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In a move you don't always see from Audi, we've stumbled across an interesting turn of events surrounding manual transmissions in next year's facelifted S4 and S5. When a friend from Audi AG pointed out to us that he couldn't get a manual transmission in a 3.0 TDI A5 Sportback and then another our friend Mike Juergens from QuattroWorld mentioned to us the lack of manual gearboxes for S4 and S5 on the latest configurator at http://www.audi.de, we'll admit we were a bit distressed.

Of course the trend toward more S-tronic (a.k.a. DSG) transmissions by the logical Germans makes sense on paper. Faster shifting, better fuel economy and faster straight line performance makes the manual transmission obsolete... at least on paper. Even with these benefits though, enthusiasts most often choose the manual because for some it feels more engaging.

It also separates the learned from the poseur. Learning how to row your own gears and, even better, heel and toe while matching your revs seems a right of passage for car folk. In other words, DSGs are great and all but manuals are well-loved by a loud and boisterous segment of the car-buying public. That Audi was dropping these transmissions in enthusiast-driven S4 and S5 was cause for alarm of the loud, shrill and eardrum damaging variety.

Admittedly hoping for the best but fearing the worst, we blew up the phone and email of Barry Hoch, Audi's product planning manager in charge of S4 and S5 (among other things). Fortunately, Mr. Hoch and most of the other product staff (not to mention upper management) at Audi of America are enthusiasts. They get it and understand the concern. We received this answer from Mr. Hoch, and we'll quote him verbatim.

They (Europe) lose the manual. We keep the manual!

100% confirmed, although I don't know what other markets also get to keep it.

I don't want to fear for my life when I leave the office. The manual transmission enthusiasts are... umm... passionate individuals. ;)

Save the Manuals!
You gotta love the reference to Car & Driver's 'Save the Manuals' campaign. If this had anything to do with it then thanks is also due to Eddie and the guys at C&D.

The move to retain the manual option here is an interesting development for sure. This isn't the first time Audi of America has had a spec transmission just for this market but it's usually the other way around where Europe gets an S-tronic in place of a torque sensing automatic or where Europe retains a manual transmission option and the US does not. This is the first time we can remember that America has gotten the manual option and Europe did not.

Clearly tides are changing in Europe. We'd be interested to know how much of this is a change in European consumer tastes and/or how much is Audi AG learning from drivetrain simplification that markets like Audi of America has done for years. Either way, we're certainly glad that there is enough market demand in the USA and enough enthusiast management at Audi's America outpost to assure US S-cars will still get the manual option.
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