The manual gearbox has become a dying breed in the last decade. Not long ago, almost every performance car had to have a manual gearbox, but times have changed, and car manufacturers have replaced the good old manual with automatics. Even so, there are still a couple of cars that still offer a manual transmission.
The Mazda MX-5
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the most recognizable cars ever made. Mazda is the only big car company that still builds an affordable lightweight roadster, in fact, they even build sports cars for other companies –the Fiat 124. The MX-5 is truly enjoyable car, not just at its price point. With its playful chassis, cute styling and the surprisingly high-revving engine, it really is a fun car to drive.
But above all, the gearbox is what makes this car so special. It comes with a manual only –quite rare these days- and changing gears is pure joy. The gearbox is slick, precise and not too heavy. The price is not bad either, brand new models cost less than 25.000€ and it is known for its cheap maintenance and great reliability. You simply cannot go wrong with an MX-5.
The Honda Civic Type R
The Honda Civic Type R is one of the greatest hot hatches ever made. Many car specialists consider it as being the best new hot hatch. The Civic Type R’s handling is at the top of the class. There are hardly any hot hatches which manage to be on its level of grip, precision, composure and thrill. It is also incredibly fast, thanks to its 320hp engine, the transmission always being the biggest plus.
The Civic Type R is wisely known for its excellent manual gearbox. The feel the driver gets when changing gears is common only on supercars or exotic cars. Honda has always made a truly brilliant gearbox for the Type R, the transmission always being the biggest plus when buying a Type R. But this latest generation is also comfortable and practical, and it has a nice interior… almost everything about it is good. If you want a sports car with a big boot and loads of legroom, this is the car for you.
The BMW M2 Competition
The BMW M2 Competition is considered to be the best car the BMW's M division currently makes. It is the smallest car from the BMW M department, but it is also the lightest and the most affordable. It packs 440hp from a twin-turbocharged straight-six engine taken from the M3, and in addition to its wonderfully sorted chassis, the M2 is one of the best cars to drive on the new car market.
There are 2 transmission options, a dual-clutch automatic or a 6-speed manual. When the car is specced with the manual, nothing can stop me from calling it one of the best new cars money can buy. It is a real cracker, being lovely in almost every single aspect, from the infotainment system to its build quality. In fact, BMW loves it so much, they will offer an M2 CS –same as the E46 M3. It is far from being cheap, but for what you pay, you really get “the ultimate driving machine”.
The Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang is an iconic pony car born in the early 60s. It has always been very quick on the straight line, thanks to its powerful engines, but this latest generation can also take a corner. It has fully independent rear suspension and adaptive dampers, so it is far from being a basic 2-door coupe with a torsion beam setup. It actually handles well, and there are 2 engine options, one of which is a 5.0l V8 with 460hp, so it is not slow.
Both engines can be mated through a 10-speed automatic from the F-150, and it actually is a great gearbox, but there is also the option of a 6-speed manual. It is a lovely gearbox, heavy feeling, slick and precise, and it really fits in with this car’s character. Don’t expect it to have a posh interior or usable rear seats, it isn’t a luxury car, but for its price it offers a lot more performance for the money., especially noise.
The Alfa Romeo Giulia
The Alfa Romeo Giulia is one of the most fun to drive saloons you can buy. The Giulia competes against the BMW 3-series, but while the BMW beats the Giulia in terms of technology and interior materials, the Alfa is actually the better car in other ways. It looks great, it handles really well -and probably the best in its class -and it can easily put a smile on the driver’s face, even if it isn’t the Quadrifoglio high-performance version with over 500hp.
In 2019, the Alfa Giulia is one of the only cars that still come with a manual gearbox, at least as an option. In US, BMW have completely ditched the manual, and in Europe, it will only be found on the base diesels. The Giulia’s gearbox is also a lot nicer to use, and it wasn’t designed to make the car economical, instead it was made with excitement in the engineers’ heads. It is a great all-rounder, it is comfy, quiet, spacious, fast enough, a beautiful interior and it is fun to drive. It may not be the best in class, but it isn’t far off, and it is way cooler to own an Alfa than an Audi.
The Jaguar F-type
The Jaguar F-type is a 2-door sports car. Everybody loves its styling, despite being over 6 years old, the chassis is lovely as well, and the engines are awesome. Ignore the base 4-cylinder, because the supercharged V6 is one of the best sounding 6-cylinder engines ever made, and the supercharged V8 is one of the best sounding V8s ever made.
It is a great car, very easy to love. But there is something which makes it even better: The gearbox. Most cars are automatic, but Jag actually offers a 6-speed manual. Despite its greatness, Jag said that the manual F-types are selling very poorly, so even if you are looking for one on the used market, good luck with finding one. It is a shame that Porsche sells a lot more Caymans, when the F-type is so good and even better. Plus, cool people drive Jags… that is a fact.
The Aston Martin Vantage
The Aston Martin Vantage is one of the best exotic sports cars right now. The performance, chassis and noise are absolutely stunning, and personally love its styling and shape. They come with an AMG engine, to be cheaper, so the money saved from the engine was invested in the chassis. Good idea. It competes against the Porsche 911, so it must have been good.The new Vantage is closer than ever to a 911, in terms of handling, comfort, performance and quality, but Aston decided to make the Vantage a little bit different.
At launch, the Vantage could only be specced with a dual-clutch transmission, but now, Aston has recently unveiled the AMR version -showed in the pictures- and it will come with the option of a 7-speed manual gearbox. That is cool, and considering Aston's history with manuals, it is going to be a great one. Yes, the interior doesn't look that special, but you buy a car like this for its looks, performance and thrill, all of which being offered by the Vantage.
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