QOTD: Taking Matters Into Your Own Hands?

Chrysler Corp

It’s late 1995, and your author is blundering through his first year of high school. Gangly, awkward… frankly, the whole thing is best left unremembered. Beyond those school walls, however, world events were coming to a head. O.J. apparently didn’t do it, Quebec almost became a country, the Unabomber’s manifesto made it to print, and in two assembly plants in Ontario and Delaware, big things were taking place between the front seats.

There, Chrysler Corp was busy outfitting two variants of its 1996 model-year LH cars — the Dodge Intrepid ES and Eagle Vision TSi, to be exact — with a new type of transmission. Called Autostick, it allowed the driver of Chrysler’s sportiest cab-forward sedans to make the most of their four forward gears.

This innovation was of great interest to yours truly, as up until then boring automatic transmissions all featured individual gears on the selector, and selecting anything other than “D” was something you only did when climbing Mt. Washington. In the top-flight 3.5-liter Dodge and Eagle sedans, though, one could toggle the shift lever side to side when placed in the rearmost position, ascending or descending through the gears.

Autostick quickly proliferated through the upper echelons of the Chrysler stable, becoming a signature feature. As the decade ended and a new century dawned, manual shift modes began appearing everywhere, usually in a forward/back orientation in a separate gate to the left of the Drive position, surrounded by a brushed metal trim plate. They made for a sexier and more premium-looking console, and indeed at the time these were usually the domain of higher-end makes.

Transmissions also added cogs as the years passed, boosting the feature’s limited sporting potential. Sadly, traditional slushboxes made the feature more useful in theory than in practice, and it wasn’t until CVTs and DCTs began popping up that a driver could accomplish their manual shift action without a frustrating lag that compelled them to never try such a thing again. In a CVT-equipped vehicle, using manual mode is often the only way to wring out any fun, and usually just for building revs going into a corner. In a dual-clutch vehicle, flappy paddles are your friend.

Manual shift modes are now ubiquitous with the automatic transmissions found in most of today’s new vehicles. The last time I piloted my mom’s Jeep Patriot, the little CUV’s Autostick got a workout (boredom, you see). Chances are, the vehicle you’re driving now offers some form of manual shift mode, which leads to today’s question: do you ever use the feature?

Like, ever?

Does the feature birthed a quarter century ago in a pair of front-drive domestic sedans get put to use even on scarce occasions, or is it merely a bygone selling point that hold no value or utility for you, the driver?

[Image: Chrysler Corp.]

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