Technology has long been outpacing human ability, a fact made crystal clear when looking at the automobile industry. Fewer and fewer processes in a car are fully mechanical, operating purely between the driver and the car itself. When behind the wheel, the ECU is our cunning middle man, overseeing input and output far more efficiently than most drivers can or care to. This is much to the dismay of those who do care; the experience of driving isn’t as engaging, personal, or exciting as it used to be, and the decline of manual transmissions is one of the biggest hits to the self-sufficient driver. Fortunately, they aren’t completely out of luck. Manual transmissions don’t appeal to the average car buyer, so they often go under-advertised. However, if you’re willing to do a little digging, there’s a treasure trove of hidden gems still available for purchase straight from the factory.
#1 – 2022 Ford Mustang GT
The heyday of American muscle may be in the rearview mirror, but there are modern pony cars still carrying the spirit of big-block engines, if in a cleaner, EPA-friendlier package. Arguably the most iconic is the Ford Mustang. There is a huge variety of Mustangs available for purchase today, but my personal favorite is the 2022 Ford Mustang GT. It feels truest to the classic Mustangs, with a heavy emphasis on hard-hitting performance that won’t break the bank. It keeps things big and beefy with a 450 hp 5.0-liter V8 and stock manual transmission with rev-matching, which will keep your ride smooth and your engine healthy by making sure the gear and RPMs don’t get too out of sync. All of this while keeping the price tag fairly reasonable, especially when compared to similarly performing vehicles.
#2 – 2022 Volkswagen Golf R
Maybe aggressive, muscled machines aren’t your cup of tea, but there are subtler options out there for fans of the manual transmission. If driving through hilly countryside is more your jive, look no further than the 2022 Volkswagen Golf R. Its sleek looks and cool performance add up to a sophisticated little number that manages to excel while maintaining a guise of effortlessness. It comes with a 6-speed manual, although a dual-clutch automatic transmission is available at a higher cost. The one and only engine option is a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 that makes 315 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. It also has all-wheel drive, meaning the Golf R will handle well even in inclement weather.
#3 – 2022 Jeep Wrangler Willys Sport
Jeep throws quiet sophistication out the window with the Wrangler, opting instead for open-air freedom and unadulterated Americana. The Wrangler has always been as patriotic as a slice of apple pie, dating back to its origins as a military reconnaissance vehicle in World War II. Although much about the little-SUV-that-could has changed since the middling years of the 20th century, the Wrangler has maintained its roots in excellence off-road and a rugged driving experience. Part of the driver engagement achieved by the Wrangler can be credited to its preference for a manual transmission, which is standard for all of the Wrangler’s 11 trims, save four: the Sport RHD, the High Tide, the High Altitude, and the Rubicon 392. The Willys Sport is on the lower end of the Wrangler’s wide price spectrum, minimizing creature comforts in favor of mechanical aptitude. It comes standard with a 3.6-liter V6, 4×4, and a 6-speed manual transmission.
#4 – 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport
Does the concept of having a car just for driving on the weekends make your wallet cramp up? Don’t fret. Manuals can be surprisingly practical, and opting for a hot hatch means you don’t really have to compromise. In 2022, the Civic underwent a facelift, ditching its flashy styling for a much more understated look. Honda dropped the 6-speed manual transmission for the Civic sedan, but kept it for the Civic hatchback Sport and Sport Touring models. The Sport is paired with a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 158 hp, and the Sport Touring gets a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-4 that makes 180 hp. If financial prudence is the name of the game, go for the Civic Sport hatchback. It’s affordable, roomy, and zoomy, making it a home run for commuters who like to get a little wild on the weekends.
#5 – 2022 Subaru BRZ Limited
Everyone’s got their eye on the 2022 Subaru BRZ, and for good reason. It revels in simplicity, staying true to its appeal as an affordable sports car. It’s not the fastest on the block but makes the most of its power with a low curb weight and rear-wheel drive. Each BRZ will be offered with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, and Subaru’s iconic boxer engine will be making plenty of magic under the hood. The new 2.4-liter flat-4 added for 2022 gets 228 hp. The BRZ is only offered in two trims––Premium and Limited––both of which have the same engine and transmission options. Opting for the slightly more expensive BRZ Limited is probably worth it, given the perks it comes with, like bigger wheels, nicer tires, and steering-responsive headlights.
#6 – 2022 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road
Pickup trucks that are offered with manual transmissions are few and far between, making the midsize 2022 Toyota Tacoma one of the last examples of the breed. A manual transmission is not available across the board, but is an option for the TRD Sport, TRD Off-Road, and TRD Pro trims. The Tacoma TRD Off-Road captures some of the best of what this truck has to offer. Far from being an overpriced appearance option, it actually comes with some nifty features, like a CRAWL mode and a locking rear differential to help to prevent loss of traction. It also includes a 3.5-liter V6, good for 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque.
#7 – 2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4
What happens when the delicate dexterity of a neurosurgeon meets the explosive power of a heavyweight champ? A paradoxical driving experience that some people are willing to fork over six figures for. Sure, the 2022 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 is pricey, but it does kind of set the bar. The mid-engine sports car transforms physics into art, getting 414 hp out of its naturally-aspirated flat-6, while its lean and lithe design displays a mastery of aerodynamics. It roars from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and has a top speed of 189 mph. A sports car of this caliber almost demands a manual transmission, and the GT4’s adroit 6-speed puts all that power in the hands of the driver.
Get It While It’s Hot
For better or worse, the way we drive our cars increasingly favors convenience, efficiency, and safety over engagement, speed, and thrills. What used to be the norm is becoming a niche feature reserved for driving enthusiasts. The upside is that manufacturers bothering to include a manual transmission know their audience, so most vehicles that have this option are pretty solid. Ironically, it’s a good time to buy a manual. This window of opportunity is closing, though, as sure as tomorrow comes. If you’re teetering, it may be time to pull the trigger before manual transmissions join the ranks of antiquated car tech of yesteryear and drive into the sunset with ashtrays and pop-headlights.