If you like a manual gearbox, act fast. They’re slowly but surely on the way out. For fossil-fuelled cars, the latest double clutch automatic ‘boxes offer better economy, say the manufacturers, and perhaps even a smoother drive. Electric cars require nothing so unseemly as actual gear-changing. But whatever happened to driver involvement? For the purist and the enthusiast, nothing beats the joy of the manual gearbox, selecting exactly the right ratio for that curving series of bends on a favourite early morning road. For the moment, there’s still plenty of choice at all price levels for those who still enjoy that feeling of control, from nifty hot hatches and open sports cars to three-wheelers and million-pound hyper cars. Pick your favourite from our pick of the 20 best manual transmission cars.
Best manual transmission cars in 2023
Most Astons these days have ZF automatic gearboxes, the better to honour their 21st century GT credentials. You’ll need in excess of a million pounds to secure the latest manual Aston Martin, the Valour, if you can secure one of the 110 that will be made, that is. The six-speed manual shift isn’t an off-the-shelf item either, it’s specially designed to get the best from the 5.2-litre V12 that lurks under the bonnet, and is all part, says the company’s head of engineering, of honouring “driver-pleasing character”. Exactly.
A five-speed gearbox is the key to getting the most out of this, the most basic offering from Caterham, with a three-cylinder 660cc Suzuki engine to get the best out of your Sunday morning blast. Each Caterham is basically an updated Lotus Seven as first released in 1957. Anything other than a manual shift would undermine the gloriously analogue Caterham experience which is the very epitome of Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s philosophy of “simplify, then add lightness”.
Looking for the lightest supercar gearbox in the world? Of course you are. Motorsport specialists Xtrac have created a six-speed manual ‘box especially for this latest from the pen of design purist Gordon Murray, responsible for championship-winning Formula One machinery and the McLaren F1 road car. The T.33 Spider is all about an immersive driving experience and automatic transmission just wouldn’t fit that bill. Particularly when there’s the glory of a bespoke Cosworth V12 just behind you to play with.
Type R treatment turns an everyday hatchback into a snarling beast, albeit one that can still grudgingly do the school run. Where many manufacturers have added sequential automatic gearboxes to their performance models, Honda believe that a true enthusiast needs a traditional gear stick. The Honda Type R is fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox, all the better to enjoy the 320 bhp twin turbo four cylinder engine. Want an automatic Honda? Then - the company appears to suggest - Type R purity is not for you.
Latest version of Toyota’s little rear-wheel drive coupé has been such a success that Toyota’s order books are just about full. And no wonder: the idea is to produce big thrills at low speeds, and that’s best achieved by specifying the six-speed manual transmission version - when Toyota decide they can take orders again that is - rather than the no-doubt excellent but sense-numbing automatic. All that fun and Toyota’s legendary reliability too.
An oddity and a most welcome one, too. Place your orders now for this neatly-designed small wonder from start-up Wells Motor Cars, whose founder Richard Wells couldn’t find the ideal British sports car so decided to build his own. Naturally, a six-speed manual gearbox is an integral part of the appeal, along with an immaculately hand-built ethos and the idea, as Wells puts it, that “the principle is pleasure”. No automatic gearbox could approach that, surely?
Delightful little hot hatch carrying the blue badge naturally has to have a manual gearbox the better to attack the drive back from the supermarket. Latest ST has a six-speed ‘box mated to its 197 bhp engine which, correctly stirred, takes you to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and to a top speed of 144 mph. Absolutely all that you need in a speedy hatch and nothing more. Just make sure the eggs are properly packed before you engage third gear around that challenging curve on the way home.
Little mid-engined Lotus has more than just a hint of Ferrari about it, and there’s much to admire about that cheekiness. Unlike the company’s bulbous Eletre SUV, the Emira is constructed in Norfolk, where Lotus has its headquarters. You could specify yours with a six-speed automatic but we’d suggest that’s hardly in the spirit of the company that built the Elan and won multiple Formula One world championships. Choose the six-speed manual and relish every gear change.
Aimed at those who like their manual gearbox attached to something a little unusual, the Super 3 is the most eccentric of all that this most traditional of British car makers produces. Referencing a design that dates from 1909, Morgan’s rapid little three-wheeler puts all of its drive through the single rear wheel, with the help of a Mazda-derived close-ratio five speed manual gearbox. There’s no roof of any sort - “if it rains, you get wet” noted one road tester - but you’ll be having too much fun to notice.
Open-top Japanese wonder reinvented the idea of the small sports car, modelled on the success of British legends such as the MGB, which wowed enthusiasts when introduced in the 1960s. Latest MX-5 is a far more sophisticated animal than ever the MG could dream of being, but Mazda suggest that a six-speed manual is all that you need and we’d fervently agree. Easily the best way into convertible life, and perhaps the car that MG were destined to build, if only the vision had been there.
Eager little Suzuki is a budget way into the world of fun-to-own manual transmission daily drivers. There’s all the bulletproof reliability that you’d expect from this Japanese manufacturer with the bolt-on of performance and the appeal of the close-ratio six-speed stick shift. It’s pretty sharp on the road, with a 130 mph top speed and, given you’re nifty with the gear stick, 60 mph in just nine seconds. Quietly hilarious.
Resolutely analogue British supercar specialists Noble are uncompromising about everything they produce. Latest is the M500, with jaw-dropping looks and a Ford-sourced mid-mounted V6. Naturally, there’s little in the way of driver aids, and that 506 bhp engine drives through a Graziano six-speed manual gearbox, which Audi once offered in its R8 supercar. There’s an open gate just like those that Ferrari used to feature on its cars, the better to get exactly the right shift.
What else could there be for the rip-snorting, rally-bred version of Toyota’s little Yaris hatchback than a manual gearbox? This is after all one of the ultimate driver’s cars on sale today, and Toyota have naturally fitted a six-speed manual box, the better to control the four wheel-drive chassis that's unique to the GR Yaris and to feed the power from the 257 bhp three-cylinder engine onto the road. Satisfaction guaranteed.
If you’d like a Lotus 7-inspired machine that isn’t a Caterham, turn to Westfield in the Midlands. There’s nothing resembling an automatic gearbox here, just an excellent Mazda-derived five-speed manual. It’s all part of the distinctly old-school feel of the Westfield Sport 250 which uses a Ford 2-litre engine to great performance effect but with few of the frills - the interior only just qualifies for that word - that modern owners might expect. That’s all part of the appeal, obviously.
You’ll have to act quickly to get the cheapest - and we’d argue best - current GTi, the basic manual transmission model, because new emissions rules might mean it’s dropped for 2024. The forerunner of all hot hatches was first launched in 1975 with a close-ratio four-speed ‘box controlled by a gearstick famously topped by a mock golf ball. The latest six-speed manual is loved by owners and road testers alike so we’d advise ordering yours now, in red perhaps?