Great Cars You Can Still Buy with a Manual Transmission
There’s a lot of doom and gloom in the automotive press about the end of the manual transmission. Automakers are obsessed with gas mileage, EVs, and autonomous vehicles, so there’s a certain sad logic to the stick shift eventually going away. Still, that kind of thinking ignores the great options available right now. While there are currently 40 new vehicles offering a manual in the US, getting a stick in a crappy base Mitsubishi Mirage or Chevy Spark is more like automotive punishment than driving pleasure. Here’s 19 of the best ways to get a manual transmission in 2019.
It’s great that BMW brought their inline 6 back to their M performance cars. I’m old, so I would have appreciated if the 4 Series had just stayed under the 3 Series lineup as the coupe, but not my call. At least they did keep the manual, when many manufacturers (like Lambo) don’t even offer one. In the 4 Series and M4, it’s a 6-speed with a swanky designed shifter next to that awful iDrive controller. Shifter action and clutch pedal feel are perfect, and BMW boss Klaus Fröhlich told Road & Track the next gen would be stick too. Nice.
BMW M6 Gran Coupe
The M6 is a surprising car. A big and beautiful retro-inspired coupe, the first gen riffed the E24 coupe. But with V10 firepower and a 3,800 curb weight, it was more like a combination of Viper and GTO. Both of those cars are gone, so it’s a surprise the M6 is still here in the land of the crossover. The second gen M6 soldiers on at an even portlier 4,200 lbs, but that heft gets dragged around by a twin turbo 4.4L V8, and it can still be shifted by a 6-speed manual transmission. It is optional, and probably only there so BMW can add to the already exclusive $120,000 base price.
BMW 2 Series/M2 Competition
The BMW 2 Series is what the 3 Series was 30 years ago. Reasonably affordable, lightweight, and genuinely fun to drive. Car and Driver calls it “quick nimble and engaging,” like the old M3. A 6-speed manual is available in the base 2 Series, but most buyers will still take the 8-speed auto. In proper form, the M2 Competition, a hardcore spec M2, delivers the manual as standard equipment, and buyers have to pay more for the optional dual-clutch. Save your money, get the stick.
The smallest Caddy is a big enthusiast car. With a twin turbo version of GM’s common 3.6L V6 making 464 horsepower, the V outguns a same year BMW M3 or Mercedes AMG C63S, for less money. Cadillac did some cheapening somewhere to pull that off, but it wasn’t in the transmission. The 8-speed auto is alright, but the 6-speed manual is the Tremec TR-6060, same as the last generation Dodge Viper. Derived from the famous T-56, the TR-6060 offers numerous upgrades, including reduced friction, more precise gear engagement, turning a solid car into a great car.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
The Camaro ZL1 is an excellent performance car, and it’s flat out incredible compared to a 30 year old Camaro. Shifting the old Borg Warner T-5 offered all the fun and control of stirring a pot of oatmeal, but with less precision. Three decades makes a huge difference to anything, and the ZL1seems to have benchmarked the 911 (including its pricing), which makes for a weirdly capable and expensive car with Camaro badging. Like the Caddy above, the ZL1 has a TR-6060 for all the shifting fun of a road race ready track brawler.
Now that the Viper is gone, the ‘vette truly wears its “America’s sports car” name (Think I’m wrong here? Drop a comment below). MotorTrend loves the C7’s handling, steering feel, and “excellent interior fit and finish,” which is a far cry from the C4 days. One of those keys to an enjoyable drive is the Tremec TR-6070, a 7-speed manual. While slower than the 10-speed auto, the stick makes the ‘vette a badass driver’s car. In ZR1 trim, it’s the most powerful engine backed by a stick for sale right now.
Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye
After 3 GM cars focused on finesse, here’s something different. Comparatively speaking, the Challenger isn’t the all-around Olympic gymnast like the others above, but is instead the ‘roided-out guy at the gym that skips leg day in favor of more bench time. The Viper-sourced TR-6060 isn’t going to ask if you even lift, bro, but is considered a “real man’s transmission” and will provide a right arm and leg workout. Yes, we know the Demon is faster, but it’s auto-only and thus limited to embarrassing exotics at the drag strip.
Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat takes a lot of jabs for making unreliable cars, or at least being perceived as such. Fortunately when they went looking to make a performance halo model, they sourced all the right parts from Mazda. The beautiful Fiat/Abarth 124 Spider rides on the Mazda N platform and uses Mazda-sourced engines and transmissions. The manual is one of the best you can get at any price point, and makes driving the 124 as much of a joy as it is to look at. It’s amazing that there are still affordable and attractive sports cars. There should be more.
Fiat 500 Abarth
I’ll admit it: I laughed the first time I saw a Fiat 500 on the road. Tiny and tall, it looks cutely ridiculous and unstable. Instead of being useless, that design offers serious headroom for taller drivers, and the driving dynamics are quite fun. That’s even truer of the hot tiny-hatch Abarth 500. A revised suspension and more power make this 2,300 lb car rip, the driving experience is right in line with a Civic Si from 20 years ago. We only get the 1.4L in the States, but it’s the optional big engine elsewhere. Like a proper Italian car, we can still select the manual transmission. It’s a 5-speed for the base model Pop, and a 6-speed for the Abarth.
The Mustang is one of the cheapest ways to get a V8, rear-wheel drive, manual transmission sports/pony car. It’s been that way from the beginning, but only recently turned into a great car. It’s been a long time since the weak SROD manual or embarrassing C-4 3-speed auto, and you can’t go wrong with a Ford/GM 10R80 auto or Getrag MT82-D4 manual. The Getrag is more fun of course, and delivers shifts as accurate as the rest of the car, from the quality interior to the genuinely impressive IRS. It still strikes me as weird that the Mustang is this nice.
A Kia Stinger in a suit, the Genesis G70 is the third model in the new Genesis brand, after the G90 and G80. This one aims for the Germans over Japanese lux competition, by aiming to be a driver’s luxury car. Like the Stinger, you can option a G70 with a single turbo 2.0L four banger, or a twin turbo 3.3L V6 for a stout 365 horsepower driving the rear wheels. That’s a legit sports sedan, but unlike the Stinger, the G70 offers a 6-speed manual. Granted, it’s attached to the four cylinder, but it you want to row your own in a RWD sport sedan from Korea, this is it.
If there’s only one hero car that will represent Ian Callum’s career, the Jaguar F-Type should be it. Gorgeous as a hardtop or convertible, the small Jag looks like every 8-year-old’s Hot Wheels dream. It sounds amazing, with a pair of supercharged engines, a 3.0L V6 or 5.0L V8. Both are among the best sounding engines in the world at any price point. Jaguar still lets you handle shifting duties, for this year anyway. Attached to the V6 only, the ZF S6-45 is a quick and wonderful transmission, but even that is ending for 2020. Go buy one right now.
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Interestingly, Mazda is a manufacturer of automatic and manual transmissions for light and medium duty, so both transmissions in the Miata have the SkyActive name, followed by -MT for manual, and -Drive for auto. The SkyActive-MT was designed as an efficient unit, but its short precise throws and crisp exactness make it a reviewer favorite in every car magazine on Earth. The Honda S2000 is long gone, so the best option for a fabulous shifting experience is still the Miata.
Mini Cooper hardtop
When the Mini brand re-launched in the US in 2002, everything about the driving experience was focused on the fun factor. Fifteen years later, current Minis are no longer as mini and tightly focused, but they’re still far from a snoozefest. The Getrag 5 speed in the R50 (first gen) was slick but fragile, while the current 6-speed and dual clutch transmissions are way more reliable. Autoblog reported recently that Mini features the highest manual transmission sales of any manufacturer sold in the US, with 11% of buyers going for stick. That number is 41% for the JCW performance model, meaning Mini is the place to look if you’re shopping for a fun used car with a stick.
The 370Z has been out for a decade as of this writing, but it’s still one of the best values in the sports car world. We should be happy that Nissan still devotes funds to a real sports car, when everyone is so crossover or EV obsessed. The 7-speed Jatco auto with paddle shifters is surprisingly fun, but the 6-speed manual dates back to the 350Z, and that’s not a bad thing. Everything feels a bit old school, like when the Fast & The Furious movies were still about cars, but the shifting experience on the Z will still make you a fan.
Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman
If you’re looking to spend about $60k on a sports car, you could always buy a Corvette. The balding/jean shorts/white Nikes stereotype aside, some people just don’t want to buy Chevy. Fortunately, Porsche’s entry model delivers exotic looks, a high quality interior, and mid-engine driving experience, all for Corvette money. The entry level Porsche looks great, and drives great too, thanks to the mid/rear-mounted turbo flat four. Do yourself a favor and get the 6-speed over the slightly faster PDK. You’ll go slower, but have a blast doing it.
The 911 doesn’t sell in huge numbers, but it’s a living legend anyway due to the driving experience. Everything from the steering wheel thickness and position, to the pedal location and exhaust note is absolutely perfect. The shifting is no joke either. Porsche does seem bent on chasing lap times and crushing 0-60 times, so it’s no surprise they stuff a quick shifting PDK into every model. Fortunately though, if you want the classic 911 driving experience, you can still get it with the excellent ZF MT11 manual transmission with short precise throws. It’s also about 60 lbs lighter than the PDK, so you can brag about that at your next Porsche club meeting
Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86
Yeah, we know: not enough power. Moving on, the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are the modern reincarnation of the Datsun 240Z, complete with light weight chassis, affordable price, beautiful steering feel, and 1970s horsepower levels. The Aisin AZ6 6-speed transmission is solid in stock form, and even better once the factory clutch spring is pulled (yay free mods!). While the auto is technically faster on track, the stick is way more fun and gets you an additional 5 horsepower.
Forget the Beetle, the Golf is the “people’s car” that can do everything. From basic econobox transportation, to all-wheel drive wagon, and hot hatch, most people could get by just fine with a Golf in the garage. The base Golf, badged 1.8 TSI, still offers a slightly old school 5-speed manual. GTI ups the fun with more power, backed by a 6-speed stick. The range-toping R almost doubles the power over the base model, and it’s also available with your choice of a dual-clutch or 6-speed manual.