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Clarkson: Why would anyone buy a car with a manual gearbox?

Bad news if you are contemplating buying a new car with a manual gearbox. There’s a chance you are, in fact, mad, according to ex-Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson.

Speaking in his weekly column for The Sunday Times, Clarkson said he came to the realisation while stuck in a traffic jam for more than two hours.

“‘Why,’ I wailed inwardly, ‘would anyone ever buy a car with a manual gearbox these days?’ It’s like saying, ‘I don’t need a television with a remote control. I’m perfectly capable of walking over to it and changing the channel myself.'”

He went as far to say that those who favour a manual transmission, “are the sort who choose not to have a washing machine because they prefer to clean their clothes in the local river.”

Clarkson’s reasoning stems from the fact that once upon a time automatic gearboxes were utterly hopeless and flappy paddles even more so.

“There was a time when automatics chewed fuel, weighed a ton and cost about the same as a house. And there was a time too when the halfway-house arrangement – usually a manual gearbox operated without a clutch pedal via flappy paddles on the steering column – was jerky and complicated and completely incapable of setting off without making more smoke than a First World War battleship.”

But he acknowledges times have changed: “Those days are gone. Flappy-paddle gearboxes now are sublime. Fast. Easy. Rewarding. Nice.”

Given how a manual gearbox provides the most driver involvement, Clarkson’s comments will upset purists. But he admits that pleasure can be found when driving along a scenic hilltop or around a racetrack.

Even so, his feeling towards gear levers is “barely concealed contempt,” yet Brits still love them. More than 70 percent of all cars sold in Britain have a manual, he states.

This is not the first time the motoring journalist and presenter, who is currently working on a motoring show for Amazon, has made his feelings about manuals known.

In a Top Gear article from late 2014, he said: “It’s always bad to be caught up in a slow-moving jam, but when I am in a car with a manual ‘box, I am tempted sometimes to get out and kill myself. Because constantly balancing the clutch pedal is wearisome and painful. It’s like being in a gym. And nobody in their right mind would choose to visit one of those.”

Whichever way you lean in the manual versus automatic gearbox argument, the sheer capability of the latter means going for the former means taking a hit on the 0-62mph time, fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions and even the top speed.

A BMW M135i, for instance, is two-tenths slower from standing to 62mph when equipped with a manual gearbox. In essence, wanting a more hands-on experience actually makes a car slower these days more often than not. Maybe Clarkson has a point, after all?


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