Manual Vs Auto Debate Settling Attempt #4851 Using the Ford Focus ST and a Track

Ford Focus ST manual Vs automatic track test 9 photos
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Ford Focus ST manual Vs automatic track testFord Focus ST manual Vs automatic track testFord Focus ST manual Vs automatic track testFord Focus ST manual Vs automatic track testFord Focus ST manual Vs automatic track testFord Focus ST manual Vs automatic track testFord Focus ST manual Vs automatic track testFord Focus ST manual Vs automatic track test
Those a bit younger may look at a manual transmission and see something resembling a rotary-dial telephone: the kind of thing their grandparents grew up with that has absolutely no benefits compared to the more modern options.
However, if we were to rewind time for no more than two decades, we'd be able to notice how the manual versus automatic debate was still in its prime. That's mainly because everyone was talking in absolute terms, when, in fact, they should have agreed that each has its advantages and is, therefore, better suited for different situations.

For instance, the automatic had had plenty of years of refinement, so it had reached the point where it was undoubtedly a lot smoother in everyday driving than a manual. A skilled chauffeur with a soft left foot could match its silkiness with a manual, but it would have required a needless amount of concentration.

On the other hand, the manual was still king when it came to performance driving. Commercially available dual-clutch transmissions were still a few years away and the conventional ones lacked the instant response needed for efficient track driving, making the manual the ideal choice for anyone looking to go fast around a circuit.

Back to 2022 (still feels weird saying this), and everyone knows that a modern sporty automatic transmission will change gears in a matter of milliseconds, which is even quicker than you blink sometimes. So, now that it's lost its main advantage, does that mean the manual is finally dead?

Well, what better way to test it than having two identical cars (almost, but more on that later) – one equipped with a stick-shifter, the other with an automatic – out on a track and comparing them back-to-back? The car in question is a Ford Focus ST, one of the better hot hatches out there in terms of chassis dynamics, so the perfect candidate for a lap around a circuit.

Even though this is a sporty model, because it's also an arguably budget one, it doesn't get a dual-clutch gearbox, having to make do with a torque converter instead. A similar comparison with a Porsche 911 GT3 would definitely be even more exciting, but why focus (excuse the pun) on the things we don't have when there's a perfectly good video at the bottom of this page featuring the Ford hot hatch and a very cool and picturesque (if a bit ominously-named) circuit in Australia – the Haunted Hills in Gippsland, Victoria?

Without spoiling the result, we will say this: there is almost literally nothing between the two cars. Only two-tenths of a second separate the two and, according to the man doing the driving, he thinks that if it weren't for the balder tires on the "slower" car, the result would have probably been reversed. Even so, it's still clearly an awfully close affair that shows the manual may be many things, but it's definitely not dead.

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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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