Manual or Automatic? Keep an Open Mind

Manual or Automatic? Keep an Open Mind

The transmission you choose goes a long way to shaping your car’s character, largely determining what traits it will have and even how it will be used. The transmission stands alongside your choice of engine as the most important decision you have to make when configuring your car.

9. 7. 2019 Škoda World Innovation & technology Technology

And yet, in practice, this choice is often informed by stereotypes and myths rather than mature consideration. Europeans differ from the rest of the world in many ways when it comes to cars. They place high demands not only on cars, but on themselves as well. They pride ourselves on being a “good driver” and almost nobody would volunteer anything to the contrary. For many people, cars are much more than just a mode of transport, so discussions on them can get very heated.


Europeans are readily identifiable in this respect not only because of their heavy emphasis on superb drivability and technical sophistication, but also on account of their choice of transmission. Specifically, Europe is one of only a handful markets where manual transmissions are used en masse. Virtually everywhere else, be it in America, China, Japan, or Australia, automatic transmissions are much more popular. For many European drivers, a manual transmission is their way of showing off their passion for automobiles and driving nous, while elsewhere people view the manual gearbox as an anachronism and simply want an easy and carefree way of getting from A to B.


What is a dual-clutch gearbox?
There are many types of automatic transmissions, and not all of them behave in the same way. The dual-clutch transmission – such as the DSG found in ŠKODAs – comes the closest to the feel of a classic manual transmission. More precisely, it combines the best of both worlds. This is because, from a mechanical point of view, it actually consists of a pair of cleverly controlled manual gearboxes. This makes it highly sensitive to the accelerator movements and provides superior comfort in automatic mode. The actual shifting is very smooth with no twitching or noticeable change in gears.

The DSG gearbox consists of two manual gearboxes, one for the even and the other for the odd gears. Each has its own clutch, which is why it’s called a dual-clutch gearbox. Whichever of these clutches is engaged, that’s the gear which is currently active. When it comes to gear changing, when the car is in motion the next gear up or down is always prepared in the second (currently inactive) gearbox, and while one clutch is disconnecting, the other is connecting. As a result, gear shifts are completely smooth and don’t slow the car down because the engine power is constantly transferred to the wheels.

Higher consumption is a myth
Proponents of manual transmissions like to argue that a manual is cheaper and uses less fuel. While the first point is correct, the situation is evolving when it comes to consumption. In terms of mechanical efficiency, the stick-shift is ahead, but not that much compared to modern dual-clutch transmissions. What’s more, automatic transmissions tend to have more gears and their electronics can adapt the gear-shifting to suit the situation on the road. Consequently, the motor remains at optimal RPM for longer. In other words, an automatic doesn’t get lazy about changing gears, so makes better use of the engine’s efficiency. This is another reason why modern cars fitted with automatic transmission report lower consumption in real traffic, including on motorways. Moreover, a lower engine speed reduces not only consumption but also noise.


ŠKODA cars offer both manual and automatic transmissions. While only a minority of smaller cars rolling off the production line are fitted with automatic transmission, more often than not the larger cars will be automatics.

Manual or Automatic?

For example, last year ŠKODA’s Czech plants produced 155,000 manual FABIAs, accounting for over 87% of the total FABIA output in the Czech Republic. Similarly, 72% ŠKODA OCTAVIAs produced in the Czech Republic had manual transmission. As for the KAROQ SUV, automatic transmission prevails at a ratio of 57 to 43. This rises to more than 78% of SUPERBs and just shy of 85% of all KODIAQ SUVs made at the Kvasiny plant in 2018.

Manual or Automatic?

Faster than humans
It is true that the precise movement of the gear stick while shifting, plus the ability to work sensitively with the clutch pedal, are a strong argument in favour of manual transmissions; this is an invigorating cocktail for anyone who likes driving. And then there’s double clutching. It’s no longer necessary for modern cars, but when an experienced driver precisely balances the engine speed by tapping the accelerator pedal when downshifting, thus changing gears without the slightest twitch, this is the best feeling in the world for a driver.

When it comes to the actual shifting speed, however, humans have been losing out to the machine for years now. In sport mode, modern automatic transmissions offer ever quicker shifting speeds, and they can make use of effective double clutching themselves. Simply tap the lever on the steering wheel and the next gear is immediately engaged. The driver doesn’t have to deal with anything else, leaving him more time and attention to focus on the actual driving. Even proponents of manual gearboxes have to admit that, in their sportiest settings, today's high-end automatic transmissions are quicker than humans, and when they change gears more slowly, it’s only to make the ride more comfortable.


Time favours automatics
Throughout the world, including Europe, we can see a rising trend of cars with automatic transmission without that third pedal. The share of automatic transmissions among cars sold increases exponentially with the category of car, or more specifically its price. This means that the bigger and more expensive the car, the more likely the owner is willing to pay extra for the convenience and efficiency of an automatic transmission. This is true even despite the fact that high-quality automatic transmissions are also available for small cars. The slightly higher price compared to a manual transmission seems to be one of the last major hurdles.

The “manual v automatic” debate is as volatile and delicate as “petrol v diesel”. There’s no clear choice. But it is important to show what the differences there are between them, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and, most importantly, what kind of use each is generally suitable for. So keep an open mind and go with what’s best for you.