Kyle Fortune is a freelance motoring journalist who has written for a host of newspapers, magazines and websites including Motor1.com, Car Magazine and the Daily Telegraph.
Aston Martin has just dropped a seven-speed manual into the Vantage, which we’ve driven here. All of which raises the old manual or auto question. Real driver or not? Yeah, yeah, we’ve all got an opinion on it, and none of us are wrong, really…
Anyway, if you’re on the right side of the argument and like three pedals and a stick, then the choices are becoming increasingly limited, at least among sports and performance cars. So we've singled out six of the best cars currently available with a manual transmission – go buy them while you still can.
Porsche 911 GT3
Whether you like your motorsport department built 911 with wings in standard GT3 guise, or denuded Touring, you can have it with a six-speed manual transmission instead of a PDK seven-speed paddle-shifter. And. You. Should.
Indeed, go for that Touring and you don’t get the choice, it’s only offered with three pedals and that stick. It’s among the finest manual transmissions out there, too, Porsche briefly denying it to customers, before adding it back to the line-up when it realised it had made a mistake.
Yes, you can have a standard 911 as a manual, too, but it’s the 7-speed transmission, which is good, while the GT3’s one is great. Really great.
If we’re going back to basics then we might as well go all the way. The Caterham 7 hails from another era, and that means it’s only ever been available with a manual transmission (and, yes, we know some sequential transmission Caterhams have been fitted with paddles).
Driving doesn’t get much purer than a 7, and a lot of that is to do with extracting the best from it, and using the quick, short-shifting manual is a massive part of that. You’ll need tiny feet to do so, as the pedal box is tighter than a mouse’s front door, but if you’re a deft-footed, quick-wristed driver then the Caterham is, and always has been, driving nirvana.
Renault Megane RS
We’ve picked the Renault here to represent the hot-hatch fraternity, even if there are others – we’re looking at you Civic Type R – which have every right to stand alongside it.
They’re dwindling in numbers, too: the Golf R is now DSG only (its Leon Cupra and Audi S3/RS3 cousins are also paddle-only) – it seems even hot-hatch drivers have lazy left legs these days.
But with them all getting ever more powerful, and crazy fast as a result, a manual is a good thing, if only because it’ll slow you down a bit. That, and you’ll have more fun, we promise you. If the Megane is too big, then head to Ford for a Fiesta ST.
Ford Mustang GT
A big ol’ V8, a stick and rear-wheel drive makes for the greatest Mustang fun. The American Ford performance icon is best enjoyed in its simplest form.
It’s an absolute anachronism these days, and it’s all the better for it. The Mustang demands all of your attention, all of the time. It’s a hilarious machine, the weighty-shifting manual making do with six ratios to the automatic’s silly ten (yes, really).
The V8’s 450hp is plenty enough to unstick those rear tyres, something Ford actively encourages with its Line Lock function within the track apps. Obviously, that’s track-only behaviour, but hell, the Mustang’s fun everywhere, and all the better with a stick.
Porsche Cayman GT4/718 Spyder
Another Porsche? Yes, and we’re unapologetic, because the GT4 and its open Spyder relation come with one of the, if not the, finest shifting six-speed manual gearboxes you could ever wish to have.
Gloriously driver-focussed, the GT4/Spyder are both a real antidote to the many mode performance cars today, being about as simple as they come. Mating a mid-mounted, 4.0-litre 420hp naturally-aspirated flat-six to a beautifully weighted, crisp shifting six speed manual (too long ratios or not) makes for one of the best driving cars money can buy. Jeez, even the steering wheel is round – properly old school. There’ll be a PDK next year sometime, but just don’t, you’ll absolutely ruin it if you do…
Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ
Yes, it’s the ultimate ‘motoring journo’ car, insomuch as we all rave about them and then buy MX-5s instead, but the Toyobaru is such a fun, balanced little thing that’s at its best when it’s got the six-speed manual.
It’s a coupe, too, which, this being my list, sees it winning over that omnipresent Mazda MX-5. That, and simply, because it’s just more fun.
The flat-four is famously a bit lacking, which means it needs working hard, while grip’s not too high either. All of which means you can be tearing up and down the light, easy six-speed manual without generating troubling speed, yet still having a real laugh. Which is why we love them.