Much as we might ride the hate train from time to time when it comes to automatic versions of iconic sports cars, we’re not completely against the two-pedal option when it works. We could be here all week listing cars that are better as manuals, but here are a few we think are actually better as automatics.
These days the 3-series is a pretty big car. Broad, long and taller than you might think, it’s not the slim but muscular althlete it used to be. Nor does it handle with quite the same sharpness or precision as older versions, having become a bit flat and anodyne by comparison.
Take the most powerful non-M 3-series and you still have a manual option, but with little or no development spend over the last few years it’s hardly an all-time classic gearbox. With reduced driving dynamics and an average manual shift, the cutting-edge eight-speed auto makes this 3-series a better car.
We know the Polo well, right from its boggo spec up to GTI level, and in a range oddly devoid of anything memorable, the DSG-equipped Polo is a better car than the manual. The way the Polo chassis is tuned doesn’t really suit the purpose for which it was built, being a bit too much Sense and Sensibility instead of Mad Max.
It’s strange, really, because we really like the Seat Ibiza Cupra, but there are more differences than you’d think between the two. Either way, the Polo’s lazier attitude to life means that its twin-clutch transmission actually improves it.
It’s a strange thing when the media – and customers – clamour for a manual gearbox option in a car only to be disappointed when it arrives, but that’s what happened with the F-Type. While four-wheel drive has given the car a new turn of cross-country pace at the expense of the rear-driven car’s lairy antics, the manual gearbox was sadly a bit slack, imprecise and generally not very rewarding.
That means we’d stick to the eight-speed torque converter option, which makes the most of the V6 and V8 engines’ power and fits the GT-lite feel of the car a bit better.
Before you say it, we know the 488 doesn’t come with a manual option. But in fairness we wouldn’t want it to. The 3.9-litre twin-turbo V8 is so monstrously powerful, and the car is so outrageously capable, that a manual gearbox is only going to be a distraction when you’re trying to concentrate. Plus, of course, the shift speed is far superior to any manual, and that sort of thing matters to Ferrari buyers.
The 488 is a car you need to drive a lot before you can get near its galactic limits, but the vast majority of owners won’t drive it more than once every month or two. On those occasional sprints it’s easier to enjoy as an automatic, and we have to say we like it that way.
The second Volkswagen to hit our list does so for very different reasons. The estate is our favourite Golf R (because fast wagon) and has the broadest range of talents. One of those is biffing around with a load of DIY supplies or a piece of furniture in the back. For urban duties an auto makes sense.
But then open the taps on a country road and the DSG gives you hilariously rude parps via the exhausts on full-bore upshifts. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde car, this, and never more so than when you lose the third pedal.
Sometimes there’s so much speed happening that you just want both hands on the wheel. The 911 Turbo S makes that happen. It’s a technological powerhouse, packed with the latest and greatest in the field of making cars go fast, so a twin-clutch gearbox makes a lot of sense.
Don’t get us wrong; we love the idea of big, hairy-chested 580bhp manual driver’s cars, but when you’re actually hustling one, trying to enjoy yourself while managing not to stick it into a wall/hedge/lamppost/postbox/crowd of children, being able to keep both hands in place and flick paddles to shift is handy. Manuals are still our choice in less powerful 911s, but here we’d have to draw the line even if Porsche hadn’t.
Are there more fast cars that suit automatics better than manuals? Or will you go to your grave swearing that manuals are the only right and proper way? Let us know in the comments.