It’s ironic, but as cars have evolved, the most relevant component—the driver—has become a less important part of the equation. Today’s cars have taken over more of the driving duties and require less driver interaction, which is anathema to anyone who enjoys driving and does it well.
The transmission has been at front line of the battle between technology and driver involvement. Here, technology has been winning, as even hardcore sports cars like the Ferrari 458 and Porsche 911 GT3 RS abandon manual transmissions in favor of automatic or semi-automatic gearboxes.
So far, at least, BMW has refused to follow the other automakers’ lead, and the company continues to offer its high-performance models with manual transmissions for those who still want to shift for themselves. After spending a week in a manual M4, we’re glad they do. Most buyers will choose M-DCT, but the old-school manual is still available in the F80/82 M3/M4, as well as the current M5 and M6 and a few non-M models. Even more surprisingly, the M3/M4 gets a lighter, more compact manual than the Getrag Type G gearbox used in the E9X M3 it replaced.
More to it than the numbers
The new Getrag Type K manual takes its basic architecture from the transmission used in the 1 M Coupe (also designated Type K) and improves upon it with a double-plate clutch designed to handle the S55 engine’s 406 lb-ft of torque. It also gets new carbon friction linings in the synchronizer rings, plus a rev-matching feature for nailing your downshifts.
Choosing the manual transmission over M-DCT results in an M4 that’s lighter by around 55 lbs., and which also has slightly better weight distribution at 51.8% front/48.2% rear versus 52.3%/47.7% in the DCT model. The manual M4 weighs 3,530 lbs. where the M-DCT model weighs 3,585, which puts 1,829 lbs. over the front axle instead of 1,875. Those numbers might sound negligible, but having a lower curb weight and spreading it more evenly between the axles is a good thing for a performance car’s handling.
Where acceleration is concerned, the M-DCT car makes the 0-to-60 mph dash a bit quicker, in 3.9 seconds versus the manual’s 4.1 seconds, but those numbers are so close they mean little in the real world. The M-DCT car also gets 26 mpg on the highway where the manual car gets just 24, in part because it has two overdrive gears—6th and 7th—where the six-speed manual has just one. You may use slightly more gas with the manual, but you’ll have an extra $2,900 with which to pay for it, which is what checking the M-DCT option will cost you.