So close, but not quite. Five speed is the right speed.
Photo: Erik Shilling

Some cars have too many gears, like Ford’s new(ish) 10-speed automatic transmission, which it drops into Mustangs and F-150s. I think we can all agree that’s too many gears. What is the correct amount of gears? After extensive testing, I have determined the answer.

The answer is five. Five is the perfect number of gears. How many gears is too few? Four gears is probably too few. Three gears is definitely too few. Two gears, which is pretty much just high and low? Get out of here with that trash.

How many gears is too many? Six gears is too many. This weekend, I drove a 2018 Cadillac ATS-V, with a six-speed manual transmission. This is undoubtedly a fun car. And flexing its 464 horsepower in gears one through four was fun, especially on Sunday morning when I had the Long Island Expressway to myself.

There’s just one problem, though: that sixth gear. The thing is, eventually you’ll feel obliged to use it, if for nothing else than because it’s there. Driving at 65 mph in fifth gear is fine, of course, but sixth gear calls, because you like to give all of your gears the same loving attention.

It’s a bit like when, at some point in life, you’ve acquired enough friends. The idea of acquiring more friends is no longer appealing, since keeping up with your current set of friends is hard enough. That’s what the sixth gear is on the ATS-V. It’s an unwanted, extra friend. You’ve just shifted through five gears, which feels like enough gears, only to have another one left over, also in need of you. The sixth gear is emotionally manipulative. The sixth gear should find a car with only four gears, and install itself there.

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Seven gears, like on a Corvette Stingray or a Porsche 911, is obviously also too many. Ten gears? No, you should melt down that gearbox, recycle the metal, and go home.

In a five-speed gearbox, do you know where the party is? Four whole gears, gears one through four, I devoted to the party. Gear five? That’s your cruising gear, there mainly to save some gas on the highway. Gear five isn’t fun, but gear five is functional.

Consider, too, some math. On most five-speed cars, the fourth gear is direct drive, aka its gear ratio is 1:1, with the fifth gear being an overdrive, with a ratio of something like 0.8:1. That’s the cruising gear, keeping the engine running low for when you want to save gas in exchange for not having the power to overtake the car in front of you. What are the ratios on the ATS-V? Let’s have a look:

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The first four gear ratios are expected with, yes, fourth gear set at direct drive. Fifth gear also seems about right, a nice cruising gear. And then, for some reason, we’re given another cruising gear. Who needs two cruising gears? I humbly submit: no one.

And while five gears is clearly the perfect amount of gears, I will also accept, for the purposes of this blog, four gears with an overdrive button. You know the one. Can’t be beat.