It wasn’t too many years ago that the stick shift was king.
If you wanted to drive the coolest cars on the planet — or even get the most of of your college-era beater — you had to know how to use a gear stick and that mysterious third pedal.
Today, of course, dual-clutch transmissions have replaced them in the highest level exotics. It’s been well over a decade since Ferrari released its last model to feature its lovely gated shift, and fellow Italians Lamborghini phased them out just over five years ago.
As you might expect, the reason that manufacturers in that rarefied air have left the traditional manual gearbox behind is performance. There’s simply no way a human can nail shifts as blisteringly fast as a computer can, and when you’re looking for bragging rights regarding zero-to-60 times, Nurburgring lap records, or championship titles, those 1/100ths of a second matter.
But unless you’re racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans? They really, truly don’t. And the fact of the matter is that there are still plenty of applications where the manual shift is still preferable, not because of performance, but because of something even more basic — fun!
Because while less and less automakers produce sticks every year, there are some models where it’s virtually a cardinal sin to opt for the automatic. At the top end are iconic sports machines like the Chevrolet Corvette and the Porsche 911, which have defined sexy performance for almost half a century. But there are plenty more affordable, practical vehicles which also only come alive when equipped with a stick, like the Mazda MX-5, the Toyota FT-86, and most recently, the Nissan Sentra Nismo.
Seriously, tell your gearhead Uncle you got one of those without a third pedal, and prepare for an extremely hard time at the holiday dinner table. Of course, since sticks are a little more complicated to use than a traditional automatic, there are some rules you need to follow about how to use them properly.
For a complete breakdown of what they are, check out this great video from the folks at Engineering Explained.