Mustang Transmissions: Automatic vs Manual

Mustang Transmissions: Automatic vs Manual

Last Updated September 28, 2017

Choosing The Right Transmission

Picking the transmission that best fits your driving style can be a tough choice sometimes, especially when it comes to purchasing a muscle car. If you talk to an old school muscle car person, they’re going to say “manual trans or go home.” There used to be a lot of truth to that, considering the manual transmissions used to put up with a lot more abuse than the automatic, and were generally faster. That really isn’t the case anymore.

Technology has truly come around when it comes to the design and engineering behind both manual and automatic transmissions. With the introduction of the dual-clutch design into an automatic transmission, you could shift gears much faster than any standard gearbox out there -- all with the push of a button or a paddle shifter! Now, that kind of technology hasn’t made it over to the Mustang quite yet, but the 6R80 automatic transmission in the 2015-2017 Mustang keeps up just as well, if not better than its MT82 manual transmission counterpart.

There’s no question that the manual gearbox wins by a landslide when it comes to the coolness factor. There’s purely no feeling out there that compares to rowing through your own gears. However, that’s not the top priority for all Mustang owners. There are many that use their Mustang as a daily driver in stop and go traffic, drag race it on a regular basis or frequent the road course. All of which have different needs when it comes to which transmission to run with on your Mustang. In this article, we’ll address those reasons in order to give you the information needed to make a well-informed decision that you won’t regret!

Mustang Automatic Transmissions

Mustang GT Manual Transmission CJ Pony Parts Mustang GT With Auto Transmission

The Mustang’s automatic transmission really allows you to go fast while enjoying the pros of not having to shift through the gears on your own; especially in later model vehicles. As time pushes forward and technology advances, the automatic transmission will work its way to shift quicker than any human can on their own. We hate to admit that the manual transmission is going out of style, but the general downward trend says otherwise. In 2014, only 10% of cars made in North America had a manual transmission, down from 35% in 1980. So, there’s no question that the automatic is taking over.

"the automatic is taking over"

It’s okay though! Because these cars are still just as quick, if not quicker, than the stick cars. And with the proper shift points and transmission tuning, these cars are blowing stick cars out of the water!

There are a couple situations in which you may want to consider an automatic over a manual for your Mustang.

  • Drag Racing: All you have to do is check the leaderboards and check what transmission they’re running. If you frequent the dragstrip and want to get those ET’s down, reducing shift times by choosing an automatic transmission will do the trick.
  • Daily Driver: This can go either way. If your daily drive to work is 90% highway, then it really doesn’t matter what transmission you choose since you’ll be in 5th or 6th gear most of the time anyways. However, if you sit in stop and go or city traffic, then you may want to reconsider before you’re getting a twice-a-day left leg workout.
  • Health Reasons: If you happen to have knee problems, regular joint pain or back pain, taking the strain of shifting gears will definitely help you out.
  • Other Drivers: If you have other drivers in your family who may be regularly driving your Mustang, then they all may not be able to drive a standard gearbox. With that said, anyone can drive an automatic, so that’s another thing to keep in mind.
  • Resale: The fact of the matter is, everyone can drive an auto, but not always a manual. Keeping that in mind, when you go to sell your Mustang, a wider range of people are able to purchase the car. That means higher demand, and higher demand means a higher price point.

Mustang Manual Transmissions

Mustang GT Manual Transmission CJ Pony Parts Bill's S550 GT With Manual Transmission

If you’re the kind of driver who enjoys the drivers aspect of being behind the wheel, then a manual gearbox may be the right choice for you. When we say “the drivers aspect”, it means you enjoy driving in it’s purest and most plain form. On a Saturday evening, you may just hop in your Mustang to go for a drive for 45 minutes only to end up coming back home and pulling it right back in the garage.

Picking up a Mustang with a manual transmission allows you to feel many aspects of the car that an automatic transmission just doesn’t. For example, with a manual gearbox, you have to pay close attention to your RPMs to know when to shift. This can come into play when you’re at a road course event or carving some corners on a random back road. Some would say that you are more in touch with the car when it comes to a clutch and stick shift.

With that said, you’ll find a few reasons below as to why you may want to shy away from an automatic transmission and towards a manual gearbox.

  • True Driver’s Car: For the classic, muscle car feeling, you can’t go wrong with a standard gearbox. Knowing which gear you’re in, choosing your own RPMs and controlling with your left foot how much power is going down the driveshaft to your rear wheels are all part of this manual experience.
  • It’s Just More Fun, Even If It May Be A Bit Slower: Don’t get us wrong, automatic transmissions are fun; especially with the right mods. But, there isn’t anything out there like the feeling of banging gears as you’re merging on the highway or running your Mustang down the drag strip.
  • Winter Driving: Snow/Wet modes can only take you so far in hairy situations during the winter months that we all dread. The advantage to a manual gearbox is that you can control exactly how much power is going to your wheels. With a steady left foot feathering the clutch, you’ll be able to navigate snowy conditions a bit easier.
  • More Power (Technically): If you can envision a straight line of power going through the crankshaft, transmission and the rest of the drivetrain, that’s essentially a manual transmission. With an automatic, you have to have the power go through a torque converter before exiting the transmission and running through the drivetrain. For that reason, a manual transmission will put out slightly more power on the dyno due to less drivetrain loss.
  • Easier To Upgrade: Upgrading a manual transmission is a bit easier in comparison to its automatic counterpart. For example, you can install a short throw shift kit to decrease time between shifts. To do the same in an automatic would require precise transmission tuning. Same thing with launching off the line in an automatic -- an upgraded torque converter is much more difficult to install than simply teaching yourself how to launch your Mustang correctly with a clutch.

Now That You Have The Info, It’s Time To Decide

If you enjoy getting killer times at the dragstrip with less mods due to faster shift times and easier, more consistent launches, then an automatic Mustang may be for you. On the other hand, if you purely enjoy the driving aspect of the car to feel more from your Mustang’s drivetrain, then a standard gearbox may be best for you. Regardless of what you decide, it’s important to do the research so you can be happy with your decision. Just don’t forget to come back to CJ Pony Parts for all your Mustang part needs!

From A Drag Racing Perspective...

CJ Pony Parts' Gotta Have It Race (GHIR): 2013 Mustang GT, Full Bolt-On With MT-82 Manual Transmission, All-Time Best: 11.05 @ 123.86 MPH

Mike Zwick's 2012 Mustang GT With 6R80 Auto Transmission, Slightly More Modifications than CJ's GHIR (Details in Video Description), 10.97 @ 123.45 MPH:

Mustang Transmissions: Automatic vs Manual

Whether it’s a weekend cruiser and easy daily driving that you’re after, or an all-around driver's car that is a blast to drive on the twisties, there really isn’t a right answer when it comes to choosing the right transmission for your Mustang. It comes down to personal preference and lifestyle.

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