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Manual vs Automatic

Home > About Arval > Insights > Manual vs Automatic

Manual vs Automatic

Tuesday, 24 October, 2017

manual vs automatic


As the popularity of automatics increases in the UK, with the clutchless motor now making up 25 percent of a cross-section of the Arval leased fleet, we explore the advantages of both automatics and manuals so you can make a more informed choice about your next lease.



  • Best for stop-start traffic
  • Paddle shift gearboxes let you switch between manual and auto
  • Tends to give a smoother drive



  • Can be cheaper than some more advanced automatics
  • More involved driving style
  • Often lighter than automatic gearboxes


Manual Vs Automatic Cars – Which choice is right for you?

The choice of modern gearboxes means that you can pick the type that suits you, and your driving style, perfectly. The days of inefficient automatics are well and truly over, but you might still prefer the feel of manual driving.

Are you the kind of person who loves to be fully in control? Or would you rather let the car do the work?

The volume of manual cars sold in the UK still far outnumbers the other options, but the automatic is becoming increasingly popular, particularly among the high-end marques. As the automatic has evolved technically, the choice between the two is proving more difficult. It’s also worth knowing that all hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles come with automatic gearboxes. 

Read our run-down for details on the best features of each to help you make an informed decision about your next car or van.


How they compare


Driving enthusiasts may sway towards a manual because it puts them fully in the driving seat; they’re choosing when to change gear and driving based on feedback from the car. There’s a skill to judging the revs, dropping the clutch at the right moment and smoothly re-engaging the engine.

Manuals also tend to be a little cheaper, both in car leasing and when bought outright, and that alone can sway people. Although it’s not unusual to find automatics at an attractive price in car lease offers and deals.

Using a manual takes more effort – particularly in stop-start commuter traffic. So, if you’re likely to be spending most of your time in tailbacks, perhaps it’s time to give your left foot a rest and go for the automatic gearbox when selecting your next vehicle.


For those who value comfort above a more involved driving style, nothing beats the ease of an auto. Particularly when driving around town, or those endless hours inching towards roadworks on the motorway, just a touch of the right toe can be preferable to repeatedly engaging the clutch just to roll a few more metres.

For this reason, in addition to the simple fact that they weigh more, automatic boxes tend to be found in larger, more premium cars. They tend to provide greater comfort levels and the lack of manual clutch can create a sense of smoothness and luxury.

Automatics of the past were heavier on fuel, partly because they were physically heavier, but also because the technology was less economically efficient. Modern boxes have state-of-the-art electronics; monitoring every millilitre of fuel used, as well as up to nine gears to reduce the revs, so they compete very favourably with heavy-footed manual drivers – with the added bonus that they can emit less CO2, too.

In this modern, technical age, there are advantages to both – which means it really does come down to personal preference. Although automatics can give you one thing manuals can’t; the best of both. Some manufacturers equip their automatics with paddle shift meaning that, at the flick of a lever, you can change through the gears much faster than with a gearstick.

This is what is known as the:


Semi-Automatic Transmission (SAT) option

The 'in-between' option that allows you to change whether you’re a manual or automatic driver depending on your mood. Automatic cars have a selector that allows you to shift between Park, Reverse and Drive gears. However, almost all of automatics nowadays also allow you to switch across to a system where you change by nudging the gear up and down between ‘+’ and ‘-‘ symbols, or change using the paddle shifts on the steering wheel.


Types of automatic transmission

Torque convertor

This is the conventional way of transferring engine power to the road. It’s basically a hydraulic system (that is, it uses the power of fluid to move the metal) that means you don’t have to depress the clutch with your foot to disengage the gears – it measures the revs and changes from one gear to the next without you thinking about it. You will find this technology in the Jaguar XE and BMW 1 Series.


Continually Variable Transmission (CVT)

Many hybrids are fitted with this type of gearbox. A CVT box tends to be smoother and more fuel efficient, using a system of cones and pulleys to continually increase and decrease the gear ratio to find the ever-changing perfect ratio for speed and fuel efficiency. You will find this technology in the Toyota Auris and Lexus IS.




Single automated clutch

Simply put, this takes the form of what looks like an automatic gear lever attached to a conventional manual gearbox. The clutch is operated by electronics rather than by the driver.

Whilst lighter and cheaper than traditional automatics, this type of transmission has been replaced by more advanced technology in recent years. Gear changes can be quite jerky if the software can’t decide fast enough which gear to be in.


Dual clutch, or DSG, gearbox

DSG Stands for Direct Shift Gearbox – or if you want the full-throttle German version, Direkt-Schalt-Getriebe.  This transmission type is best known for the versions fitted in Volkswagen models, although Porsche’s PDK gearboxes and Ford’s PowerShift are equally good. Manufacturers tend to individually name their technology within their gearboxes, just like they name their engine technology differently, like VW’s TSI petrol engines.

They differ from conventional automatics in that they eliminate the conventional torque converter and still use a clutch system, except that it’s controlled electronically – either by electronics or the driver’s paddle shift.

Essentially, instead of a single clutch, these boxes use a pair of clutches – one holding the gear you’re using, and the other pre-selecting the next gear to be used – to help you shift faster and more seamlessly than a manual or automatic.

The latest versions can cope with huge torque – which is why they’re used in supercars like Ferraris and McLarens - but in more popular cars, they result in fast shifts and optimised fuel economy.


So, which should you choose?

By and large, it still depends whether you’re passionate about taking full control when you’re driving, or if you do a lot of stop-start commuting and want to relax behind the wheel.

But then, as we’ve said above, the electronics can make all the difference, and some of the most exciting cars to drive now have paddle-shift transmission.

There’s no right or wrong way to choose a car, you just need to be fully aware of all the options available to you so you can select the car that suits you. Try reading our car reviews to get an idea of the type of car that might match your tastes and driving style.


Want to know more? Get in touch!

We hope this guide has given you a good starting point – but we’re more than happy to answer any other questions you might have when choosing the right car for you and your business needs. We’re experts in vehicle leasing with over 40 years’ experience and more than 160,000 vehicles under contract, so we’re confident we’ve seen everything and covered every question.

To talk through the offers and options available in leasing a vehicle, get in touch today.