I'm one of those guys who always said "automatics are for wimps". I haven't owned an automatic gearbox car or truck newer than model year 1983. However, city traffic is frankly no fun with a clutch. This was a big factor in why I chose the automatic AISIN 6-speed overdrive gearbox with auto-stick.
This presented me with an interesting opportunity, since my second FIAT is a 6-speed auto-stick, while the first one was a 5-speed manual. The commonality is me. Would one car be more economical to drive than the other? The question here is that would I treat the cars the same despite the gearbox change? Would the 5-speed manual make a more aggressive driver out of me, and would the 6-speed automatic make me lazy and drive like grandma?
I wouldn't have believed it, but the automatic is actually more fun to drive aggressively. The sequential shift pattern shifts instantaneously when placed in manual override and even provides a little lunge to make you feel like you've accelerated (Remember its only 101hp). While pulling out aggressively, the torque converted won't lay-a-patch like the manual clutch would, it still gives a good visceral ride. I'll just preface this study with the statement that I do drive economically around town and on the highway. My commute is a fair amount of stop-and-go traffic where the manual transmission was less than pleasant in the city. I stick to the speed limits and watch for wildlife on my daily back road trek to the office and home. The Pop version of the FIAT 500 is base model and the least sporty of the FIAT lineup in the USA. That all being said, I'm usually the first off the line at a multi-lane traffic light even though everyone passes me after the first few car lengths. I don't think my driving style has changed significantly with manual vs automatic. I get home at the same time everyday and I get to work at the same time. I even use the manual override on the automatic about 50% of the time.
FIAT provides a data collection tool called Eco Drive. This tool collects data from your car though a USB flash drive. The driver can then occasionally upload the data to the server where it is trended, and also compared with the rest of the FIAT driving community. As a driver striving for economical operation, you can see where you need to improve your skills in the way of shifting, acceleration, deceleration, and general speed. A trend of your driving habits is created and compared against the whole community average with a dimensionless value called the "Eco Index".
Here is a graph of the Eco Index of the 5-speed manual gearbox 2012 FIAT 500 Pop before its death.
Description: 1st, 2nd gear: Double Cone 3rd, 4th, 5th, gear: Single Cone
Final-drive Ratio: 3.44
Overall Top Gear: 2.63
Here is a graph of the Eco Index for the Automatic gearbox 2015 FIAT 500 Pop from purchase to present day.
Description: Auto Stick driver-interactive manual control and electronically modulated torque converter clutch
Final Drive Ratio: 4.103
Overall Top Gear: 2.76
Remember, this is the same model car, same fuel, same engine, same driver. Only the gearbox is different, and the driving experience is different. Why is the automatic consistently and significantly above average in the community? I can't say that I drive any less aggressively, and I can't say that I have any less fun with the automatic. The higher gear in the automatic, plus the fact that it shifts at the RIGHT time if left in the automatic mode seems to make all the difference.
Oh, and notice that when that fuel has gotten less expensive as of late, that the community has gotten less efficient, but I have increased ever so slightly!