The manual transmission is on the endangered species list. Every year fewer and fewer cars are offered with a clutch and a shifter. Why? Americans just don't want to be bothered with the chore of working a clutch with their left foot and shifting with their right. And sports car manufacturers are the worst offenders when it comes to quitting on the stick shift. Because the newest computer-controlled automatics can shift more quickly than any human can, engineers see the manual transmission as outdated.
We disagree. Shifting a manual transmission is not only more engaging and fun than flicking some dainty little paddles, it also requires more skill and makes the driver a better one. Some carmakers still see the beauty of the manual transmission. Here are 20 of the greatest driver's machines that still do.
2016 Mazda Miata
Since the summer of 1989, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has been thrilling sports car fans with its featherweight rear-drive chassis and drop-top fun-in-the-sun persona. The Miata's responsive handling drew buyers by the tens of thousands to Mazda stores, as did a dollop of 1960s British roadster aesthetic. But it's no stretch to say that Mazda's brilliant five-speed manual transmission was one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. The stubby little shifter was so effortless that it moved with just a modest flick of the wrist. The second-generation Miata of 1999 got one more gear for 10th anniversary models, but the six-speed was optional—five-speed remained standard well into the third generation.
The Miata's sports car formula has lasted for more than a quarter century. The all-new 2016 model not only retains the easy-shifting and precise 6-speed manual transmission, but also elevates the entire Miata experience. It's still one of the best manual transmissions available on any car at any price.
Base Price: $24,915
2016 Subaru BRZ (and Scion FR-S)
Reasonably priced sports cars are rare these days. The Subaru BRZ and its twin, the Scion FR-S, both start at just over $25,000 and offer an engaging drive. Like the Miata, they are lightweight (around 2800 pounds) and rear-wheel drive. These twins pack 200-hp four-cylinder engines and come standard with a six-speed manual (automatic is optional).
Of course, the engineers were tempted to design a heavier and more expensive twin-clutch, paddle-shift transmission instead of a manual. But we're sure glad they didn't. Subaru wanted to provide the same level of driving involvement as a Porsche Cayman, and after logging hours on canyon roads in a BRZ, we can confidently say this is one enjoyable ride.
Base Price: $25,395
2016 Dodge Viper
The Dodge Viper is a throwback to when the original muscle cars roamed wild and free in the 1960s and early 1970s. It lacks the finesse of modern sports cars; instead the Viper is a brutally quick beast that's a little bit frightening. The 8.4-liter, 645-hp V10 is a beast comes mated to only one transmission—a six-speed manual.
This isn't a delicate instrument. Drop the hammer with the traction control system turned off and the car will be quickly engulfed in plumes of tire smoke. The six-speed doesn't offer the delicate throws of some sports cars. Instead, shifting requires commitment and some muscle to get the Viper in the right gear. But that totally fits this car's personality. And it's incredibly satisfying to have full manual control over such a powerful and torque-rich engine.
The price of admission isn't cheap. The Viper starts at $84,995 and climbs to nearly $120,000 for the even more visceral ACR racetrack special edition (seen here). Expensive? Sure. But we're talking about a Viper here.
Base Price: $84,995
2016 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
The Corvette underwent its most dramatic redesign in decades as the new C7 emerged in 2014. As radical as the new look may have been, Chevy made sure to keep essentials unchanged—a powerful V8 and a manual. The new 7-speed manual transmission (an 8-speed automatic is optional) is one of the best hooked to any V8. That's true even for the top-of-the-line Z06 model, which makes a rather astonishing 638 hp from its supercharged V8 and, when shifted by an expert tester, can hit 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds.
One might expect a car with such heavyweight performance to have a transmission that takes muscle to shift. But the Z06's gearbox is a pleasure to use, creating one of the best-driving sports cars in the world—at any price.
Base Price: $79,400
2016 Porsche 911
Porsche is one of the only high-performance automakers that still offers a pure manual transmission. In the 911, it's a seven-speed manual like the Corvette's. Porsche is also one of the only manufacturers to spend any money to improve the manual transmission, and what's most amazing is they did so for the mere 30 percent of 911 buyers who still like to row their own gears.
The R&D effort shows. The 911's manual is a wonderful, easy-shifting gearbox. There's even a lockout, so if you're driving aggressively and aiming for fifth gear, it won't let you flub a shift and end up in seventh. When you're driving in that seventh gear at 60 mph, the revs drop down to just 1800 rpm for easy highway cruising and better fuel economy.
The only disappointment to be found here is with the top performance models, the Turbo and GT3, which aren't available with a manual anymore, only the paddle-shifted dual-clutch PDK automatic.
Base Price: $84,300
2016 Fiat 500 Abarth
The cutesy Fiat 500 that landed in the U.S. back in 2011 looked like a lot of fun, but wasn't exactly the rewarding drive enthusiasts were hoping for. A year later that was fixed with the 500 Abarth, the high-performance model that brings 60 more horsepower and 72 more lb.-ft. of torque. The bad-boy 500 is relatively tame when you want it to be, but flatfoot the throttle and it sounds like a squadron of light aircraft is chasing you down. For maximum fun, you can channel that muscle through a heavy-duty five-speed manual (a six-speed auto is optional).
The feathery Fiat (it weighs just 2512 lbs.) is simply a blast to fling around a racetrack. Not bad for around $23,000.
Base Price: $22,495
2016 BMW M5
BMW doesn't often make mistakes, but when it does, people notice.
Since 1988, the BMW M5 has been the sport sedan all others were measured against, and over the years its performance creeped higher and higher. These wonderful, rewarding BMW sedans came with just one transmission—a manual. Then, in 2005, a new M5 launched with an outrageous 500 horsepower V10, questionable styling, and a downright terrible single-clutch automated manual with paddle shifters. It was called the SMG, and its shifts were so jerky and unsophisticated in automatic mode that BMW fans (and the media) revolted. So in 2008, BMW finally brought back the manual. Lesson learned.
The current M5 comes standard with a manual transmission. Yes, if you opt for the 7-speed, dual-clutch, paddle-shift transmission, then the M5 will be quicker. But who cares? The new 560-hp, twin-turbo V8-powered M5 (575 hp with the Competition Package) is the most powerful sport sedan you can get with a manual transmission.
Base Price: $94,100
2016 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
The Mustang lost its retro chic with a new redesign, but that doesn't mean performance fans will be left without a Shelby version. The new GT350 is a more athletic, more racetrack-capable machine than the beastly old GT500 ever was. The supercharger and large displacement V8 are gone, replaced by a tech-heavy flat-plane 526 hp 5.2-liter V8 that's nicknamed "Voodoo" and wants to rev hard. Nearly every body panel ahead of the windshield is all new to cover the car's wider track. And—unlike with Mustangs of the past—every design detail on the car is there to increase performance, not just for appearances.
Best of all, the only transmission Ford puts behind the new motor in the GT350 is a six-speed manual. No expensive dual-clutch gearboxes here.
Base Price: $49,995
2016 VW Golf R
The first Volkswagen GTI, made back in 1984, was the granddaddy of an entire generation of hot hatchbacks and sport compacts. It wasn't rocket-quick, but it provided the kind of visceral driving experience that previously was available only on more expensive cars. The GTI remains one of the world's best inexpensive speed machines, but VW now offers a performance notch above the GTI called the Golf R. For around $37,000 it comes with a potent turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder tuned to 292 hp.
The Golf R shares many of its components with the Audi S3. The difference is that only the Golf R comes with a manual transmission. Choosing the stick shifter will save you $1,100 over the DSG automatic. That's right, purists, the Golf R is cheaper. Now if we can just get the Golf R in the new Sportwagon bodystyle like they have in Europe with a manual. We'd break out our checkbook.
Base Price: $35,650
Written BY Ben Stewart
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