Eventually, like most Americans, we’ll forget how to change gear with a stick and a clutch pedal. But not today. Just getting from my house to Beachy Head Road in East Sussex has required hundreds of manual gearchanges. Well, maybe not required; some of them were purely gratuitous.
And that’s my point. In the right car – one in which the gearchange and clutch action, and the positioning of the brake and accelerator pedals, have been honed with as much care as the camshaft lobe profiles – slotting the ratios yourself isn’t a chore. It isn’t a distraction, or an onerous chunk of manual labour that detracts from the purity of the driving experience. It’s the one unassisted, truly interactive mechanical operation left to the driver.
Transferring the energy of the engine to the driven wheels via meshing cogs and plates, by means of a lever and a pedal, requires a degree of skill. And if you’re into driving, who wouldn’t want to be physically (rather than merely cerebrally) involved in the process, the human component at the fulcrum of the drivetrain? It’s a prospect to relish, surely?
Dual-clutch gearboxes are not the future, as David Vivian suggests: they are the present. And apart from one glaringly obvious issue – they cost a small fortune to engineer and therefore ain’t cheap as an optional extra – there just aren’t many other reasons not to love ’em.
Dual-clutch gearboxes are quite staggeringly brilliant at what they do. And even when it comes to the subjective argument, I just don’t buy into the ‘manual is best’ reasoning.
For starters, the pro-manual argument falls apart if the manual in question is anything other than a very good one – and there have been plenty of rubbish manual gearboxes over the years, featuring heavy clutches with awkward biting points and gearlevers that wobble around like spaghetti.
Then there’s the false notion that there is no particular joy in operating a dual-clutch gearbox manually; for me, it’s just not valid. You can have oodles of fun and get just as much ‘connection’ out of a good DSG.
Dual-clutch gearboxes don’t merely leave you, the driver, to sit there and watch the action unfold, after all. To get the most out of one, you must interact with it in much the same way as you would a manual.
Dual-clutch gearboxes are, in their way, every bit as involving as manuals. If anything, by removing the boring bit (having to engage and disengage a clutch), it could easily be argued that dual-clutch gearboxes are more fun. They’re certainly more efficient, because they allow you to focus on what matters most – namely, when precisely to change gear.
The full Sutcliffe versus Vivian argument can be read in the latest issue of Autocar, on sale now.