Is driving an auto real driving?

When I was looking around for a new car a couple of years ago I made the difficult decision to go with an automatic.

Ernest Eldridge at Arjapon with his immense Fiat, Mephistopheles - about to break the world land speed record. Public domain, via Wikipedia.
Ernest Eldridge at Arjapon with his aero-engined Fiat Mephistopheles – and THAT is a real car. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

To me, autos aren’t proper cars, and they don’t require proper driving, especially with cruise control. You don’t drive them, you sit and ride in them while steering a bit.

Mind you, to me front-wheel drive cars aren’t proper drivers’ cars either, because the driving dynamics are all wrong even if you have just discovered that you can bolt a 280 hp Toyota 2GR-FE V6 straight into the engine compartment of your Corolla. Proper drivers’ cars have a manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive, and LOTS of torque. I know what I said.

The fact that it’s possible in some countries to be separately licensed for automatic and manual cars is the give-away.

Front brakes are for cissies! Count Louis Zborowski in ‘Chitty Bang Bang 1’ at Brooklands, around 1914. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

On the other hand, I figured, these days car manufacturers put most of their R&D into the automatics. The thing is, we’re just one step away from automating the steering as well. There’s already push-button reverse parking systems. Tesla have an ‘autopilot’ system  – and Google have deployed driverless cars that, I suppose, will eventually feed Street View.

The problem is the fine-tuning – I gather some of the Google cars have been involved in low-speed nudging. But that isn’t surprising when you consider the immense number of hand-eye co-ordination actions needed to drive a car. What the software has to do is emulate them with data input from sensors around the vehicle, all in an environment where not every car is automated and where random stuff can happen anyway.

So what advantages do we get from them? In theory, driving will not only be a lot safer, but you’ll have some productive time while you’re on the road. You’ll be passenger, the car (likely electric or hybrid) will be driving, and you won’t even need to navigate.

I don’t often make predictions about the future, but this one seems likely. All the technologies are here now – it’s a matter of refining them and getting enough public uptake. So everybody’ll have a different driving experience from the one we have today.

Of course, they won’t be riding around in proper cars like my old Ford Cortina Mk V (manual, RWD, lots of torque, no traction control, bwahahahahaha.)

But I guess that’s progress for you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


14 thoughts on “Is driving an auto real driving?

    1. Parallel parking is usually a lost art these days! It’s made awkward by modern cars with their restricted visibility – I finally gave up even trying to reverse my Toyota via the windows and instead parallel-park on the mirrors, like a truck driver. My previous Toyota was like a glasshouse by comparison and I could parallel-park it a lot more easily.

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      1. You’re right on all counts. It’s reached a point where I seldom have to parallel park anymore. It’s such a lost art towns have eliminated the opportunities so they don’t have to deal with the disastrous outcomes.

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      1. Even here in rural Wyoming standards are passing away. In one ton trucks, the prime over of the ranching industry, now only Dodge offers one. Sad situation.

        Standards are becoming the domain of the small sporty car, and they’re also hanging on with the Jeep crowd (one of my vehicles is a Jeep which values tradition so highly that the windows still will fold down on the hood, even though there’s no earthly reason for that feature.

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  1. I’ll drive either kind of transmission, but given the choice, I’d rather stir my own gears, especially with engines less than 100 HP. More especially still if you’re driving in an area with a lot of elevation change on the roadway! Besides, manuals are more FUN.

    Got to dispute the rear-wheel drive, thing, though. Once I got used to it I prefer front-wheel drive, at least on smaller cars.

    And I DON’T know if I’ll get used to being a passenger in an automated car, any more than I think I’ll be able to get used to the idea of flying in an airplane whose pilot is a black box of some sort instead of a skilled professional human being, who has the same stake in arriving alive that I do!

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  2. I drove a manual-shift Toyota Camry for 25 years. Changed to an automatic RAV4 last year. It’s OK, but I miss downshifting and upshifting. OK, you can sort of do that in an automatic, but clutchless shifting isn’t the same. One thing about driverless cars (once they’re perfected) is we’ll no longer have old people having to “hang up the keys.” As long as we can hobble in and out of the car, we’ll be fine!

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  3. I didn’t get rid of my Mk III Cortina until back surgery in 2001 made it too heavy for me. I loved the way all the bits worked together so that it made driving it well quite a skillful business. I initially replaced it with another manual which was easier to drive because of the power steering and it was much smaller. Now I have an automatic and most of the pleasure has gone from driving. I used to love driving, but it’s all a bit of a bore now. You had to be a better driver to be a good driver before, but it also made you pay attention. I bet if some kind of brain analysis was done it would show I don’t pay as much attention when I drive as I used to.


    1. The Mk III always had way more style than the IV and V. I knew someone who had a purple one with vinyl roof. Actually, I am evolving a theory that every Kiwi of a certain era owned a Cortina. Mine was capable of being refitted with the 2.3 litre V6 that Reliant used in their Scimitar, though I think it would have pushed the edge of the Cortina’s handling limits.

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      1. Mine was 2.0L OHC. White with mags, with the inside of parts of the mags painted red! It didn’t fit with how people saw me, which was part of the fun. I originally bought it from a boyfriend for more than it was worth, but it funded him moving to Australia, which made it worth the extra!


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