I was reading a car review recently when this segment caught my eye (Mike Hanley, “Mazda6 Is Worthy Midsize Option” The Kansas City Star, 3/22/13, pp. C1–C2):

Apart from promising better mileage than the stick, the automatic transmission also makes the four-cylinder look good, providing low-speed smoothness and precise shifts at higher speeds.  The automatic is responsive; it will kick down quickly if you mash the gas pedal.” (p. C2)

The point may be lost on some people, but definitely not me.  It caused me to reflect on car history a bit.  I remember the day when everyone automatically (pun intended?) knew you did not buy a car with an automatic transmission if you wanted the very best possible gas mileage.  Automatics did a lot of work for the driver and that extra work demanded extra energy which demanded extra gas.

As I recall, it was not until the 1970s I saw the first article or book that purported you could achieve gas mileage from an automatic equal to that of a standard, if not better, if you knew how to finesse your driving.  Many people felt particularly proud if they adjusted their driving habits with their automatics to do exactly that.  Most people could not.

In these days of six-speed automatic transmissions, and even continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), mated with computer control of every aspect of the car’s power delivery systems, we are beginning to take it for granted that the stick will cost you mileage.  This is a complete flip-flop from the past.  Once again, we are reminded of how technology tends to make things better over time.

Someone once asked me:  If you could live in any historical period, which period would you choose?  My answer was, today.  I appreciate all the benefits and conveniences technology brings us every single day.  Keep those flip-flops coming!

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