Shifting Gears

Earlier this week I drove the wife’s car on a long road trip from Albany to Bristol, PA.  I needed the time away from New York State and she is away on a business trip.  So the dog and I piled into the car, because it gets better gas mileage than my truck. The mid-sized VW is also a manual transmission, which is fun to drive, but if I have hit any stop-and-go traffic, it would have been a real detriment to enjoyable driving.  Luckily, we only face NY drivers, and no traffic slow downs, so the trip was a quick three-and-a-half hours.  Door to door.

One of the things I love about this car is the German engineering.  The car is precise, handles very well, can be peppy when needed and is comfortable, for a car.  I do miss the commanding view of the road and the cars infant of you that my Chevy Truck offers, as well as the higher, more comfortable of the long haul seats, but as I’m trying to save money right now, the excessive consumption of gasoline was the determining factor on which vehicle we took.

While the car offers plenty of good features, it does have it’s quirks too.  I should mention that I also drive a Mazda Miata from late spring until early autumn.  She is the the second body styling, the NB; no silly pop-up lights, and a bigger 1.8-liter engine.  Of course what little roadster would be complete without a manual 5-speed transmission?

I really like the Miata gearbox.  The throw is very short,and the gates are well defined.  the shift knob is original, an oblong, tall lobe, that doesn’t fill the palm completely, but fits your whole hand.  This makes for light, quick shifting, a must with such a high rev’ing engine.

The VW’s gearbox, oh the other hand, is mushy, the gates are there, you just can’t really feel them.  I always feel a bit disconnected when I drive the Jetta.  The shift knob is in the picture for this blog entry.  It’s a completely round knob, that fills the palm very nicely.  The knob shape forces the driver into a more sedate style of driving.  That really has been the VW style for many years, so it’s not surprising.  I just like the racecar like feel of the Maita’s gearbox.  The major distraction for me, however, is the location of reverse.

You can see in the picture that it appears as a longer throw to the left and up past first gear, but that is deceiving, as you must press down and shift back into first to get into reverse.  I would feel better about this location if there was some indicator light on the dash that let you know you are in reverse, not back in first.  The other car I have driven with manual transmission all had reverse opposite fifth gear.  This is the arraignment for the Miata.

I’m not sure what the working theory is for this gear arraignment is, but I’m sure the engineers at VW could give me a full day dissertation on the benefits to this set-up, and I’m still not gonna like it.  The really nice part about driving the VW, is that it is making me look forward to nicer weather, so I can take the convertible out for a spin.


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