Should You Drive a Stick Shift SUV?

The availability of new stick shift SUVs is dwindling. Once the choice for work trucks and off-roaders, manual transmissions are quickly giving way to automatics and CVTs. If you’re looking for a new SUV with a stick, now might be the time to buy. We could be witnessing the last gasps of the manual transmission SUV in the U.S. 

3 new manual-transmission SUVs are left

According to Car and Driver, three new 2023 SUV models still offer manual transmissions. Unsurprisingly, each model leans toward the sporty, off-road crowd rather than the convenient crossover market. 

2023 Subaru Crosstrek: The Crosstrek has been a smash hit for Subaru, offering legitimate all-terrain capabilities in a manual crossover configuration. It has remained available with a six-speed manual transmission for its ten-year existence, blending hatchback handling with SUV performance. 

2023 Jeep Wrangler: The ever-popular Jeep Wrangler has always moved forward into the future by looking back to the past. Its available six-speed manual transmission helps the off-roader feel even more old-school. 

2023 Ford Bronco: Ford still offers the new Bronco with a manual. The Bronco’s base turbo four-cylinder engine is available with a seven-speed stick shift. It’s a six-speed with a low-range crawler gear. But you’ll have to get an automatic gearbox for the bigger Bronco engine. 

1 stick-shift SUV is leaving in 2024 

It’s still here for 2023, but the updated 2024 Subaru Crosstrek will drop the manual transmission option. All trim levels will come exclusively with a CVT. Only Subaru’s WRX and BRZ sports models will be available with stick shifts moving forward. It’s a departure from tradition for Subaru, whose lineup has featured dozens of manual SUVs and wagons over the decades. 

Are there any benefits to driving a manual SUV?

A blue Ford Bronco SUV available with manual transmission sits on a showroom floor.
Ford Bronco | Bloomberg, Getty Images

At one time, driving a stick shift meant getting benefits like superior fuel economy. But transmission technology has developed dramatically, and that’s no longer the case. The SUV has largely outgrown its inefficient 4-speed and 5-speed automatics, moving on to 8-speed and even 10-speed options that maximize fuel economy. On the crossover side, most brands are switching to CVTs for the same reason.  

Consequently, the main advantage of a manual transmission SUV is fun. In an era when more and more systems are going automated, a stick shift keeps the driver more involved. Rather than simply pointing your rig down a trail and managing the accelerator, a manual requires constant attention to gear selection, clutch engagement, etc. 

Why are manual transmissions disappearing?

Rear view of green 2024 Subaru Crosstrek at sunset.
2024 Subaru Crosstrek | Subaru of North America, Inc.

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Sales matter to automakers – and sales for manual SUVs and crossovers have shrunk dramatically over the years. Stick-shift cars account for a single-digit percentage of vehicle sales annually. If buyers aren’t interested in stick-shift models, OEMs aren’t going to produce them. 

The other elephant in the room is electrification. Electric and hybrid SUVs are growing more common every year. While these vehicles offer excellent performance benefits, their technology does not accommodate standard manual transmissions. 

The verdict is that SUVs with stick shifts are not long for this world. If you want to row your own gears, now is the time to make it happen.