It’s no secret – the manual transmission is dying. Americans fell in love with the simplicity and convenience of the automatic the moment the first primitive slush boxes hit the market back in the 1940s. As automatics became more affordable, the reliable manual was slowly squeezed out of the market. Today, more and more manufacturers are discontinuing the manual transmission entirely, and if you want to experience the joy (and frustration) of shifting your own gears, you will likely have to visit a used car dealer – especially if you are looking for something other than a sports car.
Today, we’ll be taking a quick look at some affordable manual options you can still buy new, as well as some options that will have you searching the pre-owned section of your local car dealerships. Most of the popular enthusiast options like the Chevy Camaro, the Mazda Miata, and the Subaru WRX continue to provide a stick shift option to appease the driving purists, but what if you aren’t looking for a flashy car and just want an affordable manual daily to make your commute to work a bit less yawn-inducing?
Modern Manual Sedans
If you are looking for a new four-door with a six-speed in 2021, you might be startled to realize just how few options you have. While sedans may be the most common type of car in America, lovers of the manual transmission appear to gravitate toward the hatchback segment because there are more hatches than sedans with manual options. In fact, you only have four choices for the 2022 model year: the Kia Forte, the Subaru Impreza, the VW Jetta, and the Toyota Corolla.
The good news is that all three of these cars start at under $20,000, so you don’t have to shop used to get a brand new manual sedan at an affordable price. Unfortunately, none of these models offer a particularly inspiring driving experience, so you might prefer to shop used anyways. With the ever-popular Honda Civic Si still missing in action as we wait for its 11th generation redesign, the best buys for spirited driving are the Kia Forte GT Manual (which boasts a multilink rear suspension instead of the torsion beam found in the standard Forte) and the VW Jetta GLT (effectively a GTI in sedan form).
Are Two Doors Better Than Four?
Many enthusiasts prefer the look and feel of a compact coupe, but if you want a new two-door with a manual that isn’t a dedicated sports car, too bad. With the demise of the Honda Civic Coupe after the 2020 model year, there are no affordable two-door manual models currently on the market that aren’t named Mustang, Camaro, and Miata. However, shopping used will turn up a plethora of mainstream manual coupes at remarkably affordable prices.
If you are more interested in style than power, check out a used Scion tC or Kia Forte Koup. Neither of these are particularly fast, but they have some unique looks and are on the cheaper side for a newer used car with a six-speed transmission. Coincidentally, both ended production in 2016. If you want something a sleeper with a respectable turn of speed, check out a used Honda Accord Coupe or Nissan Altima Coupe. With a six-speed manual and a V6 pumping out over 270 hp, these early-2000s models are more fun than you might think.
Manual Hatchbacks are Still in Style
If you want to find a 2022 model year with a stick-shift, you had better like the hatchback body style because that makes up the majority of the market. A good deal of these are true budget cars that most enthusiasts would turn their nose up at (if you are one of the few drivers who love the Chevy Spark, Nissan Versa, or Mitsubishi Mirage, we’re sorry). Of the more capable options, you have the Subaru Impreza 5-Door, the Toyota Corolla Hatchback, the Mini Hardtop (in two and four-door versions), and the Honda Civic Hatchback – all of which cost under $24,000. Personally, we feel that the Civic Hatch is the best deal out there in this segment, especially after the 2022 redesign (although some of us are mourning the more subdued style Honda chose for the new generation).
If you want to stretch your budget a bit more, the Mazda3 Hatchback still offers a manual, but only on the $28,000 Premium trim. At CarLifeNation, if we were spending that sort of money on a manual hatch, we’d be looking at the $30,000 VW GTI or the $32,000 Hyundai Veloster N instead (the extremely affordable base model Veloster is dead for the 2022 model year, but manual versions are still easily found on used car lots). With so many new manual hatchbacks to choose from, shopping used isn’t really necessary, although it will certainly save you money and give you a few more options.
Manual Trucks and SUVs
While we have a difficult time understanding why you would want to deal with a clutch while towing or off-roading, we’re not here to judge your taste in cars. Unfortunately, auto manufacturers are not so accommodating. If you want a new manual SUV, you have three options – and none of them are exactly normal SUVs. Up first is the Subaru Crosstrek, but if you are looking for something more than an Impreza with a lift kit, your options are either the Jeep Wrangler or the Ford Bronco. Unfortunately, in both cases, the manual is only available with the base engine.
If you are willing to shop for a used SUV, you actually have a decent number of options to get a manual. The Jeep Compass offers a very practical package and was available with a six-speed up until 2020. For something smaller, the Jeep Renegade was sold with a manual until 2018. Looking for something that doesn’t have a seven-slot grille? Check out the Mazda CX-5. Just be warned that you will have to opt for a 2016 or earlier model with the somewhat underpowered 2.0L engine.
If you want a pickup truck, then you have two choices – the Toyota Tacoma and the Jeep Gladiator (both of which automatically pair the manual with a V6, 4×4, and a crew cab). If you don’t feel like driving a midsize truck, a quick search of local used car dealers will likely turn up a Ram with a manual transmission. Rowing your own gears was an option on all three of Ram’s full-size trucks (1500, 2500, and 3500) up until 2018, making them a great buy for the driving purist who needs some real towing and hauling power. Both Chevy and Ford gave up on putting manuals in trucks a decade earlier, making a manual F-Series or Silverado something of a unicorn in the current used car market.
The Manual May Be Dying, But It’s Not Dead Yet
While manual models are being discontinued left and right, it appears that some auto manufacturers recognize that there is still interest in this old-school technology. While we expect that sports cars will continue to offer a manual option until EV mandates finally bring an end to the gasoline engine, we are pleasantly surprised to see major manufacturers like Honda, Toyota, and Kia continue to offer new mainstream models with a six-speed on the options list. Whether you are shopping for a 2022 model or browsing your nearest used car dealership for a deal, there are still a good number of basic manual car options out there for drivers who aren’t content to let the car do all the work.