I feel it. This one of the greatest duels of my life. Me in a bright lime manual Dodge Challenger R/T Swinger versus a black Jeep Renegade driven by a Quebecois pensioner. A race to the freer side of the U.S.-Canadian border. Of course, it’s the day after the Canadian F1 Grand Prix, so we were only going about 1 MPH.
By conventional standards, the Challenger is probably one of the worst cars to get stuck driving while mired in a territorial traffic jam. It’s loud. It’s bright. It’s inefficient. The clutch is skip-leg-day heavy and the gearbox is so off-brand-PS2-controller clicky that each shift takes work.
Frankly, the Challenger was not my first choice for this trip for this very reason. I’d lined up a comfy German electric crossover, but it became unavailable at the last minute. Jumping from a luxury EV to a rip snortin’ Challenger is a bit like trying to buy a kale smoothie and being given a deep dish pizza instead.
Oh well, I love a good deep dish pizza.
When people complain that they can’t get a manual sports car, or sedan, or whatever because they have a congested commute, the situation I’m in is exactly the one they’re picturing. At one point my wife looks over and asks if my leg hurts.
I’m fine, I insist. I’m pushing a little pedal in with my foot and then moving my arm a a few inches. Even with the high resistance level of the clutch, this isn’t that taxing. The hardest part is not tossing the Challenger into the car in front of me with the 475 lb-ft of torque begging to be unleashed (I may, in boredom, may have been tempted to make the Shaker hood shimmy a bit)
Allow me to clarify: While I do take care of myself I’m not some muscle-bound gym rat. I am not trying to pretend to be tough. I’m as 8-ply as a Texan is allowed to be. If I can do it, anyone can do it. A little shifting doesn’t bother me.
What’s bugging me more than anything at this moment is that this older gentleman in the stripper Jeep insists on letting in every single car that sidles up to us. Most of these cars are, pretty clearly, jumping out of the lane they were in to try and cut in front of everyone else. The rules of the zipper merge are clear: one car per car. This Canadian dude, in between puffs of his cigarette, is handing out slots in line like they’re free healthcare.
Eventually, I tire of his nonsense and squeeze my way into another lane that’s lining up in front of a border patrol both that feels a million miles away. I have to beat him, of course, because the only thing worse would be to have him let all those people cut the line and then watch him saunter away ahead of me.
I mention all of this because I saw this exchange on Twitter this week with Matt Farah, talking about the new Acura Integra Type S:
Same. Driving in Austin is no fun. My commute is literally the worst part of my day. There’s nowhere within an hour of the city where you could even begin to enjoy this car these days due to sprawl and traffic.— MikeMcKinnon75 (@MikeMcK1975) June 20, 2023
Assuming you don’t have some sort of pre-condition that makes driving a manual difficult (and, if you do, buy whatever the hell you want), I’m just not persuaded by this argument. I’ve daily driven multiple manual vehicles in traffic and it’s just not that big of a deal. I even regularly drove a manual in Austin traffic, which is the particular gripe here.
Is, as Farah points out, an EV with one-pedal driving the best car for traffic jams? Absolutely. If all you’re doing is driving in traffic jams all the time, maybe don’t get a manual if it bothers you. But don’t use it as an excuse not to get a car that’s otherwise excellent.
I haven’t driven the Type S yet, but I did drive the A-Spec with the stick and it was delightful. If it was my only car and the choice was between a stick in an automatic but I had to commute I’d still get the manual.
Why? The upsides are too great. It’s more fun to drive a manual, even in traffic, as it gives you something to do. I’m not one of those people who thinks it’s a great idea to futz around on your phone whilst driving, even in slow-moving traffic, so trying to perfectly nail a smooth take off without disturbing my passengers was a fun activity (and my pitch for a very bad sequel to Drive My Car).
Manuals are also easier to work on and cheaper to fix. For the kind of cars we generally write about here they’re better and a little effort shouldn’t be an excuse not to buy one.
Seriously, people act like driving in traffic with a manual-equipped vehicle will result in that tennis-player phenomena where one limb is clearly more Thor-like than the other. It doesn’t work that way. Biking or walking. That’s work. Driving a car with a shifter isn’t going to get you swole.
I know this because I did an hour racing this Renegade guy, which involved what felt like hundreds of shifts and my leg still works fine. I eventually beat him, by the way. Not by much. And not for long. Because that dude eventually whipped by me on our way south past Plattsburgh, another cigarette dangling from his lips.
The next day I drove the Challenger R/T to swap for my E39 daily driver, which has a five-speed manual. I almost put my foot through the firewall on the first shift. It was like swimming 1000 meters in a pool full of cherry Jello and then jumping in a pool full of Astroglide.
It felt so good. I could have done three hours in George Washington Bridge traffic.
It’s America. Buy what you want. If you don’t want a manual, don’t buy a manual, but if you have functioning limbs also maybe don’t use traffic as an excuse.
[Editor’s Note: I just want to add some support here, because I daily drove manuals exclusively during the nearly 20 years I lived in Los Angeles, arguably the worst traffic city in America. And not modern manuals with clutches so light it’s like dunking your foot into a mound of sour cream – I lived with agricultural-grade cable-operated clutches on my VW Beetle, and then heavy-ass hydraulic clutches on my ’68 Volvo 1800S and then my ’73 Reliant Scimitar.
It just wasn’t that bad. You get used to it. Sure, there were times when I was creeping along at the pace of a baby dragging a sack of hiking boots on the 5 North at 5:15 pm in the middle of summer and yeah, that sucked. But it sucked more because I had no A/C than the fact I had to use a clutch occasionally. In fact, there were times when it actually felt kinda good to use that clutch leg, stuck as I was for hours sitting in traffic. I’m just saying, if you want a manual, don’t let traffic talk you out of it. It’s taken enough from us as it is. – JT]
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