OPINION: A good paddle shift is better than a bad manual

16th January 2024
Ethan Jupp

Fickle creatures, car enthusiasts. Like poorly-trained toddlers, quite often. If there’s something we’re not allowed, we want it desperately. We cry, we moan, we make a right ruckus. And should the industry yield and give us what we want, are we always grateful? Of course not. More often than not, we don’t actually buy what we’d been sobbing into our keyboards begging for. This applies to so many things in the car world but today, we’re discussing arguably the hottest of such topics: manual gearboxes.


It’s the literal touch point in motoring that we as a community refuse to let die; antiquated, inefficient and almost dead, though it is. I’ll follow up what is more or less a factual – albeit quite damning – statement by making clear, I am a manual evangelist. But what I’m not necessarily, is deluded into thinking that there’s a manual for all occasions, which I think too many of us are. 

Quite the opposite. Most performance cars these days are better suited to the paddle-shift transmission they come with. In fact, I would go as far as to say that in some performance cars with a manual option, I’d still pick the automatic/dual-clutch.

The fundamental purpose of a manual in 2024 is to be a point of interactivity. You want to be able to engage with something mechanical and feel like the human part of the machine, without, crucially, feeling like you’re holding the machine back. 

You want to be able to dance up and down the ratios, you want the shift action to entice you into swapping cogs more than is necessary and you want gear ratio spacing that informs some actual necessity. You want pedals spaced, actuated and weighted such that you can play the engine, clutch and brakes like an organ as you traverse your favourite road or track.

The trouble is that for the best manual experience, you ideally need a worthy engine with the kind of power band, response and usable power figure – a nice sound would be a bonus – that suits a nice manual. You also need the car to not be so incredibly fast and capable – which so many cars are now – that a manual feels dangerous or out of its depth.


I could almost count on one hand the number of cars on the market today that fit that description. They are the Mazda MX-5, the Toyota GR Yaris, the Toyota GR86 (ish, it’s a bit notchy), the Honda Civic Type R, the Lotus Emira, the Porsche 911 GT3 and… well, the Gordon Murray Automotive T.50. Before you cry Cayman and Boxster, drive a GT4 and tell us that continent-crossing 1-2-3 gear spacing isn’t incredibly frustrating.

Worse yet, I struggle to think of a non-manual performance car on sale today that I’d rather have with a manual instead of the quick-shifting paddle-actuated transmission it’s shipped with. Probably the Emira mentioned above? The auto in that is shall we say, probably past its sell-by.

That’s not long been the case but the truth is cars have moved on, with razor-sharp steering and breathtaking, hands-on-the-wheel-at-all-times performance. Can you imagine a hybridised, heavily turbocharged 830PS (610kW) Ferrari 296 GTB with a gated manual transmission? The initial image in your head is lusty but actually put some thought into what that would be like and you should be unnerved at the prospect.

Likewise a McLaren 750S, Maserati MC20 and even a Lamborghini Huracan. Remember, the Huracan is a great deal more powerful and capable in its outgoing form than the Gallardo ever was, even though they share the same basic engine.


Okay, maybe there are a couple of cars that, for all their espousal of the virtues of light-weighting and the analogue experience, confused us by being dual-clutch only cars. Those are the Alpine A110 and the Porsche 718 Spyder RS/Cayman GT4 RS. No, the manual option wasn’t dismissed out of hand, with both Alpine and Porsche being open with their reasoning. 

Alpine reckoned that for the A110 to be as light and as compact as it is, a dual-clutch was best, given that precluded the need for heavy linkages or a space-robbing transmission tunnel.

Porsche’s Motorsport division meanwhile didn’t have room to fit the GT3’s six-speed in the mid-engined Cayman/Boxster platform. The other option of strengthening and shortening the glacial ratios of the existing GT4/Spyder six-speed to suit the peaky 9,000rpm GT3 mill was neither financially viable nor suitable for meeting global emissions and noise regulations.

So what about other cars that did or do get a manual option? Sadly, a vast majority of them are ill-suited at best and half-baked at worst. I’d near-on swerve them all. 


The recently-departed Renault Megané RS was better as a dual-clutch, with its healthy-sized paddles offering feel and interaction that was more enjoyable than its vague rubbery manual option. The Jaguar F-Type was long-sold as an auto-only and after years of enthusiast moaning, was finally offered with a soggy manual. The theory was great, but in practice the three-pedal F-Type was worse for its stick, with a dislocated dissatisfying action and dodgy ergonomics.

The latest Toyota Supra with its musclebound 3.0 twin turbo straight-six reportedly feels better-suited to its eight-speed auto than the manual it eventually got too. The BMW M2 is more of the same – heavy, barrel-chested and bullish in a way that makes a row-your-own feel a little out of sorts.

The Jag and the Toyota especially highlight that this is a two-sided issue. Yes, keyboard warrior enthusiasts crying ‘manual is always better’ are wrong to honeypot the industry with zero intention of actually giving them any money.

But by the same token, people don’t buy bad products and frankly, a lot of these afterthought manuals trotted out on a budget just didn’t hit the mark. It’s not the ‘90s anymore. We’re not running from four-speed slushers. Autos are good now, so make the manual good too.


The Porsche 911 GT3 and Honda Civic Type R both have beautifully-developed bespoke six-speed manual boxes. Both work within an entirely cohesive driving platform, from engine to tyres, with both creating an all-boxes-ticked analogue experience. Why do you think manual GT3s carry such a hefty premium on the used market? And before you say arm-chancing prospectors, value and desirability have to be based on some substance. As for the Honda? I'd hazard to suggest the Civic Type R's is the best new manual shift you can buy anywhere at almost any price – yes, even for c/£50,000.

The Jag and the Supra by contrast both use a watered-down derivation of a borrowed BMW box first developed for the E39 5 Series that’s been dragged back out of its coffin several times over the past 25 years to placate internet car forum bedwetters when they transfer their toys from the pram to the floor. 

It’s a point made all the more sore by the fact that Mazda in its everlasting belligerent wisdom continues to imbue its everyday grocery-getters with unnecessary but pleasing interactivity and driver enjoyment. The result is a family hatchback that can best the above Toyota, BMW and Jaguar sportscars in terms of manual gearbox shift feel.

Before I conclude, I will say that tactility is important regardless of your transmission type. Just as a manual needs to feel right, so too must the paddles on an auto. They should have good travel, good resistance, ample size and ideally, be hung from the column – that last one is debatable and just my opinion.

Ferrari’s are standard-setters and are thankfully available across a few different Maseratis and Alfa Romeos too. Likewise, the Weissach-equipped 911 GT3 RS with its magnets that suck the paddles in those last few millimetres has a pure motorsport feel. In short, whatever the driver interacts with needs to feel good and be tactile – paddle, stick or otherwise. But yes, give me the above flappers over a mid-manual any day of the week.


It seems then that the limbo the manual finds itself in is a long drawn-out self-sustaining cycle of false promises, both to buy, on our part, and to properly provide, on the part of the industry. So might I revise the age-old adage and say “save the good manuals”?

Carmakers, if you’re going to do it, do it well and actually, develop cars around the lightweight analogue experience befitting a manual box. No one wants to waggle a spoon around in a bucket of cartilage while wrestling with 600 numb-sounding turbocharged horsepowers firing all of 1,800kg at the horizon, via dull steering and an amorphous and distant chassis. 

Car enthusiasts, if you’re going to cry about it, put your money where your mouth is. The car industry won’t sell what you won’t buy.

But for now, it’s by and large the case that most current performance cars don’t need a manual and that in the case of most of the ones that do offer one, I’d tick the other box. If you want to actually enjoy driving and not be an evangelical keyboard warrior, a good (paddle-operated) auto is better than a bad manual… and I’ll die on this hill.

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