By Kris Hansen
The current trend across the automotive world is towards smart automatics, quick shifting dual clutch boxes, with 6, 7, 8, even 9 speeds. Heaven forbid, some cars even have CVT transmissions, which we find to be mostly dreadful.
It is clear that the engineers responsible for the drivetrain can set the car up perfectly to reduce CO2 and improve fuel economy with an intelligent automatic transmission, thus the push from Audi to reduce the number of models available with a manual transmission, to the chagrin of many ardent manual transmission die-hards.
Luckily, Audi understands that there are still drivers who absolutely prefer working the bond between engine and transmission themselves. For the US market in 2013, the A3, A4, A5, S4, S5, TTRS and R8 will be available with 6 speed manual transmissions. Know that the S4 and S5 will have the manual transmission thanks to lobbying from Audi of America execs. They know that the core buyer for those models truly prefer the manual transmission. We are told that the manual will not be offered in Europe, so for once, America gets the good stuff and Europe doesn’t!
As long time manual enthusiasts, this is something we’re excited about. Even though for day to day driving we tend to prefer automatics (call us lazy, won’t hurt any feelings) mainly because it’s easier on the car (lets face it, in traffic, constant clutch work is not exactly good for the car.), it’s easier on the legs, and quite frankly, the new automatics from Audi are REALLY good.
Having said that though, there are times when a good manual transmission is absolutely critical for maximum driving pleasure, and in fact, certain models just seem more pure when the gear change is 100% manually processed.
Obviously there will be exceptions to pretty much everything we’re saying, but again, that’s not what we’re on about here. We know that in most cases, the automatics will be quicker than a manual in pure acceleration. Even the best driver can not work a manual transmission as quickly as a computer can cycle through an automatic box. And with the new boxes, thanks to the extra ratios, the gear spacing is much tighter than ever before, which helps not only acceleration but economy, further reducing the advantage the manual has in lack of complexity and weight.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. The act of manually controlling the transmission is a bit of an art, and it is a skill that many drivers truly covet. And honestly, there are some cars that frankly seem “right” with a manual (not that the automatic is wrong).
The R8 and TTRS are prime examples of this rightness, and in fact, the TT RS is ONLY available in the US with a manual 6 speed. The R8, with its lovely aluminum shift gate is truly a joy to row, and it is one of the most rewarding cars to drive in which we have ever had the joy.
We spent the past 2 weeks with manual shift cars, one being the TT RS, which we found to be a touch on the hyper side for day to day driving, but hysterically fun to drive thanks to the growl from the exhaust and the whistle from the turbo, and without question, the manual transmission was a huge part of the joy. Matching revs on downshifts is incredibly rewarding in this car, and even though the S-tronic does it too, its just way more fun to do it by hand. Only while stuck in traffic were we wishing for an auto-clutch, but because the clutch is light, we managed. It helps too that the car will happily crawl along in 1st gear at idle, even up hills, something further aided by the R8 and TT RS having an automatic hill holder feature – it holds the brakes momentarily while the driver moves the foot off the brake to the accelerator, but only on hills. Brilliant.
One of our favorite cars of late is the second manual car we’re just coming out of, the S4. Considerably less hyper but no less fun to drive than the TT RS, the manual transmission in the S4 reminds the driver that this is in fact a sports sedan, and is more than willing to play. We’ve driven the S4 with the 7 speed S-tronic, and while it’s also very good, the manual transmission adds to the sporting experience in a way that is very difficult to describe, but is something that must be experienced to appreciate.
We’re thrilled that Audi have embraced the manual transmission, even knowing that while their technologically advanced automatics are theoretically better for the planet, at the end of the day, the people who are plunking down their hard earned dollars for an S4 or S5 and want a manual transmission aught to be able to. We applaud Audi for bringing their loyal customers what they want, and we know that buyers applaud them as well!