A lot of you would know that I am a car guy of sorts, and a very ardent supporter of the good old manual transmission. From my point of view, you just cannot enjoy driving fully without a manual transmission, or specifically, without a clutch pedal.
In my opinion, and still my fervent belief, driving involves the visceral pleasure of operating a car manually – that means no power steering, no ABS, fully manual transmission, no traction control. I’d always somehow looked down upon the automatic transmission as a device conjured up for the less skilled to be able to drive, albeit with a crutch.
It didn’t help that most people I’d seen driving automatics are less than suave with what they do, ill informed, drive poorly or do really dangerous driving under what can be considered regular driving conditions.
However, during this past weekend, I was able to experience a fully automatic transmission car on an extended trip, which I’d be sharing about today.
About three weeks ago today, I finally sent my beloved Aska to an auto electrical shop to finally nail my recurrent electrical problems – by rewiring the whole car. You read that right – she’s getting all the wires pulled out of her and replaced with new ones, along with new plugs and re-routing all the wiring so that nothing can be seen afterwards, from the engine bay, to the trunk, to the interior. However, such was the extent of the job that it took much longer than the five days provided to me by the shop owner and as such, I was car-less for the weekend. To make matters worse, I was due to be at a friend’s wedding somewhere in Batangas, about a couple of hours drive from Imperial Manila.
Since it was a wedding, I had lots of stuff to lug around, and I was really depending on Aska to be finished in time so I can make the trip with her. The extended time needed to finish her repairs was pretty bad news – my friends’ cars are already filled up, and I have no extra car to use. A Suzuki Jimny that my uncle owned was also not available. I had to look for someone who’d let me borrow his ride, so I checked who among my car friends would lend me his ride for the weekend. Finally, I tracked one down, and this good friend of mine, who also happens to be quite an old school car fan as well, agreed to lend me his car for the weekend.
He gave me the keys to his precious, show ready 2009/10 Honda Jazz almost immediately upon me asking, and I drove it to the office Thursday night. He had told me a few things about the car though – the handbrakes were not working, there were no high beams (I found out after I drove it to the office) and the ride was goddamn harsh due to it being quite low. Since I was borrowing it as a favor, I did not bat an eyelash.
Upon handing the car over to me, I cannot help but notice how roomy it was for such a small car. Remember, the wheelbase of this car is quite similar to Aska’s, and while it really is a small, city car, it opens up like a goddamn cave inside. It had all the modern amenities in a modern car – power windows, power locks, power steering, power mirrors with wide angle glass, a nice radio with all the bells on it with the exception of a USB port and *gasp* an automatic transmission.
A goddamned automatic transmission.
Being that I was just borrowing the car as a favor, I had absolutely no call to ask for any other ride to be loaned to me. The car sat pretty low on the ground, with its tires, mounted on 16in wheels already inside the wheel well. It was pretty much a show ready, daily driven Honda Jazz (Fit, as you would, since it’s badged as such) and I immediately got into it as soon as I was handed the key.
I sat for a few minutes inside, taking note of my visual references, adjusting the rear view mirrors, and checking the side mirrors. Next, I checked out the controls on the steering column. Then I looked at how to operate the rotary switches for the A/C. All these took more than a few minutes since I’m not used to rotary switches and the amazing array of gadgets at my fingertips. After I got acquainted with the view and declared I was pro with this, I took the shifter, slid the transmission into “D”, felt some of my pubic hair fall off, and I made my way into the office.
Ok, let me describe this to you in case you don’t have much of an idea of what the hell I’m taking about. This particular car has a regular automatic transmission, and the shifter is marked as P (Park), R (Reverse), N (Neutral), D (drive) and S (Sport). When the car is in P, the car is in park mode, and it doesn’t move anywhere regardless of incline – although I guess it would somewhat move if the incline is really steep. R of course moves you in reverse, N disengages the transmission, D is the main drive mode that moves you through the 5 available gears, and S is for sex, err Sport mode. When in S mode, the transmission revs higher than normal, and you can also override the transmission through the paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
I got the car into the office, all in one piece, and I got it home the next morning without any problems. I left the house at around 1800 Friday, and stopped by Hot Stars in Shaw Blvd., to get a bite of dinner. However, while I was waiting around with the car, my lady friend texted me that our bride friend left something in Manila that needed to be delivered to Splendido in Tagaytay as quickly as possible. They left ahead of me, and since that particular friend lived near C5, they made good time on the SLEX and up to Tagaytay. I left about a half an hour after they did, and got stuck in traffic along EDSA, which was not surprising given that it was a Friday night.
This was where I began to have a better appreciation of the automatic transmission. Since there was no clutch to work with, all I had to do was either let go of the brake pedal to crawl forward, or depress the gas pedal to move quickly and squeeze into a vacant spot. When I went out to the SLEX, I found that D was all I really needed to cruise along the highway. Past Alabang, some cars tend to be going faster and I wanted to “play” some, and I discovered I can shift to S while the car was moving. In S mode, the engine guns higher and the transmission becomes a little more aggressive, but it comes at a price – S mode uses up more gas, killing the Jazz’s intent to become a fuel efficient car. Also, due to more aggressive shifting of the transmission, one would start feeling the gear shifts, which are less noticeable if the transmission is in D. I got past SLEX pretty quickly, cruising along at the speed limit, and occasionally flipping the bird to play with other cars. Acceleration past 80 kph isn’t exactly fast, but acceptable. It has no trouble cruising at 100 kph. The only thing holding me back is the hard-as-fuck suspension – the car sits really low on Maxspeed lowering springs, but the shocks are stock. I quipped to the owner via text that while I like the car, it was gonna give me brain damage from the harsh ride.
In contrast, race ready suspension set-ups feel hard and stiff, but they have usable travel. My ideal set-up, as influenced by BMI’s Touge Showdown, would call for a lower ride height than stock, a stiffer than normal suspension but with enough stroke to absorb bumps. Then again, since I was just borrowing the car, I had no say in the matter.
I got up to Tagaytay, chasing down and passing people up the slopes. The car actually feels quite lively as soon as you get used to its shifting patterns. This was also where I started using the S in manual override with the paddle shifters, which gave me better control of shifts aka I shift when I need to, and the ability to use engine braking. I didn’t mind the fact that I can’t do heel-and-toe during downshifts. The only thing is since it’s a paddle shift, I brake well before a corner, shift down take the corner then gun from the apex. This seems to be the only way to really do it since the paddles turn with the steering wheel, and I can’t find the paddles once the wheel had turned. It’s almost F1-ish at some point.
When I met up with my friends at 711 at the Tagaytay roundabout, I shifted back into D and peacefully cruised the whole way to the villa we were staying in. The next day found me hooning the little car some more, in S mode of course, chasing down a Focus hatchback along the twisty Diokno Highway, and a bunch of other guys in the wet. The ABS was pretty handy since the brakes feel really easy to push in, and therefore hard to “modulate”.
Looking back on it, I totally enjoyed the experience with my little loaner car. It goes from daily driver, to daily hooner and back, it was cavernous inside, and for a little car, I felt that all four wheels were firmly planted on the road, and would’ve felt better had the suspension been set up better.
Acceleration isn’t exactly this car’s strong point – Aska can easily kill this especially from a dead stop til maybe 60 to 80 kph. Also, the response feels slower than Aska’s – with the Lancer, I can depress the pedal and feel the power (however little lol) come in, while with the Jazz, I have to wait for a little bit before it kicks in, and when it does, it isn’t exactly impressive. In order to easily pass more powerful vehicles, I have to run-up then pass, especially on uphills.
But right now, I’m looking more positively towards cars with automatic transmissions. They do have their perks, and their cons as with most things. They’re convenient, they’re economical (as far as modern ones go) and they can be fun if used “correctly”.
Now, I’d been told that not all Jazzes are like this – the one I got was an iVTEC, and the more common one is more economy geared iDSI. It seems like only the iVTEC comes with the paddle shifters, and I’m kinda in the market for one, but probably over the next year once I’d sorted out Aska’s issues.
It was a really enjoyable drive, with a transmission type that I used to hate to hell and back. I used to think that using an automatic will make me lose my balls, but used properly, you could maintain some of your manliness with all that spirited driving.
PS. I crossed the 60,000 km on the car’s odometer on my way back to Manila. I had it washed clean in celebration. Also, I am not responsible if you decide to hoon and fuck up just because you read about it here. If you would do some spirited driving, make sure you absolutely know what you’re doing. If you want to race, wear a helmet and visit a local track.