Manual transmissions are a rare find in many new vehicles on the road today, but are still popular among automobile purists who enjoy an added level of control when behind the wheel. Today, only about 10 percent of vehicles made in North America have manual transmissions, down from 35 percent in 1980. So, in the quest for better fuel economy, should a car buyer deliberately seek out a manual transmission?

In the past, it was nearly a given that vehicles with manual transmissions had better fuel economy than the same cars with automatic. But as automatic transmissions gain more gears and become more advanced, they are getting comparable, if not higher, fuel mileage.

According to the guys from Car Talk, the major reason why manuals used to get better mileage is “because there's no ‘slop’ in them. You put the car in the gear, take your foot off the clutch, and the car is ‘locked’ in that gear until you remove it. Automatics use a viscous, fluid coupling, which allows the transmission to ‘slip’ when you're stopped at a light, to prevent the engine from stalling. But that same fluid coupling that allows the transmission to slip at low speeds was harming mileage at higher speeds.”

Automatics now have a lock-up torque converter, which allows the transmission to lock into gear at higher speeds and unlock when you slow down, much like a manual transmission.

In road tests, Consumer Reports found that in Chevrolet Sonic LTZ/LT and Mazda2 Sport/Touring cars with manual transmissions saw an increase of 2 to 5 miles per gallon. Then again, fuel economy was better in the automatic versions of the Ford Fiesta SES/SE and Mazda3 Grand Touring. 

There are other options too. Continuously variable transmissions constantly adjust the gear ratio, which leads to improved fuel economy. The 2014 Nissan Versa with CVT beat out both the automatic and manual transmissions with 35 mpg, compared to 30 mpg.

In the end, if you’re buying an older car, a manual transmission might save some dollars on fuel every year. In newer vehicles, automatic and manual transmissions typically get similar fuel economy. But which is more fun to drive? The answer to that depends on the driver. 

Regardless of where you are headed, let Cenex help you chart your course and fuel your journey. Check out the Cenex locator to find a retail location near you.

Spread The Word