Even the new Renaultsport Clio won’t be available with a manual gearbox, but in the grand scheme of things, will that matter?
Cue a whole heap of arguments declaring the true driver’s car to be dead, alongside another somewhat predictable war cry bemoaning the onset of electronics, all of which are apparently bad news for us enthusiasts. To which I’d say, wake up, smell the Castrol R and stop moaning about things not being the way they were.
Okay, some of the electronic gubbins, particularly those relating to the throttle and steering, aren’t entirely welcome in cars that are supposed to connect with the keen driver. And some of the less capable paddle-shift gearboxes are, or at least were, a pain in the whatnot in the way they fail – or failed – to exact a shift when you ask them to.
In truth, though, most flappy-paddle gearboxes tend to be either fine, good or excellent in the way they respond to your inputs nowadays. And the best ones are approximately 10,000 per cent more capable at swapping cogs than us mere humans are.
When I was racing TVRs several hundred years ago, one of the key factors during a race was the ability not to fluff gearchanges. The gearbox was a bit of brute, so mastering its nuances wasn't easy. And in three seasons I don’t reckon I managed it once during an entire race distance. At some stage during every race I fluffed a shift, at which point approximately half the field would come flooding by and the process of trying to repass people would begin all over again.
Had the car been fitted with a dual-clutch gearbox like the one Renaultsport is about to make compulsory in the new Clio 200 Turbo, however, I’m absolutely certain I’d have been less unsuccessful.
Yet maybe the best thing of all about dual-clutch gearboxes is that when you’re not going for it, you can just select D and bumble about in them. In stop-start traffic jams on the motorway, for example, you can forget the hassle of having to continuously juggle the clutch and accelerator, which is something that drives me round the twist in a conventional manual. Even in heavy town traffic you can drive a dual-clutch as if in a normal automatic, without needing to be twinkle toes with any of the pedals.
And when the right road appears and those horns emerge from your temples, as they do from time to time, you can switch to manual – sometimes even to sport manual – and the thing will slice between ratios faster and more efficiently than you could ever manage manually. In turn, this will enable you to concentrate more clearly on the pleasures of pure driving – of turning in, braking, exploiting the balance and using the power of your car – more precisely than you ever could with three pedals and a lever to also think about.
That’s why the manual gearbox is history. And anyone who thinks otherwise can stand over there alongside the rest of the Luddites, with their VHS video recorders, their black and white TV sets and their belief that the earth is flat.