Surprising cars that were offered in a manual

If you keep up with the blog here at TRED.com, you already know that we have a special affinity for manual transmissions, just like a lot of car enthusiasts out there. They might be slower than the advanced automatic transmissions in modern cars, but they’re arguably more enjoyable, more engaging, and they just make driving more fun.

This is especially true when that clutch pedal is attached to a car that probably shouldn’t have one in the first place. Let me explain: we all expect to see manual transmissions in cars like the Chevy Camaro, Ford Mustang, BMW M3, and the VW GTI. These are cars with sport in their DNA, designed for enthusiasts.

However, manual transmissions have not always been exclusive to sports cars like they mostly are today (at least in the U.S.). In years past, plenty of economy cars, or other “regular” cars were available, or even came standard, with manual transmissions. This too isn’t that out of the ordinary. After all, the manual transmission was relatively popular up until the late 1980s.

But there’s an in-between class of cars that you just wouldn’t expect to have manual transmissions: think minivans, full-size trucks, and luxury SUVs. Some cars that fall into these categories, and others, actually were available with manual transmissions, and those are the cars we’re going to talk about today. So with that in mind, let’s go over some of the cars that you’d least expect to be available with manual transmissions.

Porsche Cayenne

The Cayenne was Porsche’s first foray into the SUV market. Launched in the early 2000s, it was designed to bring more people to the Porsche brand. It was for those who either didn’t want, or couldn’t justify the purchase of Porsche’s sports cars. So they made the Cayenne. Although controversial when it launched, the Cayenne is now a well-liked and well-respected car that competes mightily in the luxury SUV market.

However, you might be surprised to learn that the Cayenne was available with a manual transmission up until fairly recently. The first manual transmission Cayenne came in 2004, and the only engine option available with three pedals was the base model, which made a measly 240hp from a lump of a V6.

However, the GTS model came out in 2008, sporting an angry 400hp V8, some athletic-looking body work, big wheels, and yes… a manual transmission. That’s right: for a brief time between 2008 and 2010, you could have an AWD, V8, manual transmission Porsche SUV. The shift-it-yourself GTS was discontinued pretty quickly, but the manual Cayenne lived on all the way through 2013 with various different trim-levels and engine options. Porsche, if you’re reading this—and I know that you are—please offer a manual V8 Cayenne again. Please…? 

Toyota Previa

If you don’t already know about the Toyota Previa, allow me to introduce you: the Toyota Previa was a mid-engine, RWD Japanese car with wedge-shaped, aerodynamic exterior styling from the 1990s. Sounds great, right? The perfect fit for a manual transmission! Well… it was a minivan, but then, that makes it even cooler!

The Toyota Previa had about as large of an enthusiast following as a minivan possibly could have, and that’s because of what I said about it above. It really was a mid-engined, RWD, manual transmission minivan (the engine was between/underneath the front seats to accommodate the egg-shaped design, if you’re wondering). It hardly had enough horsepower to move out of its own way, let alone up a highway on ramp. It was weird, and that’s what makes it cool. The Previa was also available with a supercharged engine, boosting power output to a mighty 170hp, but that herculean powerplant was only available with an automatic.

So even with the more powerful engine, the Previa can hardly outpace a golf cart down a straight-away—so you might as well get the manual, even if it does have less horsepower. 

BMW X3/X5

In recent years, BMW has garnered a reputation for being one of the last holdouts for the manual transmission. The G80 M3 and G82 M4, the most recent iterations of the two cars, are the only cars in their class still offered with 3 pedals (at least they were until Cadillac came out with the recent Blackwing models). This should come as no surprise, as BMWs—marketed as the ultimate driving machine—had manuals available in most of their lineup until very recently.

However, many people are surprised to learn that this included even their SUVs, the X3 and X5. The first generations of both models were available with manual transmissions, and if you sprang for the V8 in the X5, you could have the same winning combo of the Cayenne GTS: a V8, manual transmission SUV. While the manual SUVs were killed off by BMW around 2010, you can still find used X3s and X5s with manuals if you look hard enough. 

Dodge Ram Pickup

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to find a full-size pickup available with a manual transmission. Now, however, all full-size pickups come with automatic transmissions—at least in the U.S. But just a few years ago, in 2018, that wasn’t the case. Dodge offered a manual transmission in Ram trucks all the way through 2018.

To me, and probably to you too, it seems a bit ridiculous to be rowing your own gears in a full-size pickup truck. After all, pickups—especially modern ones—are massive things to move around. And more recently, they’re either full-blown luxury vehicles or work vehicles, neither of which seem to need a manual transmission. However, Dodge disagreed, offering what they touted as a “class exclusive” manual transmission up until surprisingly recently. 

Buick Regal

Since its inception, Buick has developed a reputation for catering almost exclusively to older folks who have absolutely zero desire to do anything remotely sporting in their vehicles. They’re basic, relatively comfortable American cars that are driven leisurely and with the turn signals left on. Because of this, they’re one of the brands you’d least expect to offer manual transmissions, especially on modern cars.

Buick did somewhat recently offer a manual transmission in their Regal sedan. In the early 2010s, the Buick Regal was offered with a manual transmission, and that transmission was even available on the higher-up GS trim, which had a decently potent 255hp. So, the next time you see a 2012 Buick Regal in the bingo hall parking lot, take a peek inside, and you might be surprised to see a manual transmission gear lever. 

Final Thoughts

This list is as suitable as any to demonstrate the true meaning of the old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover. Just because it’s a modern Porsche luxury SUV or full-size pickup, don’t assume that it has a torque converter.

Additionally, this list can serve as a starting point for buyers who are in the market for truly weird vehicles. There are the traditionally weird vehicles—like the Plymouth Prowler and Chevy SSR—and then there’s the mid-engine, RWD, manual transmission minivan. If you want something that’s truly odd, you know which one to pick. 

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