Sports Cars you can still buy with a Manual Transmission in 2020
For every budget, there is still a clutch pedal.
The future of the manual transmission does not look good. In the U.S., Americans are now buying more electric vehicles than they are manual transmissions.
It’s easy to see why clutch pedals, like gas prices, are a nuisance for the average commuter. Your average crossover or luxury sedan makes absolutely zero sense to be offered in a manual transmission. You certainly won’t find many driving enthusiasts upset at that prospect.
However, manual transmissions are steadily disappearing amongst sports cars as well. It began with supercars like Ferrari and Lamborghini doing away with the clutch pedals in the mid-2000s in favour of quicker shifting dual-clutch gearboxes derived from F1 technology.
As time has gone on, that tech has become inevitably cheaper and offered in a wider range of vehicles. We’ve since lost many manual-transmission options in sports cars, as recently as last year. The Chevrolet Corvette, Porsche 911 Turbo, Jaguar F-Type, Audi R8 and Shelby GT500 are just a few performance vehicles that have ditched the manual transmission.
On paper, it makes sense. Automatic transmissions are cheaper to mass-produce, increase acceleration times, increase the consumer base, reduce driver error and theoretically, maintenance costs.
But manual transmissions are fun. The argument to have a car with a stick shift isn’t any deeper than that. And it doesn’t need to be. Logically, it’s a worse choice. But buying a sports car isn’t logical, to begin with. A crossover SUV is logical. But there’s seldom any passion or excitement surrounding those.
Sports cars are about the driving experience. Changing your own gears, for better or worse, is part of that experience.
Luckily, there are still plenty of options for those who still swear by the merits of a six-speed and a sore left foot. No matter your budget, there’s a manual transmission sports car for you.
Fiat 500 Abarth
Starting at $28,495
I would submit that the Fiat 500 Abarth is the coolest car on sale today. Sure, it’s not very fast or “macho”. But it has a gorgeous engine note, a great badge and because it’s a 500, it’s not trying to impress anybody. Which is the coolest thing you can do—not try to impress anybody. Also because it doesn’t have a lot of horsepower (a cheerful 160 horsepower) you can use all of it all of the time and wind out the gears of its six-speed manual transmission.
Subaru BRZ (and Toyota 86)
Starting at $29,958
The BRZ, 86, and FRS have flooded streets and Tim Horton’s parking lots alike thanks to their affordability and enormous aftermarket. The kids love them. But don’t let the obnoxious exhausts and ridiculous stance kits shy you away from these rear-wheel-drive, tail-happy sports compacts. They only make 200 horsepower from their Subaru boxer engine, but that’s a good thing. Like the Abarth, you can use every single horsepower all the time, and get plenty of use out of that clutch pedal as a result.
Yeah, Nissan is still making the 370z. Wild, right? What’s more wild is that you can get a brand new one out of the door for under $35,000. It could be assumed that one of the reasons the 370Z is still cheap is that it doesn’t have anything new in it. The car has barely changed in the decade since its release. The bad news? It still has a dreadfully cheap interior. The good news? It still comes standard with its 332-horsepower 3.7-litre V6 and six-speed manual transmission.
Ford Mustang GT
Starting at $39,790
The new Mustang GT is faster with an automatic transmission. It just is. When equipped with its new 10-speed auto, the 460-horsepower Mustang will hit 100 km/h in around 4 seconds. But it’s still cheaper to get the manual transmission. And we really doubt you’ll be missing a few tenths of a second when you start to feel like Steve McQueen ripping through the gears.
Mazda MX‑5 RF
Starting at $39,900
Sure, the soft top MX-5 is slightly cheaper (and also available with the same 181-horsepower Skyactiv DOHC 16-value four-cylinder engine). But the RF just looks so damn good with its sharp lines and slick roof line and buff haunches that it’s totally worth the extra $6,000. Also you won’t have to constantly park under street lights.
Subaru WRX STI
Starting at $40,295
Buying a WRX STI comes with a lot of baggage. People will wonder why you aren’t wearing a Supreme hoodie. They’ll be amazed to see, when you roll your windows down, that a cloud of vapour doesn’t proceed you. But who cares? This is a 310 horsepower, turbocharged four-door that you can slide and shift through every month of the year. Sure, an F-Type Jaguar might make you look like an adult, but you can’t have a manual in one of those anymore and good luck driving it in January.
Honda Civic Type R
Starting at $41,690
I feel like I can’t stop mentioning the Honda Civic Type R. It somehow manages to come up in every buyer’s guide I write. I think that’s because it’s very good at being many things. It’s a bonkers-looking car, but is shockingly easy to drive and live with. With 306 horsepower and a 5.2 second 0-60 mph time, it’s plenty fast, but never bites your head off. Like the WRX STI, it’s a very juvenile machine with its red seats and chrome shift knob. But it’s got leg room and a rear seat for storing many things. It gets reasonable fuel milage and it’s also buckets of fun to drive.
VW Golf R
Starting at 42,495
The Golf R is for a very specific person. The GTI? That’s a no brainer at a sticker price which is roughly $10,000 cheaper than the top-trim R. However, this top-of-the-trot Golf takes a particular taste to shell out over $42,000 for. Bassically, you have to be one of those “VW people” to buy one. You know, the kind of person who puts a bike rack on their car, even though they don’t own a bike. The idea of a traditional sports coupe seems too thirsty for the Golf R customer, and there’s something admirable about that—if not necessarily relatable.
Chevrolet Camaro SS
Starting at $44,448
While the future of the Camaro maybe in doubt, it’s still a performance bargain and offered with a six-speed manual transmission as standard. Perhaps best about this latest generation of Camaro is that you don’t have to be a simple contrarian— a Pepsi to the Mustang’s Coca Cola— to buy one. The 450-horsepower 6.2-litre LT1 V8 provides a more torque-rich experience than the Mustang’s favourable Coyote 5.0, and the sharper, more aggressive styling is refreshing compared to the somewhat ubiquitous S550.
Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack
Starting at $51,445
I don’t know if any car has changed the name of a trim level more often within what is essentially the same generation than the Dodge Challenger. This model was called the SRT8 upon its introduction. Then it was the SRT 392. Now, Dodge has dropped the SRT moniker from its 6.4-litre, 480-horsepower model and instead opted for R/T Scat Pack. Whatever. It still comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission which means you’ll be able to do plenty of burnouts as the “cool dad” in your neighbourhood.
Porsche 718 Cayman
Starting at $64,400
On paper, the standard Porsche Cayman isn’t great value for money. It only has 300 horsepower. It’s slower to 100 km/h than a Mustang GT. But like manual transmissions themselves, the numbers only tell half the story of the Cayman. Besides presenting you as a person of taste, Porsche’s Active Suspension Management will make you feel like an absolute hero in the twisties. Which is really what you want most with a manual transmission. The more powerful Cayman S is also available with a manual transmission, but will will set you back at least $79,300.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
The ZL1 isn’t just a power upgrade over the SS. It comes with stickier tires, better brakes and added aero to keep you from crashing into a tree. Also yeah, it has a lot more power. Its supercharged 6.2-litre V8 produces 650 horsepower and will rocket you to 100 km/h in roughly 3.5 seconds. Its chief rival, the GT500 is faster. But that car, controversially, isn’t offered with a manual transmission.
Starting at $74,504
If the Porsche Cayman gives you hesitation at its sticker price, than the M2 will be a real head scratcher. With 405 hosepower, it seems pitiful compared to its North American competition. Heck, for a few grand more you could have a full-sized M4. But keep in mind, the M2 Competition goes around the Nurburgring in 7:52.36 min. That’s quicker than old Ferrari 430. So while you might not have the straight line speed of other vehicles in the price category, you’ll absolutely have cornering ability. And then some.
Dodge Challenger Hellcat
Starting at $76,195
And now for something completely different. All that cornering ability? Yeah, forget that. What you want is 717 horsepower, defining supercharger whine, and the arguably meanest badge ever fixed to a car. Ever. It’s wild that the Hellcat feels like yesterday’s news, but let’s not lose perspective here. This is still a car under $100,000 which gets you to 100km/h in 3.9 seconds—roughly what the old Ferrari 430 used to do.
Starting at $76,425
While enthusiasts bemoan the loss of the manual transmission in the GT500, they seem to have forgotten all about the GT350. Which is only available with a manual transmission. Sure it only has a measly 526 horsepower (sarcasm), but it still has the right badges, the right stripes, and the greatest engine note of any car on sale today.
Starting at $78,850
There’s a case to be made that the M4 is the best car you can buy under $100,000. It would certainly be a hard case to argue against, even if on subjectivity and taste. Like the M2, it seems somewhat down on power for its category with only 425 horsepower. However, it accelerates to 100 km/h in 4.1 seconds and is often described in ways such as “incredibly capable” and “sharply refined” by auto journalists. While the competition may be catching up, the M4 is still a gold standard.
Porsche 911 Carrera
Starting at $104,000
Must we describe the merits of a Porsche 911, the auto-journalist’s most beloved darling? It’s the very essence of a sports car and will never, ever, ever look old. Unlike its “Turbo” big brother, the Carrera is still offered with a manual transmission as standard. That alone is a fact worth celebrating about the Porsche 911, and one more reason to save your pennies and buy one instead of a new Corvette.
Porsche 911 GT3
Starting at $163,300
Meet the most expensive Porsche, and if I’m not mistaken, car from a major manufacturer (I’m sure the Internet will be quick to discipline my ignorance if I’m wrong) you can buy with a manual transmission. It has 500 horsepower. It does 0-100 km/h in 3.9 seconds. It’s done the Nurburgring in 7:28:00 — that’s the same time as a Lamborghini Huracan and McLaren MP4-12C. Except those cars don’t have clutch pedals. And will probably run you at least $80,000 more.