For those of you who have been loyal readers of mine since the beginning, know full well that I will always have a special place in my heart for the manual transmission. It is not just a fantasy, but a reality as two of the vehicles currently in our driveway allow us to “row our own” gears.
My wife and I are well aware that today’s automatic transmissions are engineering marvels. We know the performance advantages that exist with split-second shifting, yet nothing creates the “bond” between a driver and a machine like a manual transmission.
Like sand along the shoreline, the manual transmission is slowly eroding away from the option list and from the memory of car buyers. It amazes me how many people can’t even remember owning a car with a clutch, let alone know how to drive with one.
In an industry focusing more on touchscreen size as opposed to gear count, it is becoming harder for people like myself (and my wife, for that matter) to find new vehicles with three pedals. For those of you who appreciate the spirit of driving over the relaxation of your left foot- don’t worry, we have you covered.
This year on Media Preview Day at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show, my wife (and writing muse) and I set out on a simple mission to see if Chicago still cares about double clutching and heel-to-toe driving. The good news is that they do! To make it easy, we have compiled a quick guide to the vehicles featuring do-it-yourself shifting on display at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show.
Kicking off Media Preview Day was Hyundai who reminded people that cars (not crossovers) still matter in 2020. Although the new Sonata with its now Superbowl-famous Smart Park feature was prominently center stage, honorable mention was also given to one of the hottest hatches on the market- the Veloster N. With an available 275hp, a short-shifting 6-speed, and handsome looks, the Veloster N makes us remember why the world still needs hot-hatches.
The next press event led us to the well-appointed Honda display, where an aptly named Boost Blue Civic Type R sat lurking on the pedestal. Although a bit more refined, the newly refreshed Civic Type R keeps driver experience at the top of its priority list. Although power remains at 306hp, updates to the suspension, steering wheel and the addition of a shorter-throw shifter, proves that Honda still cares about dual-foot engagement.
Keeping the love for the clutch going, Honda made sure that the Civic Si was not (wrongfully) overlooked. Shown in its coupe form and wearing a fiery Rallye Red, I can honestly say that the Civic has not looked this good in many years. The Type R might have been the star attraction, but the Civic Si was definitely the understated hero on display at Honda.
Considering that Mazda has staked its reputation on the driving experience, it is sad to note that Mazda’s current lineup is almost completely devoid of manual transmissions. This was clearly exemplified at #CAS2020, where only 2 MX-5 Miatas proudly displayed their leather-stitched knobs for the world to see. This is very fitting, seeing as how the Mazda MX-5 Miata is and has always been driver-centric and designed for the pure enjoyment of motoring.
Everyone is a buzz about Subaru’s commitment to animals and their Subaru Loves Pets initiative. This is a great cause and the fact that you can interact with animals available for adoption right at the show is very unique. While my wife was chasing tail, I was still in search for stick- and I found it! In fact, Subaru had not just one, but three vehicles on display that allows the driver to play “fetch” with the gears: Take you pick between a Crystal Black Silica BRZ, a Pure Red WRX, or a WR Blue Pearl WRX STI.
Over at Ford, the show stolen by was the absolutely stunning Ford GT Liquid Carbon, but since it packs a dual-clutch automatic- it is off our list! However, if you want to bask in the marque that has been keeping Ford on the walls of teenage boys bedroom walls, check out the Mustangs on display. From a tidy Kona Blue GT to the menacing-looking Shelby GT500, to the legendary Dark Highland Green on the Bullitt edition, there are plenty of fun ways to get your shift on with Ford.
Impressive as always is the effort put forth by Toyota at the Chicago Auto Show. This year was no exception as several 2021 models were debuted alongside the current production lineup. The eye-catching Supra draws you into the display and reminds you that Toyota can still build fun, however don’t look to the Supra for a clutch- it’s simply not available. Step a few feet behind the Supra and a Hakone Green 86 patiently awaits your arrival and almost begs you to bring it out on a track day for some affordable hooliganism.
Finally, we come to our last pair of manuals on display at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show and surprisingly – they are both by Porsche. Renown for their Porsche Doppelkupplung (or PDK for us non-German speakers) automatic transmissions, it was very refreshing to see both the 718 Spyder and the 718 Cayman GT4 offer a heal-toe option on display. Combined with an available 4.0 boxster engine, the 718 now crackles with the authenticity that Porsche loyalists demanded.
I know that people will be pushing back on this list as there are still many more vehicles out there in 2020 that offer manual transmissions as an option. Although this is not a complete list of what’s available, but it certainly contains all that you can sit-in, touch, and feel this week in Chicago.
Even though Mercedes, BMW, and Volvo made the unwise decision to snub the good people of Chicago, this probably ranks as one of the best shows in recent years. It is a great show and certainly worth taking visiting to take a look and do your part to help “save the manuals!”