There’s just something about popping a clutch and flirting with the redline in a car that just appeals to some people. All of the risk, reward, control, and care can lead up to quite the exciting experience when properly applied to a winding backroad. Even though modern automatic transmissions now have the ability to outperform manual gearboxes in the performance and fuel economy departments, there’s still something exhilarating about driving a stick and being in complete control. Sure, there is the risk of accidentally slamming her into fifth when all you want to do is downshift, but who cares? The more connected someone feels to their car and the road, the more intimate the driving experience becomes.
A recent piece of ours discussed why Americans don’t buy cars with clutches anymore, and how that “shift” has reshaped the automotive world. We live in an age where convenience, security, and distraction-free driving are of the utmost importance to many car buyers, and manual transmissions are typically one of the first factors to get the ax as they are undoubtedly a hassle in stop-and-go traffic and constantly need tending too if we don’t want our engines to explode.
When we test drove the Lexus RC F and its baby brother, the RC F Sport, we concluded that both of these cars would have been far more enjoyable to drive if they came equipped with manual gearboxes. But these cars come with auto shifters, and while they proved to be quite responsive, they still caused us to yawn after a while, thus removing a few cool points for not offering us full control from behind the wheel.
However, there is some good news, as many auto makers still do make a handful of cars with manual transmissions. Some are astoundingly good at being fast, others are just economically sporty and are offered with this transmission as more of an option instead of a requirement. But regardless of what these cars are designed to do, or where they are made, it brings us great joy to see car makers rolling out fresh models that are still being equipped with what is now considered “outdated technology.”
1. Honda Civic Si
The Honda Civic Si always has, and probably always will come with a manual gearbox. It is impossible to get one without a stick, so this “sport injected” 201 horsepower Civic is a take it or leave it kind of creature. Modern versions come with a clever six-speed transmission that is attached to a helical limited-slip differential, and there is no denying the fact that this car gets amazing gas mileage for being a sportier car at 22 and 31 miles per gallon. Want even more efficiency from a small Honda hatchback and still want a third pedal? Both the Fit and the CRZ are still available with a clutch, and they are surprisingly inexpensive to boot.
2. Chevrolet Corvette ZO6
Jumping off the line next is a 650 horsepower, rear-wheel drive monster that is sure to catapult anyone from fun to frightening in under three seconds. This mean machine has an available seven-speed gearbox with rev-matching capabilities to show everyone that old school gearboxes can indeed rock state-of-the-art upgrades. With its guttural growl, windswept lines, and unmistakable stance, there is no denying the Corvette Z06 its home on this list. Plus, when was the last time any of us drove a car with seven manually adjustable gears?
3. Jeep Wrangler
From track brawler to rock crawler, our next contestant is a rugged individual that likes long drives around the lake, fording it, and showing Mother Nature who’s boss. Jeep’s commitment to the manual transmission continues to impress us, as low-end trucks like these deserve to be outfitted with a stick-shift. It just makes more sense to be able to easily control one’s revs and speed the way a manual does in the Jeep Wrangler, which is known for having a tough transmission and a very forgiving clutch.
4. BMW M4
This 425 horsepower, twin-turbo, pure-bred German Rottweiler is about as refined as it gets for someone wanting a clutch. With its clever suspension, lightweight body, and carbon fiber, the BMW M4 really is an interesting machine, and coming with a six-speed is where it all starts. Sure, you could go ahead and opt for the “auto-tragic slush box,” but why would you want to pay more for less in a car that is designed to perform so well? That’s like buying a doughnut, saying “hold the sprinkles,” and then getting charged extra for it.
5. Dodge Challenger
Where would we be without a little bit of old-fashioned American muscle rivalry? While Chevy is busy praising its sleek Corvette, Dodge has decided to unleash a rabid animal in our midst, manifested in the form of a fire-breathing, 707-horsepower chunk of Detroit steel. It’s called the Hellcat, and it’s a supercharged rocket ship the likes of which the world has never known. The best part is that this muscle-bound menace comes from the factory with a manual gearbox that boasts close-ratio gearing for shorter shifts so that we can haul even more ass.
6. Ford Focus ST & Fiesta ST
This next one is kind of a “two for one package,” since it is virtually impossible to reference one without looking toward the other. This one-two punch from Ford offers Americans an ideal combination of utility, handling stability, reliability, and powerful capability all in a couple of neat little hatchbacks. The Focus ST boasts a 252 horsepower EcoBoost engine, and has been a crowd favorite for almost every auto enthusiast who has driven one. The Fiesta ST, on the other hand is like the Focus’ upstart little brother, always tagging along and causing all sorts of mayhem with its 197-horsepower engine. Both of these vehicles are an absolute joy to drive, and if you want to cruise around in either of them you have to be able to drive a stick.
7. Nissan Juke Nismo RS
It isn’t everyday that you see a super sporty compact crossover, and when you do it never has a stick. But Nissan apparently thinks there is a market for that sort of thing, and so they have given us the Juke RS, a crazy little hatchback designed to slap the mudflaps off of the aforementioned Ford Fiesta. Is it the most practical or attractive vehicle out there? Probably not. But pop the clutch on this little puppy and suddenly you’re off to the races to the tune of 215 horses.
8. Toyota Tacoma
Here is a moderately priced, dependable, simplistic, and stylish little pick-up that will last a millenia before it needs any sort of maintenance. Toyota trucks have been a staple of reliability for decades now, and what’s best is that the Japanese auto maker has the nerve to keep offering this truck with a manual gearbox after all these years! The Toyota Tacoma starts off at just around $20,000 and allows buyers to choose either a five or six-speed shifter to enjoy on the uphill climb.
9. Volkswagen Golf
As a longtime hot-hatch favorite and all-around German staple, the Volkswagen Golf has been a contender for decades when it comes to a car that delivers tons of fun for just the right price. Ever since its early days as a Rabbit, this little hatchback has packed a sporty clutch and a manual gearbox to keep the drive both fun and fluid. Fortunately, all these years later we still have access to manual versions of this famed compact car, and for those of us who don’t fancy all of the hedonism associated with the Golf R, the diesel version still comes with a six-speed.
10. Subaru BRZ
Our closer for today is a car that we wouldn’t want unless it had a manual, and indeed it does pack quite a punch with what it has. Is it a supercar? Hell no. The Subaru BRZ was never designed to be a beast, but was built to be fun and slide around corners in the best possible fashion. So people need to quit bitching about how this car is “under-powered” and go out and thrash on one for an afternoon. I guarantee that this car’s traditional gearbox and nimble handling are going to leave a huge grin on your face, regardless of what the dyno numbers tell us.