In the golden age of the American automobile there were two choices for transmissions: manual or automatic. For the most part, that was it. The last fifteen years have seen an explosion of transmission types leaving the average consumer with no idea what the difference between a torque-converter, a dual-clutch, and a robotized manual is. We strongly believe the tranny is one of the most important parts of your car, so it's in your best interest to buckle up and listen closely.
Back in the day, this was the only choice if you wanted real performance. People used to say that if you don’t have a stick, you’re not driving, you’re just guiding your car. If you’re a motoring enthusiast, and you just want a simple man-machine relationship with as few computers and robots in between as possible, this is the transmission you want. It may not be the fastest these days, but it’s still bloody fast if the driver doesn’t suck. Everybody should own a manual at least once. The bonus is that maintaining and repairing one is way cheaper than any other option.
The Conventional Automatic
The O.G. automatic transmission. Compared to a manual, it’s inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and repair, and generally mediocre. If you’ve even put your foot down in an automatic and had to wait an inordinate amount of time for power to get to the wheels, you’ve experienced a mediocre slush-box. With all the other options for automatics on the market, there’s really no excuse for torque converters. They’re about as cool as testicular torture.
The Continuously Variable
The CVT is a technological advance from the conventional automatic that provides a very smooth ride and good fuel economy. The downside is that a CVT is like a little granny built into your car telling you not to accellerate so quickly. If you don't care about speed or performance at all, this would be a good choice, but you do care... don't you?
These come in about a billion different flavors, from conventional automatics with a manual override to high-tech, F1 inspired dual-clutch gear boxes. They are generally a good compromise between all of the various options and can function just like an automatic. They require no driver input, but you can still select the gears via paddle shifters or the gear select lever. This gives the driver the control of a manual, and often performs the shifts way faster than any human could hope to. The gearboxes on supercars can perform shifts in 40 milliseconds or less. One the other hand, mediocre semi-autos can be infuriating when waiting for that down-shift to finally happen. Try before you buy to make sure that the feel and speed of the transmission is good and a semi-auto will no doubt serve you well, even if it isn't quite as sexy as a manual.