Tips, Tricks & Trends

Volkswagen Just Made Stick Shift Lovers Very Happy

While younger drivers may not know how to drive a stick shift car, there are still a number of people who love driving a car with a manual transmission. With dwindling options to purchase new cars that have manual transmissions, which brands are left? And will they continue to be options in the future? The good news is that Volkswagen stick shift cars will be sticking around.

Volkswagen manual cars

Volkswagen recently confirmed its commitment to producing cars with manual transmissions. VW tech chief Matthias Rabe told Autocar, “Some people enjoy going back to their roots and changing gear manually, and so long as there is a demand, we will continue to offer them.”

For 2020, Volkswagen has manual transmissions available in its Golf, Golf GTI, Golf R, Jetta S, and Jetta GLI models. In Europe, Volkswagen offers the up! GTI and Polo GTI. The up! GTI only comes as a manual.

The trend for automatic cars

Volkswagen Polo GTI compact hatchback car on display at Brussels Expo
The Volkswagen Polo GTI | Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images

Volkswagen’s commitment is somewhat unusual these days as the number of manual cars available shrinks. It wasn’t always this way, though. At first, cars came with different types of manual transmissions. In 1938, General Motors developed the first automatic transmission in the U.S. and started selling it in its 1940 vehicles.

Manual transmissions were still common until the mid-1980s. In 1985, nearly a quarter of cars sold in the U.S. (22 percent) were manual. By 2007, that had dropped to 3 percent, and by 2018, to 2 percent of sales. Even in 2006, 47 percent of new models available in the U.S. had a manual option. By 2018, only 20 percent of new vehicles in the U.S. were offered with manual transmissions.

By the 2000s, manual transmissions began to disappear from trucks as automatic transmissions improved more than manuals, letting full-size trucks get stronger and enjoy a torque increase. Today, no full-size pickup trucks with manual transmissions are sold in the U.S. There are also very few unibody SUVs with available manual transmissions.

According to Automobile Magazine, only four luxury brands have cars with stick shifts. Auto manufacturers save more than a million dollars if they don’t need to certify a second powertrain for emissions and fuel economy, especially a powertrain that fewer buyers today are looking to purchase.

The love of stick shift vehicles

Even with the shift to automatic transmissions, Volkswagen isn’t the only company still offering manuals. Porsche and BMW also plan to continue offering manual transmission vehicles into the future. For 2020, stick shifts can be found from a number of brands in addition to Volkswagen, Porsche, and BMW, including Aston Martin, Dodge, Fiat, Chrysler, Ford, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Genesis, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Mini, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota. The manual transmission is no longer available from Jaguar as of 2020, and Ferrari and Lamborghini gave them up several years ago.

Enthusiasts point to the manual transmission as part of their love of the art of driving. Mark Gilles, a spokesman for Volkswagen and former editor of Car and Driver, told the Chicago Tribune, “There is a feeling of great control as a driver, and there is the sheer physical pleasure of managing a perfect shift. I feel more in touch if I am operating the gears.”

According to Automobile Magazine, two cars with high manual take rates are the Subaru WRX/STI (about 88 percent), the Mazda Miata (76 percent for the soft top and 52 percent for the RF), the Porsche 911 GT3 (about 70 percent), and the Subaru BRZ (73 percent). Aston Martin is betting on an increased interest in stick shift driving – since it’s an interactive activity – as a reaction to autonomous cars in the future.

While having a long history doesn’t guarantee a solid future, there continue to be car enthusiasts committed to the thrill and action of manual driving. If there are enough purchases, the manual transmission may continue. For now, Volkswagen continues to provide an option for stick shift lovers.