Best Cars that Need a Stick
Since pretty much forever, vehicles in the US offered a manual transmission in every model built. It was so common, the manual trans was known as “standard” shift, since it was the default choice. Now, less than 3% of cars sold in the US have manual transmissions, according to a recent report in the LA Times. Everything from high-end sports cars to base model economy crapcans are doing away with manual transmissions. While modern autos and dual clutch transmissions can shift faster than you and offer better gas mileage, there’s no denying the fun of rowing your own. Here are 15 vehicles that would be even better with a stick.
Ford fans cringed when the second gen Ford GT was announced in 2015. The 2017+ model took fire for its 3.5L EcoBoost V6, replacing the supercharged 5.4L V8 that made awesome sounds. Still, the new car added 100 hp while dropping a bit of weight, so it’s a stellar performer. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to buy the first gen if you want a manual transmission. The newer GT has a 7-speed dual clutch from Getrag that is an excellent unit, but it does keep both your hands on the wheel. It’s probably why John Cena sold his early.
Porsche 911 GT3 RS
The GT3 RS is a wonderful car. We’ve track thrashed and reviewed the previous version here, which is proof that auto journalism is one of the best jobs in the world. The track-focused Porsche looks great, sounds incredible, and goes like stink. The interior looks and feels high quality, it’s better than you are at corners, and the massive brakes flat out work and never fade. All that said, the 911R shouldn’t be the only way to get a hardcore 911 with a stick. The GT3 RS is PDK only, so you’ll have to get a Cayman GT4 to manually shift. Seems like Porsche’s slogan should be”No substitute” for shifting.
The C8 Corvette is a radical departure from its predecessor. It’s universally praised for its legit supercar level performance, handling and mid-engine architecture. The Corvette’s Tremec sourced dual-clutch unit can shift faster than a speeding bullet, which enables it to set new performance records. The C8 offers a lot to love, but with a DCT only layout it won’t give you the ‘one with the car’ feeling a standard transmission can.
Tesla Model S
Wait, bear with me here. The Model S is a good car, especially in P100D trim. All-wheel drive, stupid levels of instant torque, and acceleration equal to a Porsche 918, for 1/5th the price. However, a good number of enthusiasts describe anything Tesla as an appliance, or soulless. Most of that is due to the quiet electric motors instead of the good old fashioned proper noises of internal combustion, like God and nature intended. It’s also probably due to the transmission, which in a Tesla is a weird 1-speed step-down transmission. Even with the upgraded Saleen GTX, there’s no shifting here for you.
Dodge Charger Hellcat
I’ll bust on weak Dodge automatic transmissions all day long, but the 8-speed 8HP90 is a solid trans, proven reliable, able to take more power than stock, and an efficient unit too. Still, if there is one car that screams America and needs to do burnouts in the high school parking lot with bald eagles in the back seat while Lynyrd Skynyrd blasts, it’s a Charger Hellcat. But the mandatory auto takes away a bit from its badass factor. Consider that the Dodge Viper was only available with a manual, and the Hellcat loses some of its edginess.
BMW M4 GTS
The BMW M4 is a great car, benchmarked by auto manufacturers around the world as the target they need to hit (see CTS-V below). The F82 Competition Package makes it even more formidable, for additional cost. The M4 GTS is another step up, with an extra 50 hp, less weight, track-focused suspension, meaning it should be a winner. It is, in that it can lap the Nürburgring in the same time as the Porsche Carrera GT supercar. The 6-speed manual got dumped like a bad prom date in favor of a hardcore tuned 7-speed dual clutch. Such is the case when a car company chases lap times over driver engagement.
Ford F-150 Raptor
Like a Hellcat, the Raptor is ‘murica in truck form. I’m kinda surprised it doesn’t come from the factory with Bud Light filled Yetis in the cup holders. It’s like a street legal Super Stadium truck, with big attitude, genuine capability, and real world utility. Not many trucks can say that. Know what you can get in a crusty old base model Nissan Frontier that you can’t find in a Raptor? You might be seeing a theme by now, but it’s the manual trans that the Raptor is lacking. As of this writing, the Frontier offers a 5- or 6-speed manual, plus an auto. Options must be nice, eh Ford guys?
Aston Martin DB11
Sports cars, exotics, and grand touring cars all deserve a manual transmission. The gorgeous DB11 looks like a movie star, thanks to the James Bond franchise, and it sounds like heaven with a 5.2L V12 or 4.0L V8. For a quarter million dollars, it should. It should also have a manual trans option, to match the choice of engines. While the ZF built 8-speed is on par with the rest of the cars in its class, there’s just something missing. Picture James Bond accelerating in anger towards enemies shooting at him. He’s got both hands always on the wheel, no shifting, and it’s just not the same.
If it’s good enough for Tony Stark, it should be good enough for us, right? The R8 looks awesome, but the drive doesn’t entirely back up its looks. Things look great on paper. Since it’s based on the Lamborghini Haracan, the R8 shares the drivetrain with the more expensive Lambo wedge. In the case of the 600+ horsepower 5.2L V10, that’s great news. On the transmission side, that’s less great if you like manual control. The 7-speed S Tronic dual clutch is insanely fast in proper supercar fashion, but somewhat limiting. This is a car for an old guy in jean shorts (no offense if that’s you) on his way to a country club, not for someone tearing up a curvy canyon road.
For over a decade, fans of American iron asked when there would be an alternative to German heavy hitters like the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG. Oddly, it was Cadillac who answered the call. The original CTS-V was pretty much a Corvette Z06 with 4 doors, and that included the LS6 V8 and T-56 6-speed manual. The 2009 second gen rocked even more power, and a nicer shifting TR-6060 manual. While the third gen 2016 model delivered a great interior and bonkers 640 horsepower, but the 8L90 automatic was seen by enthusiasts as a step down. Maybe the CTS-V wouldn’t be discontinued if it still rocked a stick shift?
If you absolutely love driving, then you’re probably okay giving up comforts in the name of weight savings. The BAC Mono takes this to the extreme, only offering a single seat, so you can go out and selfishly enjoy the driving experience without such useless extras like passenger seats. It works, and the $150,000 Mono sells surprisingly well. What’s also surprising is the lack of manual trans. If you’re buying a street legal track toy, with a razor sharp focus on fun, shouldn’t you be shifting? The Morgan Roadster and Lotus Exige are probably a better choice here.
Chevy Colorado ZR2
Chevy made news when introducing the upgraded 2nd gen Colorado. In addition to finally being competitive with the Toyota Tacoma, powerful engines, and a solid interior, the Colorado offered a manual trans. Chevy made the news again when the off-road ready ZR2 debuted, since the hardcore version looks awesome with off-road upgrades, but the lack of a manual takes away some of the fun, and arguably some of the rock climbing control.
Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio
Alfa’s return to North America brought some really pretty vehicles. Quickly followed by a bunch of test cars breaking down. If Toyota reliability isn’t for you, Alfa has some great driving dynamics for people with excess cash on hand. The high powered Giulia sedan offers an Italian alternative to the BMW 3, and the ‘you’re-saying-it-wrong’ Quadrifoglio counters the M3 (mostly). Google says that automatics have 5 times as many parts as manual transmissions, meaning this Alfa is even more likely to let you down since you can’t option it with a manual transmission.
The F-Type is an all-around marvelous car; it looks definitively Jag, offers a swanky interior, and has the performance chops to back up its looks. The V6 and V8 engine choices both sound fantastic and rank high on our list of best sounding engines. Unfortunately for us, you can’t get a high power engine with a stick. Sure, manual trans is available with the V6, but we want shift our own gears on the V8. Jag says it’s unlikely to happen, since only a fraction of buyers chose the manual as is. Booo.
Go to Ferrari North America website and peruse the options. From the 488 Spider, to the F8 Tributo and 812 Superfast, the sole transmission listed is the 7-speed F1 DCT. Like the rest of the car, awe inspiring, expensive, and probably worth it. But also, not as cool as Magnum PI’s old car, and the change in exhaust note when he shifted gears. Just know that before you shop the prancing horse, you can’t select manual on the options sheet.
JDM fanboys made a big stink when the “MKV” Supra wasn’t as powerful as the psychotic MKIVs you find on YouTube. Still, it’s a good car, with more power and less weight stock vs stock A80, plus a nicer interior and better handling. Since it shares the chassis and drivetrain with BMW Z4, which means a shared auto with the inline six. Sure, there’s a manual with the poverty-spec four banger model, but we won’t get those in North America, leading a lot of keyboard warriors to announce “no stick, no care.”
2020+ Shelby GT500
The new GT500 is a work of art. Its looks, customizable options, performance…everything. Well…maybe not everything to a manual transmission loving car nut like myself. While the new Shelby Mustang GT500’s DCT transmission has received high-praise, it’s still no stick. We all know today’s DCT will smoke any manual tranny, but it’s not all about the numbers. It’s also about the driver involvement and feeling of connectedness with the car. The GT500’s high-horsepower muscle car competitors such as the Challenger Hellcat and the Camaro ZL1 even offer a manual transmission. Come on Ford, reconsider!