In this highly connected and digitized world where scores of products can be automated to make your life that much easier, there’s a certain old-school charm to the manual transmission. “Rowing your own” provides a deeper connection to the automobile experience (if you’re into that sort of thing like we are) and allows for you to concentrate more on the task at hand of driving, rather than who’s sending that text about getting a mocha latte later. Whether you’re buying your first car or your tenth, purchasing a car equipped with a stick shift can transform your driving experience for the better. Take a ride with us as we explore the many options: some are obscure and you might not have known existed; while some arguably shouldn’t be equipped with anything but a manual. With less interest in manually equipped vehicles (automotive manufacturers just aren’t making them anymore in some cases), the time to get yourself a fun-having stick shift is now!
The Toyota Camry is a great car either for commuting or general transportation, and the fact that up until 2011 you could get the Camry equipped with a 6-speed manual makes it a great candidate for opting for the do-it-yourself lifestyle. And even though the base models—like the LE—will be the only trim models available with the option, there are still plenty of accouterments to learn the basics on. And since it’s usually a lower-tiered model, you won’t have to spend a higher than expected resale value. You can find a nicely equipped 2007 model year LE for around $10k used on the second-hand market.
A super funky, almost retro-inspired design, the Nissan Cube isn’t going to get you to work the fastest, or woo you with incredible new technology, or inspire you to name your first born after it. However, the Cube is great for being unique and packing quite a bit of gear into that boxy frame. It’s also a great car to learn how to drive with because of an engine that while underpowered, is very capable and won’t leave you worrying about having a kid behind the wheel. The Cube is almost like living out a 19th century Japanese tourism trip in that it’s simplicity and ease of use is sublime
Think of the Veloster as the ‘sports car’ of the bunch, because frankly, it looks the most like a sports car. The Veloster is a three-door coupe (there’s a tiny door behind the passenger’s) with bulging fenders, a streamlined roof, somewhat aggressive styling, plenty of utility, and driving dynamics perfect for a budding automotive enthusiast. The rear center exhaust defines the sporty natury and seating for four is perfect for showing off the prowess of your fine motor skills when it comes to slickly changing gear.
If you have a family that needs a little bit of utility but doesn’t want to sacrifice the fun stick, take a look at the BMW X3, which offers plenty of storage space and also all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive makes the X3 an excellent choice if you would rather drive yourself, and shift yourself, in any condition from Malibu sand to Tahoe snow. In fact, when BMW stopped making the manual transmission available in the X3 in 2010, it was the only vehicle in its class to offer one. This was before Porsche’s Macan and sets itself apart, even presently, as almost all SUVs come with automatic transmissions.
Only the base model of the Jeep Patriot in four-wheel drive configuration is available with a 5-speed manual, but that’s enough of a choice to make us want the very capable “Trail Rated” automobile attractive. Even though the Patriot is a spartan SUV with a simplistic interior and basic controls, it makes taking it off-road that much more of an adventure. Saddle up with three of your friends, grab some supplies, and head to the wilderness in search of America’s treasures. Pro tip: just make sure you have at least one other passenger who can drive a stick!
If you’re looking for something that is environmentally conscious, but isn’t a dime-a-dozen Toyota Prius, check out the Chevrolet Cruze Eco. With up to 39 mpg on the highway, you can still get that lovin’ feeling from a manual, but without the gas mileage penalties. If you’re a hypermiling son-of-a-gun, you can use the manual to your advantage to get even more MPGs out of the Cruze by using neutral while coasting down hills, similar to what many high-end luxury cars with automatics do currently. See? Manuals aren’t so antiquated after all.
Somewhat similar to the design profile of the Veloster, but with more Swedish overtones, the Volvo C30 R Design is a more understated booster rocket. With up to 250 horsepower courtesy of a unique sounding turbocharged inline 5-cylinder motor, manually shifting gears is met with snarling feedback thanks to the go-fast pedal and the Volvo’s willingness to power through turns. If you like wearing a mock turtleneck and staying under the radar, the Volvo C30 fits the bill while still making sure your having fun behind the wheel.
The Mazda Mazdaspeed 6 (kind of a silly name) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Though the Mazdaspeed 6 was only produced from 2006-2007, it’s worth tracking down for its sheer brute force. A turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder pumps out an impressive 274 horsepower, which can get it to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. And when you’re not goosing the throttle, the little 4-cylinder will sip fuel with the best of them, making higher mile runs with ease. If you like to have your cars slip under the radar, this Mazda does it with gusto.
If you didn’t know, Ford’s been making some pretty great subcompacts for the past few years, especially over in Europe where the majority of people can get by with a smaller vehicle. Enter the Fiesta, a small compact taken from Ford’s European coworkers and evolved into an American go-getter. The 120 horsepower of the stock version might not get your motor revved but the 197 horsepower of the ST is a quick little bugger. Great styling and decent fuel economy make the Fiesta a car you shouldn’t look past.
Remember when Marty McFly was racing Flea in Back to the Future III and he shifted into reverse instead of first gear and prevented a catastrophe? As awesome as that scene was, the reason he was able to do that sweet shifting action was because of a manual transmission! Now we’re not condoning street racing with Flea, but you can have the same sort of action with a Toyota Tacoma. Only you can haul bundles of hay instead of butt. Reliable, capable, and equipped with a manual, the Tacoma is a truck to have fun with.
Listen, all Buicks don’t have to be bad. The Verano Turbo is one of those times when having a Buick can be fun and on the cusp of luxuriousness. In this day and age it’s extremely surprising that Buick offered a third pedal for its Verano Turbo but apparently people asked for it and you can reap the benefits. A 250 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder provides boost and the suspension will be supple enough to even impress the parents. Go ahead, make their day!
Founder and a car nut. Born and raised from Detroit, Michigan. Val managed 12 dealerships prior to founding Instamotor.