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Which Car Is Better Off With an Automatic Transmission?

Not all automatics are bad. Some are even better than manuals.

I know, I know: automatic transmissions make a car automatically lame. I think I can speak for the group when I say driving is typically more fun when you do the shifting. However, every rule has exceptions. There have to be cars out there that are better with automatic transmissions rather than manuals, even if three-pedal purists won’t admit it, right?

There are obvious answers, like a Mercedes S-Class or a diesel pickup. Most people don’t want to row their own gears in luxury cars or heavy-duty trucks. Instead, let’s talk about sportier rides that offer both manual and automatic transmissions. I’ll go first: the G80 BMW M3 Competition.

Few modern brands make cars with optional manuals, but BMW is one that still does, albeit on only a few select models. One such example is the BMW M3, as the standard car comes with a six-speed manual but the Competition model is automatic-only. (The same goes for the M4, and the argument still applies.) Having driven both extensively, I’m confident in saying that not only is the Competition the better car, but the automatic is actually a huge reason why.

The regular M3 is less powerful, with just 473 horsepower from its 3.0-liter, twin-turbo inline-six, compared to the Competition’s 503 horsepower. But power doesn’t have as much to do with it. Instead, what makes the Competition better are two things: shift quality and gearing. The standard M3’s manual has an infuriating clutch that’s both vague and acts like an on/off switch, and its shift action is rubbery and unsatisfying. Then there’s the long gearing, which saps the fun from the engine.

In the M3 Competition, however, rapid-fire shifts from the automatic and shorter gearing make the powertrain come alive, and the end result feels so much more thrilling. That, combined with the little bump in power and torque, completely transforms the M3 from a pretty “meh” sports car to an epic one. Not only is the M3 Competition not bad with an automatic—it’s head and shoulders above the manual alternative.

Choosing an automatic transmission over a manual can often feel like an automotive sin, especially if internet trolls get word of your decision. However, as much as I love shifting gears on my own, it isn’t always the best way. Is there a car you’ve driven that’s better with an automatic than a manual?

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