I’m beginning to find that the older you get, the better the automatics are. I hate that I am there.”  To the same point, Mike added this: “After 30 years of driving truck, my arthritic 66-year-old knees are happy to be not pumping a clutch pedal anymore. Now as a tilt-n-load tow truck operator (with an auto trans) I do have to move the occasional customer vehicle with a stick, but first and reverse is about it, though.”

Parades; Over my Dead Body

2003 Lincoln Town Car convertible
Major General Murat Bektanov of Kazakhstan in a military parade, with a Panther Chassis underneath. Wikipedia | kalabaha1969

To be honest, Hagerty Community member Jess had a reply that was both insightful and totally hilarious.

“There are two instances in which an automatic is a requirement: When you are driving in a parade (sooooooo slow, so much stopping), and…over my dead body.”

Didn’t like what you saw here? No problem! Our next installment happens next week, where we ask a new question looking for fresh insight from the Hagerty Community … that means you!

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it.

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Comments

    Okay, here’s my multi-faceted take.
    – Everyone should learn to drive a manual. It simply forces you to pay attention to what the car is doing. You will have to learn to judge traffic lights and distances and have better general car management. Nowadays we have hill hold, ABS, chassis management, and even cars that (barf!) park themselves. This just leaves drivers with less to do and more susceptible to making mistakes.
    -I hate manuals because where I live (Vancouver, one of the most congested cites on the planet for traffic) using one is the opposite of fun. It’s total misery. Stop. go, stop. go, rinse, repeat…
    -I love manuals because on a beautiful day far outside my city I can really connect with my car and feel it under my total control. Downshifting, trying to hit a perfect rev match (Myself, not some computer) and tearing through a twisty mountain road…Pure bliss!
    For reference, I drive my wife’s Impreza as our daily to and from work (2 hrs a day) and my ’06 Corvette Zo6 on weekends. Both perfect for their intended use.
    (I also haven’t had an accident in close to 35 years.)

    I will be honest. Most folks today are not skilled enough. focused enough or responsible enough to drive a manual anymore.

    For god sake they have cars parking themselves because people can’t even park. All the nanny electronics are because people can’t drive.

    Years ago we got away with is as cars had bumpers that could take a blow and we had 7.5 to 1 compression six and 4 cylinder cars.

    Today I just don’t see people handling this well.

    Now they are trying to make flying cars. Heck they can’t even use a round about with out crossing lanes and cutting you off or they stop for no traffic.

    The weak link to most things is the human.

    I have owned and drive a number of manuals and wish I had one now to teach my son on but they are hard to even borrow anymore and I don’t want to teach on someone else clutch.

    On the other hand if you do have a stick you are in good odds even with the keys in it no one will steal it as they can drive it.

    I can’t even tell who is responding to who – I can’t tell when people respond to my comments, I can’t message people directly, I can’t generate my own posts… losing Community has really been a let-down, I notice that the time I spend here has been trending down since

    For most of my life it was more fun to shift through the gears if it was on the floor, not on the tree. These days, with two prosthetic hips, I’m grateful for the automatic in my Camaro. But drive what you like; it shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

    Ever since I got my auto-stick 1 Series, I have been trending toward the camp of losing manuals sucks… but not that bad. (a) you are faster, and you can tell, and (b) it is entirely optional. When automakers will have a real winner is when you can transition from clutched manual to full automatic in one package

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