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File photo used for representational purpose only.
File photo used for representational purpose only.

Automatic transmission vs manual gearbox in cars: Which one should you buy

  • The convenience of a car with an automatic transmission can hardly be matched.
  • The immersive drive experience of a car with a traditional gearbox remains a priority for many.

An automatic gearbox hardly even makes it to the list of highlights in many cars sold in western markets. That is how common an automatic gearbox has become in European countries, the US and elsewhere and now, the trend is catching up here in India as well with most car makers also offering an automatic option to customers looking to better negotiate nightmarish daily traffic conditions.

But is an automatic gearbox really meant for everyone and does it signal the absolute end of manual transmission units as we know it?

The answer may not be as simple as it would appear. Not here in India anyway.

The biggest decision one has to make when opting to buy a vehicle is which one to buy. And once the car of choice is decided, many say that it is the toss up between an automatic and manual gearbox that is now fast becoming the next dilemma for prospective buyers. Even a rugged SUV like the upcoming Thar 2020, traditionally meant for the enthusiasts and adventurists, is offering an auto transmission box. As such, the factors at play are several when deciding on which transmission option to lock in on.

Iconic cars like 911 Carrera S and 4S models from Porsche now also offer seven-speed manual transmission.
Iconic cars like 911 Carrera S and 4S models from Porsche now also offer seven-speed manual transmission.

While individual needs and considerations may be different, here are four factors that one ought to consider before homing in on either an automatic car or manual, or even the clutch-less transmission that is the latest fad of sorts:

Convenience: There is no denying that an automatic transmission option makes driving a whole lot less cumbersome. This is especially true if one regularly navigates through a web of other vehicles in bumper-to-bumper traffic. A recent study by a UK-based vehicle leasing company called Vanarama found that a driver in Delhi saved an average of 79 hours between March and July of 2020 - during lockdown - which they would have otherwise spent in commuting from one location to another, possibly in heavy traffic.

An automatic gearbox does the bulk of the labour for the driver and for someone with hectic daily commutes through congested roads, it could be a massive boon.

Practicality: Gone are the days when an automatic car was a fuel guzzler. Vehicles with auto transmission units today are mostly as fuel efficient as their siblings with a stick and clutch. Occasionally, they even offer more miles per litre of fuel.

And with technology being improved vastly, concerns about the longevity of an automatic transmission unit have also subsided to negligible levels.

Love working the gears but hate pressing the clutch? A few car makers have now begun offering clutch-less transmission options as well.
Love working the gears but hate pressing the clutch? A few car makers have now begun offering clutch-less transmission options as well.

Cost: Here is where cars with a manual transmission option have a clear advantage. If a buyer is on a tight budget, a manual transmission unit will have to suffice. And if the list of priorities places high importance to safety or looks or features or all of these, then one can often opt for a manual transmission unit at the cost for which all of these other highlights are available without breaking bank.

This really depends on an individual's budget and how he or she may prioritize a potential car's highlights for themselves.

A key factor here would be the recently-introduced iMT feature in Hyundai Venue and Kia Sonet. It eliminates the clucth while retaining the gear stick, ensuring a far more relaxed drive than in a manual car. And these are only marginally more expensive than their completely manual siblings - sitting under automatics.

Driving dynamics: An auto gear box isn't really for someone who would want an immersive drive experience. Old-school motorists and driving enthusiasts still swear by the excitement of working the gearbox - assuming it is slick enough - and making the car dance to their tunes. The automatic cars, on the other hand, offer a convenient but rather sedate experience. Most automatic cars also have a rubber-band effect when being pushed which undermines the experience of being in a car that is being driven to excite.

The advantages and disadvantages of both automatic and manual gearbox may be comprehended differently by different individuals. No one factor is entirely universal but there is also no denying that automatic cars are spreading wings like never before. More EVs were sold in the US in 2019 than regular cars with manual gearbox and this may well be an indication of the trajectory that car buyers the world over are taking. What one chooses in the coming months and years will also show what importance car makers attach to each of the two systems.

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