So you drive stick? That’s pretty awesome! It’s becoming an increasingly rare skill. Fortunately for us who do drive stick, that rarity means there are a lot of choice cars out there on the market that a lot of buyers just can’t drive. That means you may be able to save a few bucks buying a manual transmission car—although that won’t always be the case.
So what are some of the best manual transmission used cars you can buy? The obvious choice is a sports car of some type, which can mean anything from an early “NA” Mazda Miata, ranging from 1990-1997 to the just-recently replaced “NC”, or third-generation, Miata, built from 2006-2015, or any of the years between. All Miatas are widely regarded as having excellent stick shift mechanisms, so you’ll get that rewarding manual driving experience you’re after. For that matter, you might want a Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ, lightly used—both were sold with manual transmissions. Where the Miatas are all convertibles (or retractable hardtops), the FR-S and BRZ are coupes, which can translate to greater quietness, comfort, and, if you street park your car frequently, greater security as well as superior protection against the elements.
For those with slightly deeper pockets, a stick-shift sports car could also mean a Porsche 911. Don’t expect to save a bundle on a manual 911, because 911s are basically collector cars—aside, perhaps, from the 996 and 997 generations (1997-2012), although even specific models even within those two most-recent generations are beginning to see their price tags trend back upward. The current 911 generation is the 991 series, sold from 2012-present, offers a slick seven-speed manual transmission, if you should be hankering for an interesting angle on your next stick.
If you’re after a used seven-speed manual, but don’t want to spend Porsche money, you’re in luck: Chevrolet has been selling a seven-speed manual in the new seventh-generation Corvette Stingray since the 2014 model year—and the Corvette cost about half the price of the 911 when it was new, so you’ll get a much better deal on this massively impressive piece of American engineering.
On the other hand, if numerical superiority isn’t your primary concern, but you still don’t want to spend 911 money, perhaps the Porsche Cayman or Boxster are your best bets. The only real difference between the two is the Boxster’s convertible top versus the Cayman’s fixed metal roof. If you prefer security and quietness in the shade, the Cayman is your obvious pick. For those who crave open-top motoring, listening to a brilliant Porsche flat-six engine, rowing through the gears on a sunny summer mountain morning, well, the Boxster is definitely your ticket—and perhaps the best bang-for-the-buck in terms of outright enjoyment available at any price.
automotive freelance journalist