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We’re edging closer to manual transmission mass extinction event.
This year, the exodus continues, as production delays, plummeting demand and increasing electrification and driver-assist safety systems in cars that relies on automatic transmission specification to work best prompt importers to pull the plug on the gear stick and clutch pedal. No need to swap cogs.
Along with losing a vital mechanical link with your car, removing manual transmission availability leads to higher prices and fewer people learning an important skill.
We’re not saying autos can’t be fun or inclusive in the driving experience… but there’s nothing quite like changing gears yourself.
Here are the latest casualties.
This is a bitter loss in more ways than one.
Toyota recently announced a few changes (mostly price rise-related) to its evergreen Yaris, including the discontinuation of what was one of the biggest surprise packages of last year – the base-model Ascent Sport manual.
Frisky and fun, the six-speed manual opener turned the newly-matured, fourth-generation (if you include the 1999-2005 Echo) supermini into a sophisticated city slicker of unexpected depth. Eager for revs and begging to be caned, this grade more than any other demonstrated how far the Yaris had come.
And if that’s not bad enough, with the manual gone (GR Yaris aide – but that’s over $50K and, really, quite a different thing altogether), the cheapest new Toyota passenger car now costs well-over $25,000-driveaway, further removing the brand away from its core traditional values of affordability.
Face it, Toyota: as the number-one brand in Australia, your cars are no longer for everybody. In a little over a year, because of the generational change, a new Yaris means needing to fork out another $9K. Ouch.
"This is based on demand," a Toyota Australia spokesperson told CarsGuide earlier this month. And, just like that, the cheapest Corolla auto is now nearly $30K once on-road costs are included, further underlining the premium posturing of this country’s market leader.
Now half way through its 12th incarnation since 1967, today’s Corolla is on a high in more ways than one, winning over critics and buyers alike with striking design, excellent performance, superb hybrid economy availability and pleasing road manners.
Pitifully petite cargo capacity in the hatchback version aside (that’s what the coming Corolla Cross SUV is for), it’s better than the series has been for decades. Such a shame to lose the lovely – and reassuringly accessible – six-speed manual Ascent Sport opener that made it such a star to drive.
Now Corolla’s almost as expensive as a VW Golf. Boo.
It’s almost inconceivable if you’re a fan of the original Mini from BMC (British Motor Corporation) and not BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke) that you can no longer buy a manual version. The very essence of the series is centred around it being a cheeky little runabout with go-kart-like agility, and changing gears yourself is a huge part of all that.
The irony of dropping the manual for 2021 is that in its 1960s heyday, the classic Mini represented – among many things – visionary engineering and classless anti-establishment, popularising not only the transverse-engine/front-drive configuration that has come to inform most modern mainstream models today, but also automatic transmission in city cars, being an early adopter – and of a complex four-speed version at that – in an era when rivals like the KE10 Corolla offered a two-speed alternative.
Still, losing the manual in a Mini seems sacrilegious. And the inevitably price hikes are telling, too. Less than two years ago a Cooper manual could be had from under $30,000 while the current F56 generation debuted in 2014 with a $24,500 Mini One grade (admittedly it was quite a basic); but now – as an auto – the least-expensive starts from $37,500.
Earlier this month, Nissan announced that its larger, completely redesigned and comprehensively re-engineered Qashqai would land very early in 2022 from Britain with an all-new powertrain and CVT auto as standard.
This means two things: since the price for the entry-level ST will surely stretch towards the mid-thirties mark, the pool of sub-$30K small SUVs is shrinking by the day, as are the options for a fun-to-drive European crossover, as Nissan’s CVT prioritises efficiency over driver enjoyment.
This is disappointing, as the chassis beneath the prior Qashqai revealed itself to be quite the tidy little handler when paired to a manual transmission.
The new Tucson has been quite the departure from its popular predecessor, trading sharp steering and handling for a very edgy set of new clothes – a decision that in all fairness to Hyundai makes sense given that most medium SUV buyers won’t care so much about driver enjoyment, especially when the end result stands out so vividly.
However, just like every other model outlined above that’s abandoned the manual gearbox, the price of entry for the now-auto base is substantially higher as a result.
At the beginning of this year, the superseded MY21 Active six-speed manual kicked off from $29,640, while its direct replacement is listed from $34,500.
These are big price jumps in anybody’s language.
From $34,490 before on-road costs, the new-from-the-ground-up 2022 Outlander that lands locally in November could be worth every cent of its $2000 price rise compared to the dated and off-the-pace current model it usurps.
But that gap stretches to $4500 – or some 13 per cent more than before – for the largely budget-conscious families that would have been able to aspire to a roomy new Mitsubishi medium-sized SUV with a reassuring 10-year warranty if we’re talking about the ES five-speed manual front-driver.
Now, we are acutely aware of the ageing ZL Outlander’s shortcomings, and would be shocked to learn that more than a handful of folks ever settled for the manual opening gambit.
But, deep beneath that boxy body, lies the DNA of the now-extinct Lancer that didn’t mind being hustled around due to its inherently sporty breeding – and that’s something that a hard-driven manual version of the old Mitsubishi could exploit. Sadly, that’s no longer the case.
You cannot buy a Toyota GR Supra manual but, from 2019 until recently, BMW would happily sell you a Z4 with the zingy B48 2.0-litre four-pot turbo driving the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox for around the same price.
Yes, the Z4 sDrive20i’s 145kW/320Nm outputs pale against its hairy-chested fraternal twin coupe’s glorious 285kW/500Nm B58 3.0-litre turbo in-line six, but the base BMW roadster’s lightness and balance offered something special and unique in certain conditions and on the right roads for the ragtop-loving driver changing their own gears.
Connecting car and driver – isn't that what a two-seater open sports car should be all about?
But BMW Australia apparently only sold two of them and so it quietly slipped away earlier this year, leaving the Austrian-built, German-engineered duo as auto-only propositions. At least the cheapest Z4’s price has remained the same regardless of transmission at $88,900.