Gated Manual Transmissions

Photo by ymgerman via Adobe Stock

Everyone loves the experience of driving a performance car with a gated manual. But short-throw shifters and dual-clutch transmission perform better.

Gated Manual Shifter vs Standard Shifter
A gated shifter features a the shift rod and metal plate below the shift knob, where a standard shifter has a leather boot. Illustration by sceneit via Vecteezy.

With dual-clutch transmissions and paddle shifters becoming table stakes for sports cars, supercars, and hypercars, it is easy to forget how fun using the clutch pedal and throwing gears can be. The feeling of going through the gears was an important part of the performance car experience.

Gated manuals have and continue to be a fun feature in supercars. You can find a gated shifter in most classic exotics such as the Lamborghini Countach and modern supercars like the Audi R8.

What is a Gated Manual Shifter?

A gated shifter is a type of gear selector for a manual transmission with a metal plate that forces the shift rod through slots, or “gates.” These shifters look cool and provide feedback that makes shifting feel more precise.

Universally, people love the experience of gated manual shifters, but they are not embraced by the performance car community because of the slightly longer shifts than short throw shifters.

A gated shifter gives you a better idea of where each shift position is, improving your shifting experience.

Driver shifting gated shifter in Audi R8
The gated manual shifter in this Audi R8. Video by Canadian Rider on YouTube

This improves your shifting experience by giving you a better idea of where each shift position is as you guide the shift rod through the paths into the next gear. 

It’s more precise, as the driver knows exactly the path to move the stick to go from one gear to another.

There isn’t any downside to a gated shifter other than manufacturing cost, which is why they’re typically in exotic cars. There is less freedom of movement to the shifter, but drivers unanimously feel this is a benefit, not a hindrance.

Canadian Rider going through the gears of his Audi R8.

What is the difference between a normal shifter and a gated shifter?

A normal shifter gives the driver a lot of slack and freedom in the shift rod to find the gear they are looking for. Gated shifters have specified paths the shift rod can move into gears. The shift rod can only move through the slots on the metal plate of the gated shifter.

All manual transmission cars use dog-leg shifters, but some performance cars take it further with a gated shifter. Dog-leg shifting requires an upshift and downshift from neutral to get from one gear to another.

For example, if you are in first gear, you must pull your hand and shifter down into neutral before pushing it farther up for second gear.

Gated shifters are dog-leg shifters where neutral is the horizontal slot on the plate, and the gears are up or down the vertical slots.

Rocker shifters are the alternative to dog-leg shifters. There are rocker shifters with gated, but those are usually in motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and heavy trucks.

Manual shifters are much more engaging than automatic shifters. Gated shifters take that to the next level.

Manual shifters are much more engaging than automatic shifters. Drivers have to be involved in the act of shifting, which means the decision-making and strategizing of what gear to be in is made by the driver, not a computer with limited information.

Dual-clutch transmissions with paddle shifters have a direct connection between the engine and the wheels and the driver engagement that comes from choosing gears. Those are the two big benefits that used to be exclusive to manual transmissions.

Dual-clutch transmissions can also shift in a matter of milliseconds compared to a manual transmission which could take a second or two per shift. So who would ever choose a manual transmission over a dual-clutch transmission?

Most driving enthusiasts and professionals feel a manual transmission with a gated shifter is the best driving experience.

For example, Lamborghini’s test driver thought a manual transmission with a gated shifter was the most fun to drive.

Lamborghini made a special edition of the Lamborghini Gallardo to mark the retirement of their long-time test driver: Valentino Balboni. The guy that had the best sense of the exotic car driving experience requested that all the Balboni addition Gallardos have a gated manual transmission, but Lamborghini caved to market pressures and offered E-gear (automated manuals) as well. For a decade, Valentino Balboni sought a blue 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni with a gated manual for himself, but they are extremely rare, collectible, and pricey.

Green Lamborghini Gallardo Balboni Edition
The Balboni Edition of the Lamborghini Gallardo would only be offered with a gated-manual transmission if test-driver Valentini Balboni had his way. Photo by The Car Spy via Wikipedia.

Is a gated manual shifter better?

Gated shifters provide a better driving experience in a performance car with clear feedback and the ability to be firm with shifts. Perfect for the feeling and sounds of a quick revving engine in an exotic car.

But a gated shifter would be a poor choice for a daily driver where the shift motions could get exhausting. If pure acceleration is the goal, a short-throw shifter would allow for quicker shifts than a gated manual shifter.

Tan interior of a Lamborghini Diablo
This Lamborghini Diablo features a gated-manual transmission to offer the best driving experience for the occasional drive in an exotic. Photo by Thesupermat via Wikipedia.

Can you install an aftermarket gated manual shifter?

There are not many aftermarket gated shifter kits to retrofit sports cars with manual transmissions. Most gated shifter kits are for sequential transmissions in race cars and off-road vehicles.

Aftermarket gated shifter kits have been offered in the past. For example, KG Works offered a gated shifter retrofit kit for the MX-5 / Miata / Eunos Roadster which owners loved.

Unfortunately, there is more demand for short-throw shifter kits because they are marketed as reducing 0-60 and quarter-mile times. As a result, few aftermarket parts manufacturers are willing to make a gated manual shifter kit.

Some people have made their own gated shifter mechanisms. This Acura owner built their own custom gated shifter.

Conclusion

People love the experience of gated manual transmissions but they are rarely chosen over short-throw shifters and dual-clutch transmissions.

The manual transmission with gated shifters has been an integral part of the exotic car driving experience for fifty years. Owners of Ferraris and Lamborghinis love slamming the gears with their dog leg shifters going around a track or a mountain road.

But car enthusiasts who value performance over experience turn away from gated shifters in favor of short throw shifters.

With the advent of dual-clutch transmission that offer the direct drive of manual transmissions with near-instantaneous shifts, gated manuals may quickly be a thing of the past even if they have a cult following.