In the latest ‘death of the manual’ development, Mercedes has said it’ll soon turn its back on stick shift as a cost-cutting measure. As quoted by well-connected motoring journalist Greg Kable, Mercedes R&D boss Markus Schaefer noted that the company will soon “eliminate manual transmissions”.
Our first reaction to this revelation? We’d forgotten Mercedes still makes any of its cars with an old-fashioned cog box. The last time I drove one was - I think - about six years ago, and a quick peruse of Mercedes’ UK configurator shows that the only manual models still available are the A180 and A200 hatchback and saloon. Those are the entry-level derivatives with the Mercedes/Nissan-developed 1.3-litre.
In terms of passenger cars, that’s your lot. The W205 C-Class was initially offered with a manual, but it’s now automatic-only for the UK market. As for those lower-spec A-Classes, both have the option of a dual-clutch auto for £1600, something 52 per cent of UK A180 buyers went for.
When contacted by The Drive, Mercedes clarified the impending manual death at Stuttgart, noting that it’ll be tied in with the reduction of its internal combustion range by 40 per cent by 2025 and 70 per cent by 2030. “This includes that we will not offer manual transmissions in the mid-term,” a spokesperson said, adding, “However, this change will happen ‘naturally’ when we change to a new generation of vehicles”.
This doesn’t seem like a big deal at all, and not just because the only contemporary Mercedes manuals are in entry-level cars with small engines. No - it’s because the company arguably places a greater emphasis on comfort than its two German rivals, to the point where a manual car from the marque just seems weird.
The fast AMG stuff has historically been automatic, too. There hasn’t been a single manual model from the outfit since it became part of Mercedes, and pre-merger, it was almost entirely focused on making autos. We wouldn’t have it any other way, either - these normally V8-powered brutes have always suited auto boxes, and the inline-four-powered ‘35 and ‘45 AMGs aren’t crying out for stick shift either.
The last Mercedes that actually made sense with a manual was the 190E 2.3/2.5-16 ‘Cosworth’. The five-speed, dog-leg box (an automatic was also available) it shared with the E30 BMW M3 wasn’t brilliant, as it happens, due to a rubbery, unsatisfying shift.
In a way, there is a slight tinge of sadness to this development, since it’s emblematic of the industry’s shift away from the manual, which the rise of BEVs will merely accelerate. But for Mercedes specifically, it’s almost a surprise they still offer them in 2020.