They still love manuals in Europe. Some Europeans say that Americans have little idea what makes a great car. But is it any wonder when many of us donít even know what makes a great road? Here in pancake-flat Illinois (state motto Ė Tolls R Us) all the roads are laid out on a grid: you drive straight for a while, turn 90 degrees, then drive straight some more. Sometimes the most exciting thing is dodging the potholes. And those are the kind of roads that influence an Americanís idea of what a luxury car is: one that insulates you from those potholes, insulates you from the road, insulates you from the driving itself. Have you ever driven a manual in a Chicago freeway traffic jam, averaging 3-4 mph for half an hour? Why bother engaging yourself in the driving experience when the roads just arenít that engaging?
That said, there is one thing you can do with a manual that you cannot with any other transmission, whether itís a regular automatic or a fancy dual-clutch paddle-shifter, and thatís heel-and-toe a perfectly matched downshift while braking hard into a corner with all four tires right at the limit of adhesion. When I can string a couple of those together in the big end of the powerband (not often!), it never fails to put a huge grin on my face and make me feel like Mario Andretti. Maybe I would be faster through those corners with a paddle-shifter, but I donít care. To me, rowing that stick around is what spirited driving is all about.