As a general rule, cars with manual gearboxes cost less than equivalent models with automatics. An automatic gearbox is a more complicated thing, thus a car fitted with one is charged at a premium. Imagine our surprise, then, when finding out that BMW makes customers pay more if they want their M2 with one of those old-fashioned sticks poking out between the front seats.
In the UK, the stick-shift surcharge amounts to £545, while in Germany, it’s €500. During a roundtable interview at the BMW i5 launch, we asked BMW M CEO Frank van Meel why buyers have to cough up more to eschew the automatic, and he confirmed that it’s partly a question of volume.
The vast majority of BMW’s cars are now exclusively offered with automatic gearboxes, and where there is the choice of a manual, only a minority tick the box. It’d be easier just to have all cars rolling down the production line fitted with automatics, rather than add extra complication and development costs for the sake of a few, especially when no other 2-series gets a manual. “For us, it's quite an effort,” van Meel said.
“The manual is slower and results in a higher fuel consumption [and] sometimes has also a lower top speed, so the manual actually from an engineering standpoint made no real sense anymore,” van Meel said. But regardless, BMW has offered one. “For us, it's more like a heritage thing,” van Meel explained, referring to the company’s M2 manual offering as a “special request”.
Frank van Meel concedes that there are still a decent number of people who are after a manual. “We had a lot of customers that said, well, I want to ride the beast and I want to show that I can do that and I need a manual transmission.”
It’s worth noting that Porsche doesn't charge more for its automatics, where manuals are offered. It charges the same for a manual transmission, but you generally get something extra with it for free (e.g. Porsche Torque Vectoring), making the option - in a way - cheaper than the automatic. BMW's approach, then, seems unique.
But as premium and performance car manufacturers increasingly embrace automatic gearboxes, it wouldn’t be a surprise for BMW’s treatment of manuals as a niche, premium option to become more common across the industry.