For a few months, I owned a Porsche Boxster.
Purchased used with roughly 114,000 miles on the clock, I thought I got a pretty good deal on it. It was an ‘05, the first year of the 987, and didn’t need much other than a new catalytic converter, tires, and some suspension bits. I fixed it up and it drove wonderfully… except for one thing: The shifter was absolute dogshit.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d have the manual over the Boxster’s then-optional five-speed automatic. But man, the shifter on this particular car was worn out. The knob would flop around while in gear, making shifting an awkward, frustrating process whether I was carving through some back roads or simply driving through town.
I quickly looked into ways to alleviate the problem. My only real options were to buy a short-shift kit for around $400 or fabricate a bracket to tighten up the play. Paying that much to make my shifter feel better seemed insane, and I didn’t have the welding skills to create a metal bracket from scratch. I started to drive the car less and less, before eventually parking it altogether. Two months later, I sold it.
It wasn’t that the Boxster was a bad car. It was the opposite, actually. It handled wonderfully and sounded fantastic. But knowing I had to handle that janky shifter every time I got behind the wheel turned me off from the experience. I was shocked just how much it changed my view on an otherwise exceptional vehicle.
That Boxster made me realize how much shifter feel actually matters in a car. If I’m spending real money on something fun and sporty, having any manual shifter just isn’t good enough. I can forgive a sloppy shift feel in something cheap and disposable, like my E30 ice racer project. But in a car bought specifically for driving enjoyment? A bad shifter just won’t cut it, even if it checks every other box.
My most recent purchase is an easy way to showcase how highly I prioritize shifter feel now. It’s a Honda S2000, a car famous for the short, crisp throws of its six-speed manual gearbox. I’ve known I wanted one since I drove digital editor Aaron Brown’s example back in 2018.
The one I bought is a bit… rough. It has over 305,000 miles on the clock, and its paint is shot. There’s rust forming on one of the fenders, the soft top is ripped, and the seats are in tatters. But none of that stuff really mattered to me because—you guessed it—the shifter is still sublime. All of that other stuff goes out the window once I get to go through the gears.
Sure, the car doesn’t look very presentable. But the paint isn’t an active part of the driving experience. The shifter is. That’s why it’s so important to me. I constantly find myself shifting when I don’t need to, or rowing through the gates at stop lights just for the fun of it. It’s just that good.
If there’s anything to be gleaned from this realization, it’s that you should analyze what you truly care about when buying your next car. If how a car looks trumps even how it feels going down the road for you, then shifter feel probably isn’t high on your list. But if you champion the driving experience above all else, maybe take an extra second to see how much you like that shifter before you commit to a purchase.
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