BUYER’S GUIDE – The Old Stick Shift Has Learned A Few New Tricks

Posted by

If you are considering a return to a manual shifter, then you’ll probably like the welcome surprises awaiting you.

Despite the scare, stick shifts seem to be coming back. At a media event sponsored by FCA last week, Jeep made it clear that it is sticking to stick shifts and showed its new Compass compact crossover as evidence. Yup, it will come with a stick if you want one.

Jeep is not alone in the hottest segment of all either. Subaru has been making Forester crossovers and pretty much all of its cars with manuals and never stopped. The hot midsize truck segment is loaded with stick shift options, including on the top-selling Tacoma. Three of the four top-selling cars in America can come with a stick shift, the Corolla, Civic, and Accord. We have a stick-shift 2017 Civic Hatch Sport in our test fleet this very week, and it inspired us to report on some updates that shoppers who want a manual might be pleased to learn about.

Related: Here’s a comprehensive list of stick shift vehicles.

Hill Holder “Clutch”

Hill-holding “clutches” have been around for a while, so if you have been buying stick shifts all along, you’ve probably have owned one. They’ve become much more common and have even started to appear in automatic vehicles.

The general idea is that when you are stopped on a hill, the brakes will stop the car from slipping back as you move from brake to clutch to get moving again. This is the single most difficult thing a new stick-shift driver needs to master, and anyone who understands how manuals work will appreciate the help.

For old-school drivers, the handbrake could be used to assist a hill start. However, with those being replaced by button-activated automatic parking brakes, that option is gone. Our test Civic had the automatic parking brake (boo) and the hill start assist (yeah!).

Automatic Rev-Matching

Nissan made automatic rev-matching on downshifts an option on its 370Z about ten years ago and called it S-Mode. The basic idea is that the car will match the revs as you need to shift down to lower gears while decelerating, usually into a corner. This is hard to do because it requires using the brake, power, and clutch pedals all at one time, and most of us have just two feet.

It replaces heel-toe shifting and also double-clutch rev matching. We’ve driven the 370Z on track and on the road with this type of shifter, and it is wonderful. The Corvette and other GM performance cars with stick shifts also feature the technology. Those who want to use their skills to do the job themselves will be pleased to know that there is an “off” button. Read what BestRide’s Philip Ruth thought of the automatic rev-matching in a Nissan 370Z here.

More Gears

If you grew up driving a three, four or five-speed manual, then be prepared for at least six forward gears on your next new manual-equipped vehicle. Six-speeds have become the norm now, though if you look hard you will find a five-speed here and there. Some performance cars, like the 2017 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport, have seven forward gears (Note the red “Rev Match” paddle-operated switches behind the steering wheel in the image).

Although automakers advertise more gears as a performance upgrade, the truth is, the added gears we now find on manuals are primarily for fuel economy.

If you’re wondering what that fuzzy stuff on the shifter knob and steering wheel is, it’s synthetic microfiber suede. You’re gonna love that too.

Looking for a new or used vehicle? Start your search right here at BestRide.

Top of page image by John Goreham. Use with permission only.