MINI and Manual Transmissions

Manual transmissions are, some might say “alas,” becoming a thing of the past for most vehicle manufacturers, at least as regards their mass-market vehicles.

Manual transmissions are, some might say “alas,” becoming a thing of the past for most vehicle manufacturers, at least as regards their mass-market vehicles. For one thing, a decreasing number of people in the U.S. know how to drive them. Which means that fewer are being bought.

And while cars manual transmissions generally have a lower price point than their automatic brethren (someone has to pay to make those gears engage automatically), it is expensive for vehicle manufacturers to offer both types of transmissions, not only from the standpoint of manufacturing complexity, but before the car makes it to the production plant, there must be EPA testing of all powertrain variations. So the manufacturer has to pay extra for what it may not sell many of.

What’s more, while cars equipped with manuals typically had better fuel economy than those with automatics, the automatic transmission people—and let’s not forget the continuously variable types—have gotten so good that nowadays it can be a wash.

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MINI—which has “go-kart type handling” as one of its fundamental characteristics—wants to keep the manual engaged. And the manual that it offers does get better fuel efficiency numbers.

For example, a MINI Cooper hardtop with a manual gets 29/37 city/highway miles per gallon while a MINI Cooper hardtop with an automatic gets 28/36 mpg.

So the company is launching a clever campaign to promote the manual transmission. And they’re even offering training in the art and science of shifting.

One can only imagine that those doing the training have a high tolerance for the sound of gears clashing and the smell of clutches burning.