Online Car Shopping: Clutch or Automatic?
Forty years ago, there were far more stick shifts on Canadian roads. But in the past decade or so, vehicles with a clutch (or manual transmission) are harder to find. Why is that?
Any automotive historian will tell you that Canada was the birthplace of the automatic transmission. In 1921, Canadian steam engineer Alfred Horner Munro invented the auto transmission with four forward gears, no park, and no reverse. It was revolutionary for its time and would inspire the next hundred years of gear-shifting innovation. Up until that point, all cars were manually shifted but it took nearly two more decades before an automatic transmission was used in a mass-produced car (by General Motors).
By 1980, 35% of models for sale in Canada could be bought with a clutch pedal and stick shift. By 2015, only 9% of new vehicles for sale in Canada offer the option for a manual transmission. The transition towards automatic isn’t just in Canada either; the data suggests that the United States also prefers auto transmissions, while other developed countries like Ireland, UK, and France lean strongly towards manual cars.
But even in Europe, the popularity of automatic transmissions is growing slowly. Furthermore, electric cars—which we’ll see taking over the roads more and more over the next twenty years—all come with automatic transmissions. Is there still a lane for the manual transmission?
Why the auto transmission is so popular in Canada
The growth in popularity of the auto transmission is all about convenience. Anyone who has experienced a drive into Toronto or Vancouver with a manual transmission can identify with the repetitive strain of light-to-light rush hour traffic – clutch out, clutch in, over and over again. Comparatively, automatic transmissions are just so easy. The driver just has to drop it in gear and go. There are no missed shifts, no pungent smell of burnt clutch material, and no stalling at a green light.
Simplicity rules in automotive. Whether you’re chatting with a client on Bluetooth or trying to calm the kids in the backseat, most drivers simply don’t feel the need to add manual shifting into the mix.
For car enthusiasts, the general sentiment is that a manual transmission offers a more “involved” driving experience and performs better than an automatic one too. But developments in the past decade have evened the playing field with some auto transmission options actually outperforming cars with clutch pedals.
For example, dual-clutch transmissions (DCT) were strictly for racing applications, but the technology has found its way into some of today’s mass market models. Not only are they crisp-shifting automatics but DCT transmissions can typically out-accelerate a driver in a manually-shifted car. The Volkswagen Golf R and Jetta GLI, Hyundai Veloster Turbo, Kia Soul Turbo, and several others offer this increasingly popular option.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is another relatively recent development that outperforms a manual gearbox but in a different way: fuel efficiency. This style of transmission doesn’t have gears per se but a band on two cone-shaped ‘sprockets’ that offer up an infinite number of gear ratios. Essentially, it’s always in the right ‘gear’ for the best fuel efficiency and performance.
Why some Canadians still prefer a manual transmission
Why do some Canadians still prefer a manual car? Some driving purists would argue that anything else just isn’t as enjoyable, particularly for driver-centric performance cars like the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Toyota GR Supra that have cult-like followings. They feel more connected to the road and that they have better control of their vehicle dynamics.
For the older generation of Canadians, perhaps it’s a matter of pride; millennials and Gen Z drivers often haven’t learned how to drive a clutch pedal and stick shift. Some drivers relish the small savings they are able to make on the purchase of a manual car since they are fractionally cheaper than automatic, on average.
Should I buy a manual or automatic car?
How do you decide which transmission is better? Manufacturing standards are neck and neck between the two, so reliability rarely enters the equation. To help you decide, here are some pros and cons for both options.
Automatic transmission pros
- Very easy to drive – just put it in drive and go
- Can handle the torque demands of heavy loads better
- Modern automatics like DCT transmissions can actually accelerate faster than a manual
- All electric vehicles come with auto transmissions
Automatic transmission cons
- Driving dynamics can feel less sporty to some
- Usually slightly more expensive to buy
- Requires a little more maintenance
Manual transmission pros
- Usually has a lower initial purchase price
- Simpler design with fewer components to fail
- Expect fewer maintenance costs
- Some drivers feel more in control of vehicle performance
Manual transmission cons
- Harder to find cars with manual transmissions
- City driving is more challenging
- Inexperienced drivers can be frustrated by stalling at lights and hill starts
- Bad driving habits can wear out the clutch – a rather expensive repair
Clutch or automatic: Find both at Canada Drives
Whether you’re looking for a vehicle with manual or an automatic transmission, Canada Drives sells both. As mentioned, simplicity rules in automotive, and we make it easy to find a car with the transmission style you want thanks to simple search filters in the sidebar.
You can also filter by other common attributes like drivetrain, seating capacity, fuel type, year, and price to narrow down hundreds of options in seconds.
At Canada Drives, we make it quick and easy to find exactly what you're looking for, and our 7-day 'Love it or Return it' guarantee means you can choose a manual transmission and trade it for an automatic transmission if you change your mind after driving it for a few days.