Mini Offers Hope to Manual-Transmission Lovers
- The world still wants manuals, Mini maintains, so it’s upping its manual model count to nine, starting in March.
- “Fun to drive” was the top characteristic respondents most associated with a manual transmission vehicle, a survey by Mini said.
- Mini now offers a class to teach drivers how to operate a manual transmission.
Minis are fun. Are we all agreed on that? Ever since the first one rolled out the factory doors in Oxford, England, in 1959, the Mini Cooper has been providing fun times for drivers around the world. And what is the most fun you can have in a Mini? Shifting a manual transmission.
Or so says Mini.
Mini knows this because it surveyed 1012 adults 18 and over from the general population and asked them what they thought of manual transmissions. The survey said 63% of all respondents agree that learning how to drive a manual is an important life skill and a rite of passage. “Fun to drive” was the top characteristic respondents most associated with a manual transmission vehicle, the survey said. And yet, half of Gen Z and 42% of women didn’t know how to drive a manual. Half of them said they were interested in learning, though.
Another survey by Cadillac had similar conclusions, saying 66% of American drivers know how to drive a manual and 55% have owned or leased one in their lifetimes.
So while the data suggests people aren’t necessarily against manual transmissions, few actually own or even know how to operate them. CarMax has a chart showing that manual transmission sales went from 26.8% of total car sales in the US in 1995 down to a little over 2% by the end of 2020. Manual transmissions were at the bottom of a list of preferred features in cars, CarMax said, with just 2.5% popularity (#1 was Bluetooth, #2 was a rear view camera, and #3 was heated front seats). In all, 96% of Americans drive automatics, CarMax said.
US News and World Report said last year that only around 18% of us can even operate a manual. The New York Times in 2021 said only 1% of new cars sold in the US came with manual transmissions.
Yet Mini is so optimistic about the future of the manual that it is adding more models so-equipped to its lineup. “These results (of the Mini survey) show a clear opportunity to impart the fun and engaging element of driving a manual to current and upcoming generations of drivers,” Mini said.
Mini USA announced this morning the return of more models available with manual transmissions.
“As of November 2022 production, Mini USA announced the return of manuals in its Cooper, Cooper S, and John Cooper Works two-door hardtops. Mini is now pleased to announce four additional models that will be available with a manual transmission. They are: Mini Cooper Convertible, Mini Cooper S Convertible, Mini Cooper 4-Door Hardtop, and Mini Cooper S 4-Door Hardtop.”
Ordering for these four additional models has opened, effective this week, and production will begin March 1. That means nine Mini manuals by March.
Furthermore, the BMW Group Performance Center West at The Thermal Club motorsports facility just outside Palm Springs, California, today launched a new class in how to drive a manual-transmission Mini. For anyone who had to learn that skill at the command of an enraged father—the veins in whose forehead popped out after the third or fourth stall by his new-driver offspring—having patient and professional guidance to learn the vagaries of the manual transmission can mean less time in psychotherapy later in life.
“I was 12, trying to drive an Audi A4 that my dad was teaching me in, and I was in tears,” said racing family scion Loni Unser, one of the very helpful, knowledgeable, and patient instructors at Thermal. Yes, she is one of those Unsers.
She is the daughter of Johnny and, as near as we can tell from sifting through the family tree leaves, the grandniece of the late Bobby and Al Sr. She is delightful and believe me, your kids would much, much rather have her teaching them than you. The $499 fee for the class pales in comparison to the lifetime of anxiety-reducing prescription medication that will be necessary if you do it (“How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your MEAT?????”).
I got to observe a manual transmission class at Thermal the day before classes opened to the public. The first and most amazing thing I learned was that you could make a manual Mini go forward just by letting the clutch out at idle. I had always believed you had to add throttle as you let the clutch out or the car would stall. Not so!
So the first exercise for students was to gently let the clutch out and let the idling engine move the car along, albeit very slowly. The students, each in their own Minis, did that many times a lap for several laps of the road course next to the Performance Center.
Then they tried more laps, adding throttle while letting the clutch out. Then they shifted to second, then third. By the end of the half-day course most students I watched said they would feel comfortable driving a short distance in a manual-transmission car.
“Alec Issigonis created the first Mini in 1959 and John Cooper discovered that it was a hell of a lot of fun to drive,” said Mini spokesman Andrew Cutler, introducing the school at Thermal. “The car was then campaigned, winning many rallies and races, punching above its weight, and became a racing icon and ultimately became a cultural and social icon that’s carried on to today. And we argue that the fun and community of getting out on the open road in an engaging way in its best form is done with a manual transmission.”
So may we suggest the following curriculum: Send your kid to the drive-a-manual class, whilst you take the Mini Stunt Driving School at the same facility. Now, as you may know, I am about 4 million years old and thought I could never learn anything new again. Maybe you’re in the same, know-it-all boat. Yet there I was doing a reverse J Turn, better known as a Rockford. That was so cool! Floor it in reverse, click it into neutral, crank the wheel hard for a half turn, click it into drive and speed off, leaving the kidnappers foiled!
Check out MINIDrivingexperienceUSA.com and plan your academic advancement. You won’t mind returning to school this time.
What was it like for you learning how to operate a manual transmission? Do you still have opportunities to use those skills? Please comment below.