The demise of the handbook gearbox is as inevitable as it’s unhappy. The rise of the dual-clutch transmission (and the dramatic enhancements made to torque converters) has made the choice to go auto a no brainer for a lot of. Aside from a negligible distinction in weight, the fashionable two-pedal various delivers higher effectivity, faster efficiency and requires much less effort. Win-win. As turbochargers have grow to be extra widespread, too, shift methods will be optimised to keep away from lag in a approach that’s by no means fairly potential with a handbook. And all of the whereas the common-or-garden six-speed (or doubtlessly seven) has stayed broadly because it was; first rate rev-matching tech might be the largest development made over the past 20 years, throughout which era the automated has solely reinvented itself.
Consequently, it has grow to be extra well-liked – which means patrons merely don’t go for manuals like they used to. More usually than not today, they do not have a selection. We’re on the level now the place it’s presently not potential to order a Golf GTI with a stick within the UK (do not anticipate it to return, both), and BMW reckons 90 per cent of latest M2 gross sales could have the automated gearbox. Even people who persist (kudos, Porsche) – sometimes anticipate the flappy paddle choice to be favoured by the bulk, a minimum of within the UK. Probably most think about it a facet difficulty towards a backdrop of wider issues, and with improved financial system and decrease emissions a shifting goal, they are going to proceed to wave cheery-bye to the clutch pedal en masse. Which makes for the worst sort of self-fulfilling snowball.
But it is not time for black armbands simply but. Thanks mainly to the enthusiast-led market, some carmakers have soldiered on. And not simply begrudgingly both: there’s nonetheless a nook of the market that prides itself in frequently refining the handbook to the purpose the place working it turns into a supply of appreciable happiness. And it is not simply the three we assembled in West Sussex: honourable mentions go to the Mazda MX-5 which has all the time had one of many sweetest handbook shifts round, and that’s as true in 2023 because it was in 1993; the perfect gearbox of the three for the Lotus Emira is its six-speed, too; and as others fall by the wayside, so Hyundai persists with an excellent DIY transmission in its superb sizzling hatches – each i20 N and i30 N come heartily really helpful. As do the varied iterations of the Porsche 718 and 911.
For at the moment, nonetheless, we’re specializing in the GR86, Civic Type R and M2. Not fairly the nice, the dangerous and the ugly, however not a standard triple check both – extra a day-long appreciation of what their respective transmissions carry to the desk. And there’s actually no higher place to begin than the GR86. You needn’t transfer an inch to know the place Toyota lower the material with its returning rear-drive sports activities automobile. As ever, the small particulars have been sweated. So acute is the positioning that your left hand and foot should find the lever and clutch immediately; the previous is not removed from the wheel (topped with a small, unpretentious, unassuming gearknob that feels 1,000,000 bucks) and the latter gives simply sufficient springy resistance to chime with the low weight, low slung nature of the automobile.
Like principally every little thing else concerning the GR86, the gearbox takes what was already fairly good within the GT86 and makes it tangibly higher. There’s now not that reluctance when chilly, the shift sharp and seamless from the get-go. You’d swear the throw was a little bit shorter and the burden simply that bit extra satisfying, too. The pleasure of the GR is that it’s all the time felt like an 86 to 110 per cent effort, and that extends to the gearbox. It’s very acquainted, but additionally meaningfully improved. And issues have been removed from dangerous earlier than.
Of course, a fair higher handbook in a fair higher Toyota sports activities automobile ends in a very fantastic driving expertise. The ratios are brief and to the purpose – second is completed by 60, the change-up buzzer for third is blaring at 80 – which, mixed with the additional fizz of the newly enlarged flat-four, makes straight-line acceleration a pleasure prefer it by no means was. And you’ll by no means, ever tire of stomping on a correctly agency brake pedal, blipping a downshift, and feeling an agile, front-engined, rear-drive sports activities automobile frisk its approach by way of a nook. In case we have not stated it sufficient, the GR86 is an absolute delight – the one pity is we are able to’t have extra of them (did we point out that?). Destined to be a lesser-spotted icon, then – however an icon all the identical.
So it says rather a lot about what Honda has achieved with the FL5 Civic Type R that it may be an much more pleasing from a handbook gearbox perspective. Cars with the massive purple ‘H’ on the entrance do have some kind on this regard, positive, however its present answer is genuinely chic. Everything that was good within the Toyota appears one other degree right here, from the cool-to-the-touch gearknob to a throw seemingly as brief as a sequential’s. Yet there’s mechanical pleasure right here, too, every gear thunking residence to its indent and shift lights chiming in pretty early to make even brief shifting thrilling.
It looks like such a robust transmission, too, as Honda manuals so usually do. This press demo now has 14,000 (presumably fairly pretty rugged) miles below its 19-inch wheels, and this Civic feels higher than these at launch did, properly bedded in and with an unerring precision to the shift. This actually is one you’ll do for the sake of it, up and down and thru each single ratio, only for how good it feels. Perhaps the one slight irritation is a rev-match that takes an excessive amount of effort to show off; granted, it’s one of many higher methods on the market, however with such a wonderfully honed handbook gearbox it’d be impolite to not get your individual approach and coordination so as. It’ll fortunately oblige matching street velocity to engine velocity into first in the event you actually should as a result of clutch, gears and throttle response are all working in such wonderful sync. Even with out the uber-crisp throttle response of the Toyota.
Notably, the Civic Type R has by no means been provided within the UK with something apart from a six-speed handbook. For this era greater than another it’s straightforward to think about the case for a DCT being made someplace alongside the road as a result of this FL5 is extra succesful and quicker (to not point out costlier) than ever earlier than. Paddles would imply getting on these monster brakes even later, switching gears proper on the limiter – the place this 2.0-litre turbo positively feels its greatest, as a Honda ought to – and extra simply manipulating it with left-foot braking. However, at no level throughout our time with the automobile is the considered switching out the handbook even countenanced, so completely does it complement otherworldly traction, tremendous steering and unflappable damping. It’s a sizzling hatch brimming with the very best calibre parts, and a seamlessly built-in six-speed handbook stays the cherry on prime.
‘Seamlessly integrated’ isn’t how anybody would describe the handbook gearbox of the M2. That unmistakeably spindly BMW lever sprouts out of the sprint like a weed on a Wentworth inexperienced, sudden and unwelcome in pristine environment. As fanatics, it’s exhausting to not smirk knowingly at such a factor protruding in a 2023 BMW M automobile, although it’s straightforward to think about a extra informal purchaser being delay by the way it jars with a tech masterpiece of a cabin (assuming you want screens). If, certainly, the vendor even has a handbook M2.
Driving it received’t initially assist the trigger, both, with pedals offset to the precise, and the powertrain chuntering if exactly the right combination of clutch and revs isn’t employed. Not to say the kind of rubbery, knuckly really feel from the lever that does not appear that many generations eliminated out of your Dad’s previous 3 Series. Experience if back-to-back with a GR86 and it seems deeply anachronistic (and never all that pleasing), a contemporary marvel of an M automobile seemingly hobbled with a 20th-century gearbox. And not a very nice one, both.
Stick with it, although, as a result of that mismatch is the making of the M2. Especially with the common seats, which means your left hamstring doesn’t hit a bump on the carbon mound each time. As this G87 era has inevitably matured with a lot borrowed from the M3 and M4, so the six-speed reintroduces only a little bit of that old-school character that has been notable for its absence elsewhere. Sure, the clutch stays lengthy and the chunk imprecise, however having to consider the method – i.e. to decide on each gear, each time, not simply while you fancy a go on the paddles – provides one other whole dimension to the expertise. One the place you are going slower, however with an even bigger grin in your face.
Mostly as a result of it means you get to tangle with that mighty straight-six. Finding third from first (or simply pulling away in it by mistake) and feeling the twin-turbo 3.0-litre haul its approach by way of each rev from idle to redline feels appropriately enlivening, energy constructing all the way in which to 7,200rpm. A stick and a clutch encourage a little bit of misbehaviour in an M automobile, too, whether or not that’s pulling away with a number of too many revs and a little bit of lock, or punching by way of gears as quick as you dare like a correct previous touring automobile driver. Both are good methods to brighten up your day.
More than the opposite two, the BMW advantages from rev match expertise, making these wonky pedals and considerably mushy shift really feel much less of a hindrance. Even the proudest of heel-and-toe heroes may be tempted to concede that handing over a job to expertise which appears extra faff than pleasure is not any dangerous factor. Especially because it duly nails a rasping downshift each time, which implies you possibly can concentrate on the M2’s good bits. And not attempting to coordinate pedals with shift really makes the gear change appear slicker than first thought.
Elsewhere, these good bits embrace physique and wheel management to make the previous M automobiles blush (regardless of the extra timber), enormous however not undefeatable traction – and, sure, that rampant, indefatigable efficiency. Predictably, an automated most likely does swimsuit what BMW was attempting to attain with this M2 greater than a handbook – the place the other is true for the Honda and Toyota – however in a world of good efficiency flagships, a flawed six-speed M automobile is a heroic creation nearly by default. It’s 2023 and there’s a 460hp, rear-drive BMW with a clutch pedal out there to anyone with the wherewithal to purchase it. As it did with the M3 and M4, BMW might simply as simply (and doubtless justifiably) stated no handbook M2 this time round, as a result of not that many discovered properties earlier than. And we all know what the long run holds. In some ways, it is the automobile that encapsulates either side of the 2/three pedal debate. Sometimes concurrently.
Not that we’re heading towards a transparent winner. All three are too completely different for the PH podium to be wheeled out. That being stated, if we’re pinning medals on issues for displaying the handbook gearbox in its greatest gentle (as the sunshine fades) all three nail the temporary. Sure, you would not search out the M2’s bony answer if it have been manacled to a four-pot – however connected to a fire-breathing straight-six and a boisterous chassis, the automobile celebrates a lot of what we’ve beloved about M automobiles for therefore lengthy. Having three pedals to become familiar with as an alternative of two ensures the sanctity of that link to the nice previous days in a approach the eight-speed by no means might.
Although if it is lingering affection for the ‘good previous days’ that introduced you right here, then the GR86 ought to be your takeaway. To say that Toyota sat down and brainstormed all that was good about basic sports activities automobiles – revvy engine, beautiful handbook gearbox, partaking chassis – then added Isofix, CarPlay and heated seats, appears trite now that it could not concurrently work out what number of it ought to construct to fulfill demand as soon as it had perfected the formulation. But it did, and it has, and the GR86 resides proof (in case you wanted it) that very often the perfect automobiles are the least sophisticated ones. Right right down to transmission selection.
Nevertheless, it is certainly becoming to finish with the Civic. Because if any area of interest goes to stick with manuals, it is comparatively low-volume sports activities automobiles. The sizzling hatch, however, as a category, appears to be heading for auto-only standing faster than you possibly can say ‘lithium-ion’. So it is heartening to acknowledge that Honda – a agency which appears determined to align with smart sneakers in every single place else in its vary – has caught to its weapons and demonstrated what will be achieved with continuous honing and improvement. From the primary turbo Type R to this one, Honda hasn’t distracted itself with automated gearboxes, four-wheel drive or three elective wheel sizes; it’s been engineering the perfect 2.0-litre, front-drive, six-speed hatchback it probably might. The outcome, we’re completely happy to report for posterity, isn’t removed from handbook gearbox nirvana.
SPECIFICATION | 2022 TOYOTA GR86
Engine: 2,387cc, flat-four
Transmission: 6-speed handbook, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 234@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 184@3,700rpm
0-62mph: 6.3 seconds
Top velocity: 140mph
SPECIFICATION | 2023 HONDA CIVIC TYPE R GT (FL5)
Engine: 1,996cc, four-cylinder turbo
Transmission: 6-speed handbook, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 329@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@2,200-4,000rpm
Top velocity: 170mph
SPECIFICATION | 2023 BMW M2 (G87)
Engine: 2,993cc, twin-turbo, straight-six
Transmission: 6-speed handbook, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 460@6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 406@2,650-5,870rpm
Top velocity: 155mph (177mph with elective M Driver’s Pack)
Weight: 1,700kg (DIN)