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Only poseurs want BMW to ditch the manual

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I knew I’d get an email about BMW officially waving bye-bye to the manual. But is it true what some say? That it stinks and good riddance? Hmm..

Email me!

Question

Hey Mike. I saw the news outlets pick up on BMW ending the manual transmission after the M2 is done.

Are you still glad you got yours? I’ve noticed you’ve been negative towards BMW manual transmissions in general. Do they deserve to die, like the DRIVE said?

– Tom

Answer

Tom, I did in fact read that opinion article, and I happen to agree: BMW manuals have never been very good.

It doesn’t matter, I’d still pick the G80 with one.

BMW manuals are not great, but not terrible

Nissan Z manual
The manual in a Z isn’t that great either, but I’m glad it exists.

You probably already knew that. Take a spin in a Porsche or a Honda, and you’ll notice the difference.

But BMW manuals are not terrible either. They don’t detract from the experience. Cars like a Toyota Corolla – they could do without a manual option. No joy there.

But an M3?

And let’s take a look at this…

  • Name a Honda with a manual and over 300 horsepower. There’s just one (right at 300), and it was just released this year – the Civic Type R. Nope, not even the Gen 1 NSX.
  • Every manual Porsche I’ve ever driven has had significantly less power than an M car produces. They make just a handful of more powerful ones with a manual option.
Porsche GT4
Nothing can match a Porsche for manual transmission feel.

The only manual car you can point to that’s comparable to an M3 is a Blackwing. Tom, if I’m missing a car let me know, but I can’t think of a single one aside from a GM product that’s been produced in the last 15 years on par with a BMW for power.

I think BMW has been pretty gracious with leaving the manual option open for as long as they have.

Try your best

BMW DCT
The DCT is dead too – only the ZF automatic will remain.

So we’ve given BMW enough cause to continue making a manual option until now. But have we given them reason to improve upon it?

BMW sold 8,088 F10 M5s in the United States. 577 were manuals – a 7% take rate. And we had asked – begged – BMW to bring it here. No where else in the world could you buy an M5 or M6 with a stick.

Perhaps that’s extreme – it’s an M5 after all. So let’s look at BMW’s most lithe and agile modern M3, the F80. There, the manual option accounts for just 28% in the US. Though the previous generation M2 was at 50% for the manual, it’s still not more than the DCT/auto option.

Now, anything worth doing is worth doing well, so shame on BMW for not improving upon feel, but can you blame them? Especially because the end has always been coming sooner rather than later.

They are in it to make money, like any other car company.

X’s and O’s

ZF 8 speed
Soon, even the shifter will go away, replaced by a toggle switch.

The current M3 works best as an M xDrive Competition variant. It’s the fastest, most capable, most flexible version of the car. Put another way, it’s how BMW intended the car to be, like a chef insisting on no substitutions.

But is it the best version of the G8X to drive? I don’t think it is. You can’t use all that power on public roads, and the stick has a way of slowing the car down a bit. More than that, it allows you to savor all the little nuances of the engine. The exhaust always rumbles as soon as I let off the gas – the ZF transmission not there to eagerly shift and save you a drop of gasoline.

And without an S65 under the hood, isn’t the current M3 Competition more or less the best 3 Series, as opposed to an M3?

Taste test

Blackwing shifter
The Cadillac offers a much better driving experience with a manual. It too is dying.

Visiting that DRIVE article, the author notes:

The shift action is always rubbery, the clutch is always placed too far to the right (i.e. too close to the brake pedal), and getting to grips with it in stop-and-go traffic always feels notably more cumbersome compared to other manuals.

I agree – all are rubbery. But I’ve never noticed anything wrong with the pedals, or having to drive it in traffic. If anything, BMW manuals are almost too easy to drive. But this is all personal taste. Car & Driver agrees in their test of a G80 with a manual:

“This car is so much better with the manual,” former staff editor Connor Hoffman commented. “I get why the Competition model exists, but it’s just not as engaging to drive on the road.”

Nice to know they agree. But I use two extreme examples here to show you the difference between opinions.

Porsche Pull

911 T
This 911 T exists with a manual because of the Porsche community.

There’s still a slight hope – Porsche had said no more manuals, but the demand was too much, and they brought it back. Could BMW do the same?

They are aware, after all. It’s a reason why I assume the CSL has a manual. It’s more special.

Role reversal

M3 and M5
Could this be the last great generation of BMW?

What happened if tomorrow, BMW M said the next M3 would be manual only? Would you still get one, or make a jump to a Mercedes C43, with its four-cylinder, or worse, a Tesla?

Instead, I’m the one faced with a choice. I’ve never had an M3 with anything but a stick. Did I just buy my last M3? Probably not. But it’s hard to imagine me liking a new one more.

So no, Tom, I don’t think that BMW manuals dying is a good thing. Anyone that does isn’t a true driving enthusiast.

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