In a recent episode of English car show “Fifth Gear,” host Jason Plato tested a pair of brand-new Porsche Cayman sports cars — one with a traditional manual transmission, the other with a semi-automatic PDK gearbox.
These days, roughly 90% of all cars sold in the US shift gears automatically. The last bastions of the manual transmission are ultra-affordable econo-boxes and high performance vehicles. And really, it’s the the econo-boxes that feature the old-school gearshift. Very few true sports cars still have sticks.
However, even those may be going away.
With the advent of quick-shifting automatics and self-shifting manual gearboxes, there is an argument to be made that even the hardcore sports car no longer needs the stick and clutch pedal. The tradition conception of the driver with his hand always on the shifter and foot on the clutch, both working in perfect synchronicity, is under threat.
For the Fifth Gear comparison, two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Gronholm joined Plato, who is also an acclaimed racing driver, in a drag race and some hot laps around a race track.
In the drag race, the manual-transmission Cayman (in white) was decimated by its semi-automatic counterpart (in grey).
This falls in line with the Porsches official acceleration numbers, which show the manual reaching 60 mph in 5.4 seconds while the PDK — a $US3,200 option — version does the same in just 5.1 seconds.
However, to actually see that difference happening on video is truly stunning.
So how does the Porsche PDK transmission — short for “Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe” or Porsche twin-clutch transmission —
makes its magic happen?
The PDK — as stated in its name — has two clutches, allowing for quicker shifts and no interruption in engine power.
This contrasts with the single-clutch setup on the manual transmission that interrupts power to the wheels whenever a shift change is needed.
Porsche isn’t the only automaker with a dual-clutch transmission. Corporate sibling Volkswagen also has a highly regarded DSG twin clutch, as does McLaren’s MP4-12C supercar.
Although Plato concluded that he would still choose the manual over the autoshifter, the impressive acceleration advantage of the PDK over the stick shift still proves that his loyalty to tradition will be tested more and more as time goes on.
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