I learned to drive in a VW Microbus, which, if nothing else, instilled within me a level of respect for simple mechanical devices. And for twenty years I stirred my own gears. Even lost a gear once: one day I was pulling out of the parking lot, shoved the lever into first, pulled back into second, and then — “Hey, where the hell did third go?”
Actually, it was still there, but out of position, and I’d toasted the synchros somewhere along the way, which has something to do with how I learned to double-clutch. Not that I’m particularly good at it, especially now, having lived with automatics for a decade and bad knees for the last few of those years.
Still, I think I could get used to one of the newer manumatics. When Gwendolyn gets time off for maintenance, the shop sends me off in a G35 so equipped, and while it doesn’t have quite the tactile thrill or the speed of a proper stick shift, having the right hand working something other than the radio buttons is good for the soul.
On the other hand, you can’t do a 4-2 or 5-2 downshift with a manumatic to save your life: you have to go one step at a time. The same is true of the new sequentials, though they’re decidedly faster. No trick with a stick, so long as you keep your revs within reason. (Dymphna, my ancient Toyota, had ratios spaced closely enough to enable a 5-2 at any speed up to 70 or so without hitting the redline. Before you ask, I replaced three clutches over 195,000 miles.) And even the lowly Ford CD4E slushbox in my most recent Mazda was amenable to 4-2 if you stomped the loud pedal hard enough without actually hitting the rev limiter.
Some hyperexpensive luxosleds come with automatics that supposedly do exactly the driver’s bidding, due to really clever mapping or elaborate control systems or an enormous number of gears. (The new Lexus LS 460 has an eight-speed. Yikes.) I’ve never driven a CVT, so I have no idea what it’s like to have infinite gears, but I suspect the driving feel might be a trifle off-putting. Maybe my best bet would be to save up for the G35 with the six-speed stick — and for a pair of knee replacements.