In the automotive community, it seems like short shifter throws are universally lauded, but I don’t think they should be. I like my throws long. Very long. At least, in certain vehicles.
A short throw shifter changes a manual transmission’s shifter pivot point and decreases the distance a driver’s hand has to travel to change gears. Such a setup tends to demand more shifting effort, but the overall travel is less. For some reason, many folks enjoy this. I do not, necessarily.
When the 2018 Jeep Wrangler debuted, the brand boasted in its press release a “50-percent shorter shifter throws than that of the outgoing Wrangler model.” That, on the face of it, sounds like an improvement, but is it?
I have no problem with the new Wrangler’s manual transmission, but I much prefer the outgoing NSG370, with its soothing tractor-like vibrations and especially is really long throws.
This isn’t a souped-up Honda Civic or a 5.0-powered Ford Mustang, this is a body-on-frame truck. Nobody’s trying to rip quick quarter mile times in a JL Wrangler—it’s a vehicle that’s meant to be driven at a leisurely pace. And as such, it deserves nice, long throws like the truck gods intended.
Take my Jeep J10 pickup for example. It’s slow and clunky and unrefined, and yet it’s a lot of fun to drive, almost solely because of that T177 manual transmission. I don’t care if my 0-60 mph time is half an hour, because I get to enjoy every inch of that long arc of shifter throw.
I grab the shifter with my elbow at a 90-degree angle, kick in the clutch pedal, and throw the knob up to third gear, bringing my arm out straight—and maybe even requiring me to lean forward a little bit. The experience just feels right in a truck.
Actually, the experience feels right on pretty much any slow car I’ve driven. I thought of this yesterday when I posted about how much I enjoyed driving my parents’ boring, but also pretty wonderful five-speed Saturn Vue.
The thing had almost zero power, and it was front-wheel drive, so it should have been miserable to drive. And yet, I liked it, in large part thanks to that Getrag F23's ginormous shift throws that made driving the vehicle a real experience. I was going slowly, but those shifts kept me busy and happy.
Based on what I’ve read on the vast interwebs, it seems that most people like short-throw shifters because of a decrease in shifting time, and thus more time to keep both hands on the wheel. I haven’t come across any conclusive data showing any performance benefits, but even if that is the case, on trucks and SUVs like my J10 and the new Wrangler, I honestly think nobody really gives a crap.
People buy manuals nowadays because they like how it feels to shift their own gears. On a sports car like the ATS-V I drove a few months back, a short throw shifter feels great; I can pop into gear, and put my hand right back on the wheel in what feels like a fairly quick motion as the engine roars and sends the car accelerating to absurd speeds.
Obviously, shifter feel is a totally subjective topic, but in every slow vehicle—especially every truck—I’ve ever driven, a short throw just seemed silly and pointless. If the alternative were a sloppy-feeling long-throw, then I’d get the appeal of a short-throw shifter. But otherwise, I’ve come to embrace the beauty of long shifter throws on vehicles that were designed to just cruise and not sprint down the road. It just feels right.