Manual vs Automatic Cars: Which Is Better?

14th Dec 2023

By Kenny Longdon

Should I buy a manual or automatic car?

Choosing between manual and automatic transmissions is a common dilemma for drivers, and it's important to understand the differences before making a final decision.

The main difference is manual cars have three pedals. The left pedal operates the clutch, whilst the middle controls the brake, and finally, on the right you have the accelerator. In an automatic or semi-automatic car, you just have two pedals: the left for the brake and the right for the accelerator.

We'll be delving in to manual and automatic gearboxes in cars, their differences, and the various pros and cons that come with them.


What is a manual car?

BMW Manual Gearbox

Usually, those who appreciate and prefer a manual gearbox tend to be keen drivers who like the feel and involvement a manual transmission brings to a car.

The biggest difference when compared to an automatic is the fact that you have an extra pedal (the clutch), therefore your left leg and left hand are responsible for making the car operate, whilst in an automatic, your left leg is made redundant in operating the car.

Some cars even suit a manual gearbox better due to their characteristics, power, and size. Examples include the Porsche Cayman, BMW M2, Ford Fiesta ST and Hyundai i30 N. All of these cars are celebrated as being focused drivers' cars where the manual operation of the gearbox adds to the enjoyment of the driving experience.

Pros and cons of manual cars

Pros of a manual:

  • High engagement
  • Less expensive than an automatic
  • General lower maintenance costs

Cons of a manual:

  • Can be a hassle in stop-start traffic
  • More work and concentration needed in the drive
  • Can be physically tiring on long journeys due to constant gear shifting

What is an automatic car?

Automatic BMW Driver

Automatic gearboxes of old tended to be slow, jerky and rare when compared to the manual gearbox. As technology has progressed however, so has the automatic gearbox.

Automatic gearboxes of old tended to be slow, jerky, and rare when compared to the manual gearbox. As technology has progressed, however, so has the automatic gearbox.

Modern automatic transmissions are now smooth, seamless, and hugely popular. Most automatic gearboxes in today's cars are semi-automatic too, which enables the driver to change gear 'manually' via paddles which are located on the back of the steering wheel without the need for a clutch.

Automatic transmissions are more pleasant in traffic and allow the driver to be more relaxed as a whole when driving, hopefully allowing them to concentrate more on the road.

Some cars offer so much power that an automatic/semi-automatic gearbox allows them to deploy all the power to the road. Automatic gearboxes also mean 0 to 62mph times are usually faster than their manual counterparts.

Automatic gearboxes are typically the standard in luxury and high-end cars, but there are plenty of small affordable automatic cars, too.

Pros and cons of automatic cars

Pros of an automatic:

  • Effortless to use
  • Quieter at speed
  • Faster acceleration in modern cars

Cons of an automatic:

  • Less engagement
  • Limited when it comes to learning to drive
  • More expensive to buy than manual

What's the difference between a manual and automatic car?

Happy Driver

The clue is in the name when it comes to the differences between automatic and manual gearboxes.

Automatic cars do all the work for you, unless you opt for a semi-automatic where you can change gear via the paddles when the mood suits, or simply let the car do all the work. This ensures a more relaxing and smoother drive. Even with a semi-automatic, you still don't have to operate a clutch, making gear shifts faster and almost seamless.

A manual gearbox is far more engaging and is typically offered in low value cars or expensive high performance cars. However, cheap cars feature a basic manual, whereas performance cars feature a manual gearbox which may include a short-shift feature, making the action smoother and quicker.

  • Manuals are more engaging
  • Automatics offer more comfort
  • Manuals are less expensive
  • Automatics are easier to operate

Cars with manual and automatic gearbox choices

Ford Mustang Driver

Some manufacturers offer a manual or automatic gearbox option with certain models in their range. This means the car has the potential to appeal to more buyers.

Everyday cars like the Vauxhall Corsa and Peugeot 208 offer manual and automatic gearbox choices in their latest models, whilst used performance cars such as the Ford Mustang are also available with manual or automatic gearboxes.

The superminis mentioned will suit a manual gearbox as their compact nature means they will be a doddle to drive around town. The performance cars mentioned will be more of a workout to operate in traffic due to their high performance nature, but will be more entertaining on a B-Road than their auto counterparts.

Automatics in both types of car will use less fuel on a motorway and will also tend to be quieter at speed due to their automatic gearing.

Find your perfect car with Evans Halshaw

In the perpetual debate between manual and automatic transmissions, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Your choice depends on personal preferences, driving habits, and the specific demands of your lifestyle.

No matter what your preference, you can search our new and used car offers and select a manual or automatic gearbox via the search functionality, allowing you to find your perfect new or used car.