We here at CarHoots have bought you masses of coverage from the 2013 Geneva Auto Show. We’ve seen some truly extraordinary cars – the McLaren P1, the Porsche 911 GT3, the The Ferrari, and the totally bonkers Lamborghini Veneno, to name a few. But not so surprisingly – and this is a common theme in the automotive industry these days – none of these cars can be fitted with three pedals and a stick.
Many have said that we petrol heads need to get with the times, embrace new technology that – in theory – will make us faster. But is it all about going fast? Maybe, if you still play with Hot Wheels and are scared of the dark. Part of me still believes that losing the manual transmission will see an end to the days of schoolboy hooliganism and proper, honest fun. The days of dropping the clutch and lighting up the rears to impress pretty girls who act uninterested – lets face it, they love it – will unfortunately be over. They’ve already begun to take away our similarly beloved handbrake that has traditionally been used for similar female attracting activities; we can’t let them take away our dignity, sorry, manual gearbox, too! Take a look at the Toyota GT86 and you’ll see why, they are flying out of the showrooms, usually with the rear tyres fully lit and the tachometer needle bouncing off the limiter. Because of all this torturing of tyres, and silly sidewaysness, the GT86 gone on to win several prestigious car of the year awards.
That brings us back to the Geneva Motor Show, if Toyota – the company that makes the Prius, remember – managed to perfect the recipe for a small sports coupe by putting the involvement back, why have the supercars manufacturers done the complete opposite? All you have to do is log onto any car forum to find a host of reasons – usually posted by a man who goes by the name of ‘Ferrari911aventadordriver’ or something – as to why ‘dual clutch this’ and ‘automatic that’ have taken the fun out of the supercar they’ll never actually own. Well the Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren big wigs would probably want a word, as their respective line-ups at Geneva were completely manual-less. McLaren and Ferrari both don’t manufacture cars with manual ‘boxes anymore, and Porsches new 911 GT3 doesn’t come in manual form either.
However, in order to justify the extinction of the manual, these great motoring meccas have decided to throw in some incredible technology that should have you laughing like a village idiot once again.
For several years, electricity has been used in the motoring industry to shuffle everyones favourite steam iron – the Prius – around the roads of Blighty very slowly, and very silently. In fact the only real use of electricity that would get us wheel nuts salivating is the KERS regeneration braking system found on Formula 1 cars. Both the LaFerrari and the McLaren P1 have this F1 derived feature. Energy created during braking is stored and then released during the flat spots of the torque curve to provide instant response, allowing you to ride a constant wave of electric motor torque with the linear power delivery and delicious noise of a well sorted combustion engine.
While this may sound far too extravagant for say, a Ford Focus, it could easily work its way down the price spectrum as time passes. Honda has a similar feature – branded as S+ – in the CR-Z, where a steering wheel mounted button gives a short boost of power from the cars electric motor. Though, why a Honda driver needs a ‘push to pass’ feature, we’ll never know.
McLaren takes the whole F1 car for the road bit one step further. See that massive wing on the back of the P1? When it’s extended you have the option of using DRS. For just £866k you too can have a DRS button which, providing you also hit the other HY-KERS button as well – will get you from 0-186mph in less than 17 seconds. By lowering the rear wing, the car becomes more aerodynamically slippery which makes it faster. And while we’re on the topic of outright speed, to have the ability to think about manual gear changes while being flung to 186mph at that rate you need to be a Stig. And no, having a £1.20 bumper sticker saying “I AM THE STIG” does not make you qualified to handle that much speed and row through the gears yourself. Seriously, if you got a bit sloppy with your gear changes, a 900hp monster like the P1 would send you spiraling into a hedge, or a fence, or a tree or heaven forbid, other motorists!
Lets not forget Porsche either, they are a huge driving force behind the adoption of double clutch transmissions in sports cars. For years, through pure boffiny innovation they’ve fettled and improved their PDK gearbox and now Porsche feel they can sell the new 911 GT3 without a manual even as an option.
Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but thankfully Porsche hasn’t forgotten the subtle art of hoonage. In an interview, Porsches head of GT cars Andreas Preuninger described what he called a “donut mode”. Basically, pull both paddles and the clutch is completely disengaged, let go and the clutch will re-engage. Porsche have answered the prayers of many enthusiastic drivers with this function as it “allows more wheel spin than strictly necessary” while allowing the driver to have full control of the cars gearing. Funnily enough, it also makes the car much easier to get sideways.
It’s getting clearer, isn’t it. We have indeed lost the fight to keep manual transmissions in high-end sports cars, but I wouldn’t be whimpering away in the corner just yet. Manufacturers are clearly catching on to our needs as petrol heads, as well as the needs of the environmental lobby. That new Mclaren P1 I mentioned earlier, it produces less co2 than a Lexus IS250. However, cars like the Toyota GT86 and the Mazda mx-5 – cars that come almost exclusively in manual form – mean that not all hope is lost for those of us who like to swap our own gears.
The super car elite may have lost it, but the battle to keep the manual transmission alive in less powerful, less exotic and less easily crashable cars is far from being over.
By Dan Agombar ( @DMAgombar )