In a world where manuals are a dying breed, so called “semi-automatic” transmissions have long become most automakers’ popular alternatives or even replacements for manuals. Often better known by various automaker branding such as Steptronic, Geartronic, or Sportronic, these transmissions seek to offer the best of both worlds by giving drivers the ability to “shift-it-yourself” without a clutch pedal, either through the gearshift selector itself, or more recently, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters. But are these really proper substitutes for true manual transmissions? The general opinion, one that I personally share, is “no”.
I for one, have always owned automatics, and find them best suited for my needs in a daily driver. Living in the greater Boston area often entails horrendous traffic, and chronic achilles tendonitis from years of long-distance running, a sport which I continue to take part in, makes driving manual downright painful sometimes. That being said, I thoroughly enjoy driving manual every now and then, and it would be the only choice in transmission if I ever bought a fun weekend driver.
The first car I ever experienced paddle shifters in was my uncle’s Mk5 VW GTI. I remember him excitedly talking about them when he took delivery, and showing me how to use them when he took me out driving shortly after I got my learners permit. I never really warmed up to them and now a decade later, the last three of my cars all having paddle shifters, they are still something I could care less about. I’ve tried them a few times on occasion, but if I’m ever going to shift myself in an automatic semi-automatic, I prefer the gearshift, which in itself is a very rare occasion.
For me, there isn’t really any gray space in the middle. I’ll either drive fully automatic or fully manual. From my experience, I’ve found most people are the same way. But I am curious to know if there is anyone out there who does use their paddle shifters. Does anyone even prefer them?