Ironic, isn’t it, that in a world where home beer brewing and meat curing abound, the opportunity to rope your own gears and dance across three pedals in a sports car now seems so damned rare an experience?
To give you an idea of how badly the manual transmission is waning, Ferrari and Lamborghini no longer offer standard transmissions in their vehicles, instead opting for Formula 1-style paddle shifters. BMW, the once and present king of manual-transmission cars, recently announced that their Motorsport cars will soon no longer offer stick shifts. It’s like Don Draper without lung rockets, only worse.
Sure, paddle shifters, combined with the magic of launch control and dual clutch automatic transmissions, swap gears faster than any manual can, but the poetic synchronicity of man and machine feels lost, as does the level of skill in heel-and-toeing and the perfectly executed downshift.
As an homage to what’s left in the car industry, we give you the five best manual transmission cars left on the planet.
Porsche Cayman GT4
If you think the legendary 911 and its numerous permutations are the only dedicated driver’s cars in the Stuttgart stable, then you’re missing out on a car that’s easier to drive hard than any of ‘em. The ultimate version of the Cayman is the GT4, and its engine is mounted in front of the rear axle (unlike the 911s), giving it better balance and tractability. The big rear wing and the 385 horses snorting from the potent flat-six engine give it serious track chops, and it’s all managed with the only transmission available: a seamless shifting six-speed manual. ($84,600)
BMW’s smallest Motorsport beast is also perhaps its most driver-centric. BMW keeps the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six, 365-horsepower M2’s weight down to a more than manageable 3,415 pounds, and the uber-stiff structure equates to minimal body roll when you take it through the twisties. The seven-speed dual clutch gets a magical six-speed manual transmission that delivers notchy shifting pleasures thanks to short throws and rev-matching. ($52,695)
Chevrolet Corvette Z06
There isn’t a more powerful, more capable supercar available for this price anywhere on Earth. American made with a resilient seven-speed manual transmission to command the 650 horses from its supercharged V8 mill, the Z06 takes the already scintillating Corvette Stingray and transforms it into a bionic animal capable of devouring 60 mph in 3.0 seconds flat — as fast as a $270,000 Ferrari 488 GTB (which isn’t available in a stick-shift dress). ($80,395)
Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R
The Ford Mustang has come a long way over the past half century, and its latest iteration is a steed from the fifth circle of Hell. The GT350R is infused with a 5.2-liter V8 good for more than 500 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, super-light carbon-fiber wheels and adaptive Magneride suspension. Sure, the track-focused Mustang is otherworldly in its performance, but lets you handle the shifting with the robust TREMEC six-speed manual transmission, keeping it real in the saddle for the lucky 37 customers who will get their hands on one. ($61,295)
Aston Martin Vantage GT
Really? A bespoke British sport-luxury car with a stick shift? Surely, it’s like Beef Wellington with a side of tater tots. But then you’d be wrong, because the Vantage GT’s six-speed manual transmission, along with the 4.7-liter V8’s 430 horses and 361 lb-ft of torque, makes this the most focused version of the longstanding Vantage — a boon to the drivers who want both flair and fling-ability. ($106,125)