Electric cars do a lot of things well. They're smooth. They're quiet. They're easier on the environment, and they're even scientifically proven to be less stressful. But what they don't tend to be is engaging, at least not in the way that a traditional car with three pedals and a stick shift is.
A manual car requires a lot more of the driver. That level of forced engagement brings with it a sort of focus that can make the simple act of driving a lot more fun. In an ideal world, it would be possible to layer that kind of engagement on top of the otherwise ideal EV experience.
That is exactly what Toyota has done with what it calls the "Manual BEV concept." Think of it as an EV that brings all the hands-on enjoyment of a manual transmission—despite lacking a manual transmission. It's something of a testbed to find ways to bring more fundamental driver enjoyment to the next generation of battery-powered electric vehicles, and after running a few laps around Toyota's test track in one, I'm convinced every sports-oriented EV in the future needs this.
Let’s go over the basics
Let's start with what a traditional manual transmission is. In the cockpit, you have a shifter, used to select gears, and a third pedal on the floor, the clutch, which sits to the left of the brake. Pressing the clutch effectively disengages the transmission from the engine, allowing you to move the shifter and select a higher or lower gear ratio.
Driving a manual car not only demands the responsibility of steering and braking and all the usual things required of any car. You must also select the proper gear ratio to ensure smooth, efficient power delivery. As anyone who has learned to drive a stick can tell you, it ain't easy at first. The seemingly simple act of coordinating your left foot with your right hand takes practice, and then there's all the nuance of slipping the clutch and not stalling the car.
While the basics can be picked up inside of an hour, more advanced techniques, like rev-matching, toe-heel downshifting, and double-clutching, can take months or years to master.
In an EV, you don't need to do any of that. While some EVs do have simple automatic transmissions (the Porsche Taycan has a two-speed transmission on the rear axle), the vast majority don't have transmissions at all. They rely on simple reduction gear sets to ensure the electric motor's RPM stays within its happy range.
With a single gear ratio, there's no reason to worry about shifting because there is literally nothing to shift. How does Toyota's Manual BEV concept work, then?
It starts with a simple joystick and a simpler pedal, both connected to a whole lot of very clever software written by one man with a strong passion for making cars more engaging.
That man is Isami Yoichiro, who actually holds a patent for this creation. He drives a GR Yaris (with a manual transmission, naturally), and he's not exactly an EV lover. "Personally, I don't like BEV," he told me. "But with this system, I like BEV."