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Holeshot July 2008 - The Fine Art Of Driving "Stick"

Sep 28, 2008

It took me two grueling weekends with either one of my parents by my side to learn how to drive stick. I didn't get the family beater to practice with; rather, they forced me to nail it in my Civic, which I gave no mercy. Stalling out, the ear-screeching grinds-poor car. It was rough in the beginning-I even stalled out in front of school once-but the skill set in over time and today it's second nature. Being an editor of a car magazine, it's a must to operate a stick-shift; not only for project car builds, but when manufacturers release a new model, 90-percent of the time, they're manual. Well, they were.

A few years back, some of the manufacturers started to change their automatic transmission configurations to a more "manual" type of automatic transmission in that you could switch over to a manual mode. Still an automatic at heart, the car could give you the perception that you were shifting at your own will, albeit the car would still reset to first gear after coming to a complete stop. Flick the shifter or paddles up or down, you're all bueno. Not quite a real-deal manual, but you can fake the funk depending on traffic conditions. I do it with my IS 300; it's nice to have the option to go back and forth. But these newer cars coming out this year and next are giving "automatic" an entirely different meaning.

I'll start with Nissan's GT-R. Amazing car, but crap, no manual transmission-at least, not in the traditional sense. The GT-R's six-speed manual gearbox is automated and you can select three different driving modes in the automatic setting or you can control it sequentially in manual. This type of transmission is so smooth and precise, you praise it for being so carefree but curse it for not having that extra pedal to step down on so you can run a car so legendary through its natural course of action, from first to sixth gear. Even Mitsubishi's MR and Lancer Ralliart use an automated manual transmission, and it kills me that they wouldn't offer up a traditional manual option, but these companies wouldn't have spent so much time in R&D if they thought these wouldn't be worth the money-and they are.

So are clutchless, automated manual gearboxes the wave of the future? It seems that way. There are always the cars of the past, if driving stick is a true passion. But figure this: I sat shotgun with Steve Millen as he took a few hot laps around a road course in the GT-R and I asked if he would've preferred it with a clutch pedal. He replied, "I really don't miss it at all. Now I get to focus and enjoy the best part: driving." Long live the clutch pedal.

Jonathan Wong
jdmwong@superstreetonline.com

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