Subscribe Twitter Facebook

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

N-thusiast X-tinction

Many people consider the Ferrari 458 to be the pinnacle of automotive excellence.  It is the ultimate in high performance, vehicular perfection.  With its combination of active aerodynamics, lightweight exotic materials, a horsepower dense power plant, and lightning fast transmission, this car sits at the top of the evolutionary charts.  Although for the everyday enthusiast like myself, it marks the end of an era that many people never really got to appreciate...

Turning sixteen (in most parts of the country) is the biggest day in a young enthusiasts' life.  The world is full of new possibilities all thanks to one little card with your picture on it, your driver's license.  For me, this meant the ever increasing challenge of perfecting my driving abilities.  It didn't matter if it was learning how to negotiate a blizzard in order to get to the grocery store or clipping a late apex on a decreasing radius on-ramp to find my gap in the flow of traffic.  One of the easiest tasks to accomplish but hardest to master for any driver is the manual transmission.  For every perfectly smooth take-off from a light, there are a handful of smoky burnouts and a single glorious sounding rev-matched downshift for every half dozen jerky gear changes.  Those are the times that inspire us to stick with it (no pun intended).
I know being an enthusiast in America who loves to drive a manual transmission means that I'm in the minority.  I'm OK with that!  In fact, I embrace it.  It's like meeting another member of a secret society when you discover someone else drives a stick too.  I've been lucky to meet people and they've been gracious enough to let me drive their cars.  The next generation won't be able to feel the thrill of that perfect gear change or the camaraderie of fellow manual drivers.
The Ferrari is the first step in this backwards evolution.  Yes, the dual clutch transmission can shift faster than any human could possibly achieve.  Yes, it will improve everyone's lap times.  But, honestly, how often are we on racetracks where we get to see those results listed in tenths of a second?  One of the biggest thrills to me is finding a beautifully sinewy piece of asphalt, dropping and rev-matching a gear or two, and following the ribbons at about a 7/10th pace.  Every step of the clutch, blip of the throttle, and "snick" of the gear lever is on purpose and for a reason.  For just a short time, everything is right in the world as man and machine conquer that road.
Some would say that I'm being hard on Ferrari.  Granted, they are a company built on racing.  It's only right that they push the development envelope to produce the fastest cars on the track.  However, they are also the most revered company in the automotive world.  Their decision to not offer the 458 with a manual transmission is having a domino effect on its main competitors.  McLaren will not make a MP4-12C with a manual and Lamborghini will do away with the archaic device altogether once it releases its Murcielago replacement.  It can only be assumed that companies like BMW, Porsche, and Audi are watching the sales of these cars very carefully.  The majority of their performance cars still offer the option of a manual for the most part.  It's only a matter of time before they realize that profit margins can be improved by only having to tool their production plant for one transmission at the expense of alienating a small community of enthusiasts.

Whether we like it or not, dual clutch transmissions are here to stay.  I just hope that automakers can see that they will lose a percentage of enthusiasts to competing marques if they don't offer proper manuals.  If this isn't the case, the next generation of drivers might as well be born without opposable thumbs.

No comments:

Post a Comment