Operated with a stick usually mounted on the center console of the car, manual transmission cars offer snappy acceleration and tons of fun behind the wheel. Today, however, the automatic has taken over, and even the best performance cars no longer offer old-school manuals anymore, replacing them with dual-clutch automatic transmissions with paddle shifters. For traditional car enthusiasts who like to get the most out of their car-driving experience, this is a travesty.
And while some manufacturers are still doing their best to keep manual transmissions alive for those enthusiasts who appreciate them more than automatic, the future of the manual transmission is not looking too bright.
So, if you’re looking to join in on the nostalgia and buy a great manual-transmission car while they’re still available and cheap, this is a list for you. We’ll be checking out 10 of the greatest manual transmission cars ever produced, based on how they performed within their specific segments and price points. The following iconic manual transmission cars proudly represent respected manufacturers who played an important role in classic as well as modern car history. Let’s dive into the best manual-transmission cars ever, in no particular order.
10 Honda S2000
The original S2000 wore a 2.0-liter 16-valve DOHC VTEC engine and weighed just 2,750 lbs. On top of being pleasing to the eye, also drove very well.
Thanks to its design, the spectacular six-speed manual gearbox operated amazingly alongside the 2.0-liter engine that could rev up to 9,000 rpm and didn’t deliver maximum torque until 7,500 rpm!
9 Audi R8
The R8 rose into popularity after the first iron man movie in 2008 where Robert Downey Jr drove the 2008 V8 model. The original R8 is still widely considered one of the very best manual transmission sports cars ever made.
The car had a 32-valve 4.2-liter V8 and a 6-speed manual transmission that worked together seamlessly. Some believe that the Audi AWD sports car gave a nod to Ferrari as it featured a similar aluminum gated shifter.
8th Mazda MX-5
When the original MX-5 Miata made its debut, it took gearheads by surprise. Not only was the roadster affordable and light as a feather, but it also drove great, a statement backed by multiple professional drivers and car magazines.
The front mid-engine RWD car came with multiple engine options, the most popular one being the 1.6-liter supercharged DOHC 4-cylinder, as well as 5-speed and 6-speed manual transmission derived from the Mazda Luce.
7 Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0
The final 997-generation model (2011) featured a 4.0-liter flat-six engine and was barely street-legal. The power output was 493 hp at 8,500 rpm, which compared to the regular RS worked much better with tall gear ratios.
Only 600 were made, which skyrocketed their price as now, even in a used condition, they go for more than $450,000 compared to the original MSRP of around $150,000.
6 Ferrari F430
Old Ferraris sure looked great with their wood and leather interiors, but the F430 doesn’t fall that far behind. In fact, it earns a heavy amount of extra points thanks to its amazing gearbox. Being one of the manufacturer’s last vehicles to rock a manual transmission, the F430 was a great choice for both fans of manual and automatic sports cars.
Equipped with a 4.3-liter Ferrari F136 E V8 engine, the F430 was able to output a bit less than 500 hp at 8,500 rpm. As mentioned before, the car featured an aluminum shifter gate which fits in great with the leather trim around it.
5 Caterham Seven
Combine a good manual transmission with a lightweight car, and you get a machine that’s an absolute thrill to drive. The Lotus Seven-inspired car is a super-lightweight sports car designed for the track, but nowadays it is more commonplace as a collector’s item.
Still, the 660cc turbocharged Suzuki engine found in the 170 is enough to provide a great driving experience that is complemented by the fine-tuned gear ratios of the manual transmission.
4 1968 Ford Mustang GT
Not everyone gets to drive this car chasing a Dodge Charger through San Francisco, but that isn’t what you came here for. We are interested in the driving experience that the amazing 1968 Ford Mustang GT offered.
The car came in many iterations, but one of the more powerful options was the 6.4-liter FE V8 engine that delivered 325 hp at 4,800 rpm and worked beautifully alongside the 4-speed manual transmission.
3 Honda Civic Type R
First going into production back in 1997, this car was the third in line to receive the “Type R” badge after NSX and Integra. Something that most people don’t know, however, is that the red color is used as a backdrop on the Honda badge decorating these models to indicate the sports character of the car.
From the start, the Civic Type R was known for its fine-tuned engines and excellent five and six-speed manual transmissions that offered enhanced performance to the otherwise regular Civic.
2 BMW M3 (M4)
The M3 has played an important role in the history of performance cars, and the new M4 gives it a two-door alternative. The best part, however, is that both always came with great manual transmissions and plenty of power on tap.
Having this option may be overlooked by most drivers, but when you compare it with other modern rivals of the M3 and the M4, very few of them offer the ability to shift gears manually.
1 Dodge Challenger
Probably one of the very few cars that look very much like the original, the modern 2022 SRT Hellcat looks just as good as the classic 1970 Dodge Challenger. They may have different engines, but they still have one thing in common, and we aren’t referring to the exterior twice here.
Just like the good old three and four-speed manual, the new 6-speed Tremec manual transmission is beautifully efficient. When it comes to driving a manual, there are very few things that can beat a Challenger!