It’s no surprise, in the world of modern enthusiast cars, that manual transmissions are few and far between. However, despite their ever-decreasing popularity and availability, there’s a group of enthusiasts who believe manual transmissions are the only option if you want a truly engaging and fun sports car experience.
I will admit, though, that there are plenty of cars for sale today that are loads of fun, even with only two pedals. But the vast majority of those cars would be even more fun if you were rowing your own gears! Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to say that all cars should be available with manual transmissions.
Some cars are better suited for automatics: take the McLaren Senna for example. A car like this is simply too quick to be worrying about shifting gears, let alone taking your hands off the wheel right before corner entry to rip off a downshift. Other cars would certainly be better with manual transmissions, but still aren’t offered with them. Those are the cars we’ll be talking about today.
Why manuals are going away
Before we start dreaming about the cars we wish we could shift ourselves, let’s first take a moment to understand why some cars don’t have manual transmissions. There are two primary reasons for which automakers are ditching manuals in favor of autos: decreased demand for manuals, and a desire to make cars as fast as they can possibly be.
In the vast majority of cases, the former of the two options is the culprit. Even though many enthusiasts often clamor for manual transmissions, the truth is that a large majority of car buyers don’t care for them, and would get the automatic even if the manual were available (for most cars). That’s why automakers simply can’t justify the cost of developing and implementing manual transmissions.
The other reason contributing to the decrease in popularity of the manual is that automatics are just faster. Back in the “good old days” of supercars, everything was available with a manual transmission. Lamborghinis from the Countach to the Murcielago—both of which were top tier supercars in their days—were available with manual transmissions. This was because—at least in the case of the Countach (and sort of in the Murcielago’s era)—automatics at the time were sluggish and lazy, and manuals were actually the quicker-shifting option.
Speed is the thing
Now however, Lamborghini doesn’t offer a manual transmission, and neither does any other supercar manufacturer. Why? Because modern automatics (and dual clutches, etc.) have surpassed the ability of even the best and quickest manual transmission drivers. Cars of this echelon are so hyper-focused on lap times and being faster than everyone else that they don’t care if you want to row your own gears. They just want to be able to say that their car is faster than the other guys’, and they can’t do that with a 3-pedal configuration.
So, that’s why many cars today aren’t offered with a manual transmission. However, some cars don’t quite fit into either of these categories. There are cars for sale today that, I presume, would have a reasonably high manual take rate, so the cost could be justified. They’re also not full-fledged supercars, so being as fast as possible isn’t the only concern. These are the cars that perplex car enthusiasts: why in the world aren’t they available with manuals! Let’s talk about them.
The new Supra is a fantastic car, no matter how you slice it. It looks good, it sounds good, it drives well, and it has an absolutely incredible engine with BMW’s B58 straight-6 turbo humming away under the hood.
However, it’s only available with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The ZF-sourced 8-speed in the Supra is a great automatic, but a car like the Supra is just begging for a manual. Considering the Supra’s target market, being a relatively affordable sports car, I do think the take rate for a manual would be high if it were offered.
Additionally, a manual transmission compatible with the Supra’s B58 already exists; BMW has offered such a configuration in some of their cars. While some tweaks may be needed to make the transmission fit and/or work in the Supra, I think the cost to get a manual Supra in the hands of consumers would be relatively low, which leaves me absolutely puzzled as to why Toyota doesn’t offer it. The best we can do is hope that it will become available in the future—and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if it did, considering how widespread and outspoken the demand for it has been.
Corvettes, from the first generation all the way up through the recent C7 iteration, have always been available with manual transmissions. That’s why many people were shocked and sorely disappointed when the C8 was released with a dual-clutch only. While the dual-clutch is certainly quick, we can only imagine how much fun the mid-engined C8 would be with a stick.
Additionally, Corvette would join the extremely exclusive and sparsely populated group of modern mid-engine cars available with manual transmissions. There are some GM patents that hint at the possibility of a manual C8, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up for this one, even if I do think that people would buy it.
Ford Mustang GT500
The Mustang, much like the Corvette, has been a long supporter of manual transmissions. And while that’s still largely true, with most Mustang trims being available with manuals, we can’t help but be disappointed that the top dog GT500, with a monstrous 760hp, is dual-clutch only. Some will argue that 760hp is just too much to wrestle with a clutch pedal, but I’d disagree: I think the GT500 would be an absolute blast with a stick, not to mention the fact that a proper muscle car has three pedals anyway.
Audi’s entry-level “S” car, the small but feisty S3, is a properly fun little machine. It’s the right size, it has a torquey little four cylinder turbo, and handsome styling. However, it’s only available with Audi’s 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. This is particularly surprising because the Golf R—with which the S3 shares a platform and engine—is offered with a manual transmission. Knowing that a manual would bolt right into an S3 makes it all the more frustrating to know that it’s automatic only.
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera
Only a few years ago, Aston Martin promised that they would be the last company to offer manual transmission sports cars. They stood up for the manual and promised to keep it alive for as long as they could. Then they got a new CEO, who totally reneged on that promise, and immediately began phasing stick shifts out of the Aston Martin lineup.
This is why many enthusiasts, myself included, are upset to see that the DBS Superleggera, the sporty Aston, is automatic only. With its 5.2L V12, the DBS would surely be a joy to drive with a stick shift, but sadly, we’ll never know the experience.
While this list is far from all-inclusive, as there are quite a bunch of cars that we’d like to see with manual transmissions, it does a good job of representing just how much we’re missing out on. That said, at least for some of these cars, there is hope that a manual may come in the future, so at this point, the best we can do is hope.
Oh, and above all else, if you’re shopping for a new car that does have a manual available: GET THE MANUAL. That’s the best way to show automakers that we still want them—if we keep buying them, they’ll keep making them!