The manual transmission is steadily on its way out as automakers struggle to make their cars meet emissions regulations. In some countries where the regulations are less restrictive, automakers still offer manual transmissions in their top-spec cars – such as Chevrolet in the Camaro ZL1 in the U.S.
Other automakers have a long history with the manual transmission and are trying their best to keep the tradition alive, having it as the standard transmission in certain versions of their cars – such as Porsche with their 911 and 718 sports cars. BMW still hangs onto a manual transmission for the normal M3 and M4, however, the more powerful Competition versions of those cars are only available with an automatic.
Soon, the manual transmission is likely to disappear completely, leaving us gearheads with mostly semi-automatics, CVTs, or no transmissions at all for most electric vehicles – which seems like a pretty grim automotive future.
10 Porsche 718 GT4 (414 hp)
The Porsche 718 GT4 is the more track-focused version of the 911 mini-me, the 718. Unlike the 911 models in a similar price range, the 718 GT4 is fitted with the glorious, naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-6, producing 414 hp and 309 lb-ft of torque.
No, this is not the most powerful track car currently for sale, however, the fact that it has a manual transmission coupled to the flat-6, definitely makes it one of the more desirable cars in Porsche’s lineup.
9 Lotus Evora GT (416 hp)
The Lotus Evora GT, like the Porsche 718 GT4, is a more track-focused version of the normal Evora. It comes with a mid-mounted, Toyota-sourced 3.5-liter supercharged V6, producing 416 hp going to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox.
The Evora GT has a bit more carbon and aero parts than that of the 718 GT4, but it is an excellent car. The noise from the supercharged V6 is intoxicating and having a manual transmission in such a tactile type of light-weight car is a gearhead’s dream.
8 Porsche 911 (420 hp)
The Porsche 911 is hands-down the best sports car on the market and Porsche improves it with each new generation. The 911 is available as standard with a 7-speed manual, however, the 8-speed PDK semi-automatic is available at no extra cost – one of the few automakers to do so.
The most powerful 911 available with a manual transmission is the Carrera S and 4S, which features a 3.0-liter turbocharged flat-6, producing 420 hp going to either the rear wheels only (S) or all four wheels (4S). The 911 Carrera S may be a bit pricey as a sports car, but it can easily keep up with more expensive cars.
7 BMW M2 Competition (444 hp)
The BMW M2 took the world by storm when it was launched and has been heralded as the best M-car of the last decade. Over the course of its production run, BMW has updated it in various ways – the most impressive being when they created the M2 Competition.
The car featured the 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-6 from the larger M4, producing 444 hp, whilst still going to the rear wheels only via a choice of a 6-speed manual or 8-speed DCT transmission. Having the engine from the M4 weighs up the M2 Competition to more rivals, which just shows that a little David can contend against the motor industry’s giant Goliaths – and still do well.
6 BMW M3 (473 hp)
The current BMW M3 and M4 generation both have a 3.0-liter twin-turbo straight-6, developing 473 hp. Both the M3 and M4 are available with a 6-speed manual as standard. However, the manual is not available in the more powerful Competition specification.
The manual is only available with the least expensive M3 and M4 sDrive, as the xDrive versions all default with the 8-speed automatic. Nevertheless, the M3 sedan is still one of the coolest cars currently on sale, not even mentioning that it is probably the best sports sedan on the market.
5 Ford Mustang Mach 1 (480 hp)
The Ford Mustang Mach 1 was built not only to revive the Mach 1 name but also to replace the short-lived Mustang Bullit special edition car. The Mach 1 features the 5.0-liter ‘Coyote’ V8 from the standard Mustang GT, though it has been uprated to 480 hp.
The Mach 1 is available with either a 6-speed manual transmission for some spirited and involved driving experiences, or the company’s excellently efficient 10-speed automatic.
4 Aston Martin Vantage (503 hp)
The Aston Martin Vantage is a car built to take on the Porsche 911 at its own game. The car has a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 borrowed from Mercedes and produces 503 hp. All the power is sent to the rear wheels via a 9-speed automatic.
However, Aston Martin has released the Vantage with a 7-speed dog-leg manual transmission, causing the manual car to have slightly less power and torque than the automatic has. This is due to driveline torque limitations, but it adds a sportier edge to this generally luxurious coupé. The Aston Martin Vantage is also the only way to get the 4.0-liter twin-turbo AMG V8 coupled to a manual transmission.
3 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 (650 hp)
The ZL1 is the top of the range Camaro and features a 6.2-liter supercharged V8. The transmission options available for the ZL1, is either the trusted 10-speed semi-automatic, or a 6-speed manual, making the Camaro one awesome car. The engine produces 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, propelling the ZL1 from 0 to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds. Not bad for a manual transmission.
The Camaro ZL1 is down on power compared to its direct muscle car competitors, such as the Dodge Challenger Hellcat and Shelby Mustang GT500, although it can still keep up with them. If the ZL1 1LE package is ticked on the options list, the whole car is turned into a more track focused V8 monster, capable of going round the Nurburgring around 20 seconds faster than the GT500, and almost 30 seconds faster than the Challenger Hellcat.
2 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing (668 hp)
The Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is one of the coolest cars to be released in the last few years. It is essentially a Chevy Camaro ZL1, but with a luxurious sedan body. It has the same 6.2-liter supercharged V8 – this time uprated to 668 hp and 659 lb-ft of torque – all of which go to the rear wheels only. This results in a power-sliding monster that can scare the M-badges off an M5.
The CT5-V Blackwing is most likely the last of the great American V8 super saloons to feature a manual before all of them continue on their engine down-sizing path – until they are all eventually electric. So let’s enjoy the CT5-V Blackwing while it lasts.
1 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat (717hp)
The Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat was updated for the 2021 model year and so has a slightly uprated 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8. Where it usually produced 707 hp, it now produces 717 hp and 707 lb-ft of torque. This makes the Challenger Hellcat the most powerful production car currently on sale with a manual transmission.
Unfortunately, only the least-powerful Hellcat-engined Challenger is available with the manual, as the Redeye, Redeye Widebody, Super Stock, and Jailbreak are all only available with the 8-speed automatic. It is a shame that Dodge doesn’t offer a manual on their most powerful Challenger, however one can always find a manual Hellcat on the used car market.
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