Lexus is developing a “manual transmission” to make EVs more engaging to drive

Manual transmissions were once a staple of entry-level vehicles and high-end sports cars, but those days are long gone. Today’s most affordable cars ship with automatic transmissions for maximum driver compatibility and even the fastest performance rides now pack many-speed, dual clutch gearboxes for lightning fast shifts. With electric vehicles gaining in popularity, it seems as though manual transmissions will truly be left in the rearview.

Lexus has other ideas.

The luxury division of Japanese automaker Toyota is reportedly developing a “manual transmission” that could one day be used in electric cars. As Evo Magazine recently highlighted, the system would use a virtual clutch pedal and gear shifter that aren’t actually connected to any sort of transmission. Instead, local haptics combined with software and artificial sound pumped inside the cabin would mimic the experience, right down to the electric motors’ torque delivery. If you shift it like a rookie, it’ll buck like a bronco.

My initial reaction to this was, “wow, that’s incredibly unnecessary.” At face value, it’s about as unnecessary as adding an exhaust system to an EV. What’s more, it adds more complexity to the manufacturing process, resulting in higher costs and more stuff that could eventually break. Here’s what had me second-guessing myself.

According to Evo, Toyota said it could theoretically recreate any engine and transmission combination through torque delivery and sound from the electric powertrain (so long as the electric motors have a higher peak output than the target combustion engine).

It all comes down to software. In theory, you could load up a tune for a boost-heavy Supra and experience what it’d be like to drive one (at least, in a straight line). What about a Lexus LFA? Sure, why not. Fancy an excursion in a front-wheel-drive vehicle or want to kick the back end out in a RWD ride? Have at it. Licensing would of course be a nightmare if you wanted to mimic models from other manufacturers, but it’s certainly an interesting idea.

In reality, Lexus and Toyota are probably just going to keep it tame and simply use the feature to make driving a run-of-the-mill EV “feel” more engaging to drive.