Automatic VS Manual Transmission, Which Would You Choose?

I see this debate come up a lot. It usually comes about when talking about the VW R32!

In 2004 Volkswagen made a VR6 AWD(all wheel drive) Golf. This car got the wheels moving with a 6sp manual transmission.To be honest, this is one of my favorite VW cars ever build. Then in 2008, Vw built another R32. This time, it was paired with an automatic transmission(DSG to be exact). The newest version of the “R” is now back to a 6sp manual transmission.

When the 2008 R32 came out, most people were complaining that the “needed” a manual transmission, and that it was a “sports car” so there was no place for an auto trans. I now see the opposite complaint. It goes “we want an automatic in the the ‘R’ “. I guess is almost impossible to please everyone. I do enjoy asking the question, Which one would you choose?

Back when I was a kid, people got manual transmissions for 4 reasons.

  1. Performance
  2. Fuel economy
  3. Cost
  4. Its what they prefer

Back then a manual trans would get much better fuel mileage. You could also count on huge savings on the purchase price. I remember about half of the cars we had where manual transmissions.

Today is a new day, the reasons that people use to buy a manual are not the same. The cost savings are almost nothing, and the fuel mileage can actually be worse. So it comes down to preference and performance. There are die hard manual trans fans. I would say that I fall in that category. I learned how to drive on a car with a manual. No one can take away someones love for driving a manual.

Then there is the performance side. For the average driver, a manual trans is just not as fast as an auto. The DSG is an automatic transmission. It shifts gears faster than you can. It is actually in the next gear before it shifts. So it you are driving in third gear, before the trans shifts out of third it has forth gear ready to go. Sorry, but we can’t shift that fast.

The auto trans of today is highly computer controlled. The cars engine computer(ECM) and transmission computer(TCM) work very hard to optimize every part of a shift. This allows the vehicle to get great fuel mileage, and still be performance minded. The newer VWs have a “sport” mode that is pretty fun. The auto trans is definitely a “set it and forget it” way to drive.

My Passat is an automatic. While I prefer a manual, it is great on road trips and in traffic. The other nice thing is my wife and I can trade cars. She does not want to drive a manual. I have taught her how, she just doesn’t want to do it. So having 2 cars with automatics is nice. She lets me drive her truck from time to time. 😉

There are other forms of automatics, the CVT and the DSG. The CVT is just awful and I don’t want to talk about it. It is a gear-less transmission. The idea is it will always be in the right spot for power and fuel economy. I had one in a rental car one time. AWFUL! Audi has it in some cars, I just hope that it stays out of my brand. DSG on the other hand I LOVE! Super fast shifts, great fuel mileage, the option to shift yourself. Ahh love it! It does have some quirks, but I think they are largely due to perception. If you think of the DSG as an automatic trans, you might not be happy with the way it shifts, or the fact that it will roll a little on a hill. If you think of it as a automatically controlled manual trans, you will understand why it acts that way.

So that brings me to the big question of the day. Which do you prefer? Does banging though the gears and playing race car suit you? Or do you like to “shift” to “D” and just ride? I think that buying that Cabby has got my brain on my true love of driving. 2 post in the same week about driving~interesting 😀


13 replies
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

    While I learned on a manual transmission and currently enjoy one in my little car, I accept that I’m relic of a previous generation. Many of the cars that I’m currently looking at don’t offer a manual transmission as an option!

    As I grow older, and need less performance or the fuss, I’m starting to gravitate towards an automatic for the inevitable estate car. It’s more accessible… and (gasp) I now worry about resale value. What has this world come to.

    Now, if I were going to buy a high-performance sports car or a classic roadster… I would get a manual. But, for my day-to-day family truckster, why bother.

    • Charles
      Charles says:

      I think that your feelings are the norm. It is nice just putting it in “D” and going. I also makes driving to work and drinking my coffee much easier.

      There has been talk for years about the death of the manual transmission. While I don’t think that it will die, the production numbers are decreasing with every model year.

      I actually get excited when I see a manual roll into the shop.

  2. Gezika
    Gezika says:

    I just recently bought my first automatic (DSG) and its my daily driver. I commute for work and drive anywhere from 500-1000 miles a week. Luckily it’s also a diesel but that’s another blog…
    I do enjoy the automatic transmission when in traffic and just being able to just steer the car. I prefer to have the car in sport mode when I do want to actually drive the car and feel the road or feel the wind in my hair and zip around people.
    I also own a manual which is my favorite. I have more control of the car and can get away if I ever need to. Just recently I was nearly rear-ended in the DSG but luckily the person just missed me. It was the first time since purchasing the DSG that I wished it was a manual. The reason being was I felt that with that small lag in the automatic that those 1-2 seconds in a manual I could have punched it and been out of the way from this car barreling down on me from behind. If I had it in sport mode, maybe it would have been different but there is no substitute for a manual. I have more control over the car, which to me is not only a safety concern (I’m a very observant defensive driver) but also a stress reliever and let’s be honest it keeps us busy and we are more alert.
    I would never purchase an R model VW in DSG even though it shifts faster. And for all those who are complaining that they wish the new mk6 Golf R came is DSG are probably not enthusiast’s who helped get the R across the pond. The enthusiasts who did speak up when VW asked for input are the ones who were on the order form/waiting list and are driving them now or waiting for their arrival. I truly believe the R is a VW enthusiast car and being only available in manual keeps it that way. If people really wanted it in automatic they would have spoken up a few years ago and put their money where their mouth is, but they didn’t and VW made a decision based on previous sales of the mk5. So those wanting the DSG R have no one to blame buy themselves back in that model year.
    Besides, people want what they can’t have. (don’t we all?) It’s one thing to covet something in your mind, but it’s another to be vocal about it (and be THAT person). It’s in my line of business too so I take what those people say with a grain of salt. I learned a few years back that a lot of people will say “if you had it, I would buy it” but 95% of them are full of it. VW is a smart company and they made the right decision bringing the Golf R to the states only in manual transmission.
    Happy Thursday! 🙂

    • Charles
      Charles says:

      Your concern about lag is something that I share too. I think that VW has done a pretty good job reducing the lag time. It is tough to completely eliminate lag especially with a turbo charged car. If there was one thing that I could change about my Passat, it would be lag. I think the B5-B5.5 Passat was the worst VW as far as lag. A manual(even with much less power) will all but eliminate that issue.

      Oh, we are 100% on the same page with the Golf R. It is why I LOVE the 2004 R32

  3. Brandon
    Brandon says:

    Personally I’d take the automatic. I couldn’t beleive it when C&D tested the Audi S6, with both a Manual and S-Tronic, The S-Tronic was .4 seconds faster 0-60 (3.6 Seconds VS. 4.0) Might have had something to do with the fact that it had launch control, but with what VW offers with DSG, I could put it in drive when in stop and go traffic, Sport if I wanna “MAKE SOME NOISE! 😉 ” on the highway. Or if i felt like Speedracer I could row my own in +/- mode. I still see where people come from though when they say they ONLY want a manual, I just think a manual is not right for my prefrences.

    • Charles
      Charles says:

      @Brandon and @Xina,
      I think that we have come along way with tiptronic. I don’t use it in my Passat. I did use it when I was driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Western NC.

      I see the DSG becoming more standard with performance transmissions. Like Brandon said, its faster. BUT I don’t think it will ever replace the feel of a manual.

      • Brandon
        Brandon says:

        @Charles I’d agree about the performance part. They did a test in Japan, Japan’s fastest manual shifter VS. DSG, and the DSG won!

  4. Xina
    Xina says:

    I have the triptronic automatic, and it finally gives me the thrill of driving a manual, that I never was able to get when driving a manual because I was so nervous about messing something up! I was super pleased with having the option when I was driving in the mountains. Having a 6 speed automatic, and being able to shift it up and down while dealing with challenging roads, but NOT having to deal with the clutch? PRICELESS!

  5. Garrett Craven
    Garrett Craven says:

    5 speed all day! There is no better daily driver for me! Dont get me wrong..its nice to have an automatic with cruise control on road trips but there is nothing more enjoyable than for me than feeling the bond of man and machine! 😀

  6. Repairing Forum
    Repairing Forum says:

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  7. O'Sienna
    O'Sienna says:

    Automatics are for the lazy and the mindless. I commute daily in stop start traffic in a manual vehicle and don’t even notice the effort in having to self-shift. This is because I am cognizant of what’s ahead of me to save unnecessary shifting (rather than moving bumper-to-bumper).

    A computer, no matter how clever, will never be able to compensate for little nuances in human behaviour (other drivers) and hence will never always have you in the optimal gear at all times.


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