- Stick-shifts are disappearing from the automotive landscape.
- But one can still option a manual on some performance cars and pickup trucks.
- Here’s a disputatious ranking of my favorites, with appearances from MINI, Mazda, and Jaguar.
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Time was when many vehicles offered a manual option, either because customers wanted performance, or because they wanted better fuel-economy — or because they just wanted a cheap option.
While one can still find manual transmissions on vehicles in Europe and South America, automatics are the rule in the US.
Even some performance cars have dropped the manual options, most notably Ferrari. Most people no longer learn to drive on a stick-shift, and for the most part, automatics yield good fuel economy and can be had on inexpensive cars.
So the stick-shift is dying out. But one can still find it on a decent number of cars.
Here’s a rundown of some of my favorites, ranked from most satisfying to least:
1. The MINI John Cooper Works is a savage little beast of a car. I just love the thing, but it absolutely terrified me.
It has a very crisp-shifting six-speed manual that’s my all-time favorite.
2. The MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 that I tested a while back is a performance version of MINI’s anti-SUV.
It also featured a solid six-speed manual.
3. My beloved Mazda MX-5 Miata! The ultimate roadster is about as much fun as it’s possible to have on four wheels.
Both cars can be optioned with a superb, short-throw six-speed.
4. The Jaguar F-Type hadn’t impressed me until I drove a 380-horsepower V6 version …
5. The Chevy SS. It’s a rebadged Holden Commodore with a 415-horsepower, small-block V8, mated to …
… a six-speed manual. Sadly, this stonking four-door has been discontinued.
6. Now we get into the more challenging sticks. The Ford Focus RS, now also discontinued, is an absolute track weapon.
But its six-speed has a learning curve. The clutch is so firm and edgy that it’s quite easy to stall the car, until you get a feel for it. On the plus side, shifts are incredibly brisk.
7. The Civic Type R is in theory a similar kind of affordable track-rat mobile, but …
The six-speed is a little too loose and easy for my taste, and the clutch is spongy.
8. The C7 Corvette Stingray has been supplanted by the mid-engine C8, but I drove the C7 back in 2014 and sort of enjoyed the seven-speed manual.
Problem is, one could slip from 4th gear to 7th when trying to get to 5th (there was no lockout). I got the hang of it after a while, but it was annoying.
9. The Nissan 370Z Nismo Tech. I love this V6 dinosaur, and for $46,000, what’s not to love?
Well, the six-speed manual, which while satisfying isn’t exactly thrilling.
10. OK, finally we have the Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport. One of the most basic pickups I’ve ever tested.
It had a six-speed manual, but it could have been five. It was like managing a farming vehicle. But that’s a testament to the Tacoma’s legendary ruggedness.