They may be on the way out, but manual transmissions will forever remain at the heart of what defines a sports car for a true enthusiast. Dual-clutch automatics may switch gears more efficiently and ultimately make you and your car faster, they can’t match up to a true six-speed gearbox when it comes to providing enjoyment behind the wheel.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to tell you that the automotive world will crumble when manual transmissions are phased out. I’m quite content driving an automatic, especially the PDK or DSG variety.
That said, when I get the chance to drive a manual, I’m immediately reconnected with the unique feeling of having absolute control on your vehicle’s engine. That first rev-matched downshift reminds me every time of why I made a pact of always having a manual car in my driveway for as long as I live.
Now, not all manual gearboxes are created equal. Some you know will be disappointing before you even set foot in the car. Others are surprisingly unprecise and rubbery – we’re looking at you, Jaguar F-Type. And then there are those manual gearboxes that are simply perfect.
Each gear is wonderfully spaced, the throws are just the right length and the clutch is weighted to perfection. These are the manual transmissions you can’t wait to drive day in and day out.
It’s so easy and so precise, and the MX-5’s engine is not so powerful that you can’t really use all six gears. You’ll find yourself rowing through every gear with a smile on your face.
Honda Civic Type R
I just got out of the Honda Civic Type R, and I must say that that six-speed gearbox may just be the best one on the market right now. The throws are so short between each gear, and unlike with the regular Civic’s fine manual gearbox, the R’s is stiffer and that much more precise as a result.
Porsche 911 GT3
Honestly, any Porsche manual transmission could be on this list. We love the manual in the 718 lineup, and we would daily drive a seven-speed 911 GTS for the rest of our lives and be the happiest people on the planet. That said, the fact that Porsche decided to bring back the manual in the 911 GT3 puts it on this list. It is by far the best track-focused manual car you can buy today.
Like Porsche, BMW is a manual gearbox expert. We could have put any 2 Series or 3 Series models on this list, but we are going with the M4. Why? Well because it’s the only one in its segment to offer a manual gearbox, for one, and you can even get it in a convertible. A hardtop convertible with more than 400 horsepower and a manual? You won’t find that anywhere else.
Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works
The Mini Cooper is made to be driven with a stick. The JCW version ups the ante by giving you a more aggressive sound with each rev match. That said, any Cooper with a manual is a winner.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT350
I have to say I’m not a fan of heavy, muscle car manual transmissions. The one in the Challenger, for example, doesn’t do it for me. In the Shelby, however, it’s a different story. It’s more refined, and yet it requires some serious skill to manage all that power being sent to the rear wheels.
Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86
Another light car with a precise, short-throw manual gearbox. Like in the MX-5, you can use every gear without losing your license, and the extremely high-revving engine really only comes to life with a do-it-yourself gearbox.
Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Like the 911, the Corvette has a seven-speed manual gearbox. Now, imagine having seven speeds at your disposal to control a snarling, 650-horsepower V8 engine. That’s what you find in the Z06.