The traditional manual gearbox has been rumored to be on the endangered list for some time now. Manual, stick shift, and standard are all names given to this type of transmission. Traditionally, manuals have been far more popular in European markets than most other areas of the world where the automatic is more commonplace.
Among the general population, drivers value the luxury and easy drive an automatic affords. Hill starts, start-stop traffic, and general urban environment navigation are undoubtedly easier in an automatic vehicle. However, driving purists value the increased engagement and feedback provided by a manual transmission, especially when driving on rewarding roads such as country lanes and alpine passes.
As technology has advanced, automatics have improved, fuel efficiency has increased and prices have dropped. All of these factors have led to the rise of the automatic and the demise of the manual gearbox. Perhaps the biggest threat to the manual’s existence is the new trend towards the adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles. Owing to the lack of gears where the electric powertrain is concerned, a manual transmission is simply incompatible. These days, the manual is becoming rarer and rarer and some manufacturers are only producing them for driver-focused models. Consequently, we should enjoy the following manual-equipped sports cars while we still can.
8 Porsche Cayman 718 GT4
The second-generation GT4 is arguably one of the most driver-focused vehicles ever produced. At its heart, is a 4.0-liter flat-six producing 420 hp and revving all the way to 8000 rpm. Compared to the previous generation, this is an increase of 34 hp. Satisfyingly, Porsche has made the car available with both a seven-speed PDK automatic and a six-speed manual. The manual provides the most opportunity for driver engagement, although the long gearing may take a little while to get used to. The top speed of the second gear is a remarkable 85 mph.
The pricing makes the GT4 a relative bargain, starting at $101,200 it is significantly cheaper than the GT3 which retails for $161,100. Arguably the car provides almost all the performance offered by the GT3.
7 Aston Martin Vantage
The Aston Martin Vantage is one of the brand’s most agile and nimble sports cars. Sporting a dramatic new look for this current generation, the Vantage attracts attention from all who see it. To aid handling, the engine is front mid-mounted and power is sent to the rear wheels. A 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8 producing 510 hp enables the car to surge from 0-62 mph in just 3.6 seconds and then on to a top speed of 195 mph.
Nimble, powerful cars such as this are great candidates for a manual option, and thankfully this has been the case with the Vantage. Unfortunately, the option will be removed following the 2022 refresh, so buyers need to get in there quickly.
6 Porsche 992 911 GT3
Currently, the most hardcore 911 variant available, the GT3 is a range-topper in the 992 generation of cars. Porsche is expected to release details of the ultimate version, the GT3 RS later in 2022. Prices start at $161,100 for the standard GT3 and the wingless touring version. The car is powered by a 4.0 liter, naturally aspirated, flat 6 capable of revving to 9000 rpm. Perhaps surprisingly for a car with so much power, both a 7-speed PDK automatic and a 6-speed manual are available.
Both cars produce 502 hp, where they differ is the GT3 takes 3.2 seconds to go from 0-60 mph while the Touring takes 3.7 seconds. Interestingly, the Touring has a marginally faster top speed of 199 mph while the standard car is slightly slower at 197 mph.
5 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Powered by a 5.0-liter V8, the Mach 1 produces 460 hp. As standard, the car comes with a six-speed manual, although, a ten-speed automatic is also available. The manual offers a slick experience and automatic rev-matching elevates the experience.
In the UK, the Mach 1 is the highest performance Mustang available, as the GT500 is not sold in that market. The top speed is 166 mph and 0-62 mph takes 4.8 seconds.
4 BMW M2 Competition
The BMW M2 Competition is the smallest and cheapest M car that BMW currently produces. The terrific manual version starts at $58,900, while the dual-clutch 7-speed automatic is almost $3K more. Powering the M2 is a 3.0 liter, twin-turbo, 6-cylinder engine producing 405 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque. The car is great fun, with all the power being transferred through the rear wheels via a BMW active M differential system.
For buyers looking for more from their M2 comp, a $2,500 M driver’s package is available, this provides a raised top speed limiter and a high-performance driving session.
3 Lotus Evora GT
The Lotus Evora GT is the only Lotus model currently available for sale in the US. Compared to sports cars from other manufacturers, models produced by Lotus provide more of a stripped-back raw driving experience. The Evora GT is powered by a 3.5 liter, 422 hp supercharged V6.
0-60 mph takes 3.8 seconds and the top speed is 188 mph. A six-speed manual transmission provides drivers with mechanical feedback and adds a limited-slip differential improving power transference.
2 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
No list of the best sports cars available with a manual gearbox would be complete without this iconic Mazda. Affordable and lightweight, the MX-5 has been produced in various styles since 1989. Its mid-engined rear-wheel drive combination offers great handling and drivability.
The car’s 6-speed manual box provides excellent driver engagement and the short-throw allows you to power through the gears.
1 BMW M4
Another BMW M car on this list, the sleek-looking BMW M4 with its love it or hate it grill is a great sports car. Making it even greater is the fact it is available with a manual gearbox in its “base” form. The more powerful 503 hp M4 Competition is only available with an 8-speed Steptronic transmission. The standard car still produces 473 hp from its 3.0 liter, turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine.
0-60 mph takes 4.1 seconds in the manual with the automatic beating this slightly, taking 3.8 seconds. In real-world driving, it is unlikely the majority of buyers would notice the additional power, but will no doubt notice the extra control and engagement offered to them in the manual variant.
Perfectly engineered for crisp shifts, the manual transmissions in these cars will make you feel like you’re part of the car you’re driving.
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