Sport cars with paddle shifts may be brilliant thanks to the velocity of the gearbox or the smoothness of the gear changes. But let’s admit it: driving a manual is way funnier and more interesting than simply pulling a flappy paddle and leaving the mechanics do the rest. So here is a review of 7 cars that have never existed with a manual gearbox and definitely should have. Of course, I’ve never driven most of these cars but let’s say that I would find those more exciting with a proper gearbox. And three pedals. As real cars should be.
1) Ferrari 360 Challenge Stradale
The Stradale is one of the most brilliant cars of its decade. It sounds amazingly good, it’s fantastically good-looking and is thrilling to drive in the revs. The transmission is powered by the F1 gearbox that has equipped every Ferrari as an option since the F355. But for the first time, the single-clutch automated transmission comes as standard in a Ferrari. And it is actually not a bad gearbox: it was one of the best of its generation. However, I would totally dream of a manual Stradale, simply for the pleasure of enjoying every bit of the car’s potential. It would fit more the old-school spirit of the Stradale than a paddle shifts transmission.
2) BMW M3 CSL
The concept of the CSL was basically the same as the 360 Challenge Stradale’s: a more hardcore and exotic version of an already very good sport car. Such as the Ferrari, the M3 CSL was equipped with an automated transmission as standard, called the SMG. But in that case, as car journalists reported it in its time, the gearbox was poor and tended to spoil the driving of the car. That’s a shame because it is badass looking, it has an amazing engine and a lightweight M3 E46 had everything to become a fantastic car. That’s why a proper stick shift would be perfect for this car.
3) Aston Martin Vanquish (1st gen)
The Vanquish is a fascinating car. It was imagined at a time Aston Martin was about to turn into a modern sport car manufacturer and the company had a lot of ambition for its new supercar. It was built to fight against the Lamborghini Murcielago and the Ferrari 575M Maranello. That’s why the chassis is made of aluminium, the V12 from the DB7 Vantage has been tuned up and, more importantly, the car gets a home-made single clutch gearbox which was, let’s say it, rubbish. The gear changes were slow and brutal. Plus, the factory told its customers to let the cars ahead move forward by 10 or 20 meters in a traffic jam before catching them up instead of moving in the same time as them, simply because the gearbox couldn’t hold the idle. Do you see the point of a stick shift for the Vanquish now? By the way, Aston Martin Works suggests the owners to replace the automated gearbox by a manual one.
4) Maserati GranTurismo
Obviously, the GranTurismo had (and still has) everything to be a great GT. It even leaves you the choice of 2 gearboxes: one fully automatic and one single-clutch automated. Both of them were quite alright for an everyday use, especially the first one. But in a sporty way of driving, the single-clutch ‘box is incredibly slow. Actually, neither of the transmissions pushes the driver to go fast and drive dynamically. And one last thing: its main competitor, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage is far more enjoyable with a proper stick shift, that’s the way we wanted the GranTurismo to be.
5) Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione
We’re not done yet with the Italian sports cars, as we are now talking about one of the most beautiful cars of the 2000’s decade. The 8C Competizione and the convertible Spyder are just fabulous in every possible way. They look amazing and, ho god, just listen to that V8. But, you can see it coming, the gearbox was simply slow as hell. Basically, it’s the same you can find in the aforementioned single-clutch automated GranTurismo. Every journalist who had the opportunity to drive it when it was released all agreed on the fact that the slowness of the gear changes spoil the entire ride. As a tribute to its glorious elders, we would have preferred a proper manual, like Ford did with the GT in its times. Still, it remains a very desirable car to look at.
6) Alfa Romeo 4C
Well, quite a lot of Italian cars aren’t they? I’m sure that in this case, the opinions will be more mitigated. The 4C is equipped with a very good double-clutch gearbox which perfectly fits this pocket-supercar with a small heart (4 cyl. 240ch) but great ambitions. But still, I really wish Alfa Romeo let the choice of the transmission instead of forcing the customer to get a flappy-paddle gearbox. I’ve always seen the 4C as a modern competitor of the Lotus Elise which we savor with three pedals and a stick shift.
7) Renault Clio IV RS
The current version of the Clio RS has dramatically changed from its elders. It no longer gets a naturally aspirated 2.0l engine, it has 5 doors and, in what in interests us, it doesn’t exist with a manual transmission any more. It is basically the same case as in the 4C: the single-clutch gearbox is not bad at all and it is imposed. But, of course there is a but, since when a flappy-paddle transmission fits a hot hatchback like the Clio? What is fun in a small and explosive hatchback is its ability to fix a smile on your face and go faster with the car not so different from a boring diesel city car. Complex transmissions don’t belong in this world of simplicity and pure driving joy.
8) (Bonus) Smart Brabus
Nah just kidding. Everything in this car is rubbish, including the gearbox but it remains fun as hell. It even appears to be the only case where a bad gearbox contributes to making a better car.
Text: Stan – Pictures: press