Sales of cars featuring automatic transmissions are soaring. And for good reason: they make shifting gears less cumbersome and driving simpler. However, there are still drivers out there looking to extract the most out of their driving experience. And having complete control and autonomy over gear shifts makes the ride both more engaging and more enjoyable.
Contrary to popular belief, a manual transmission car can often deliver higher performance and better fuel economy than its automatic counterpart. With this in mind, we explore the cars that guarantee the most fun and performance when equipped with a manual transmission, as opposed to automatic. Every car on this list is a drivers’ car that greatly benefits from the kind of control and connection that can only be achieved when opting for a manual transmission. So, sit back and enjoy our list of the 10 cars that are way more fun to drive in manual.
JDMs have always been drivers' cars, and although Nissan has jumped on the bandwagon for the new 370Z by offering a 7-speed automatic, versus the standard 6-speed manual, why bother with an automatic in a Japanese sports coupe that was designed with a manual transmission in mind? And a top-of-the-line one at that. The 370Z actually invented the synchronized rev-matching system for manual transmissions, which blips the throttle during shifts for smooth and optimized acceleration. The new 370Z continues the legacy of the 350Z by providing an extremely fun driving experience bolstered by its quite sufficient 3.7L V6 producing 332 horsepower.
We begin this list with an everyday car that, as it just so happens, seems to perfectly demonstrate how automatic transmission in a car definitely might not be the best option. However, not only will a manual transmission provide a more enjoyable driving experience due to the car-driver connection and autonomy over gear shifts, but in this case, the manual transmission straight-up offers better performance. The BRZ is a fun entry-level sports car that is definitely more fun to drive in manual. Versus the 200-horsepower automatic, the manual version offers 205 horsepower and along with a noticeable improvement in acceleration.
If you're buying a rugged off-road machine such as the Wrangler, you want to avoid automatic transmissions. Overcoming barriers and climbing steep terrain is something that requires authority over gear shifts and a personal connection with the car which automatic transmission simply does not provide.
For an off-road vehicle, control is paramount. Without authority over gear shifting, hurdling daunting and unpredictable terrain becomes a slow and boring process. And being able to make that planned downshift will make your Wrangler experience that much more satisfying.
The Mustang has long been one of the most popular pony cars for gearheads. The GT version is spiced up with a 5.0L V8 producing 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. Today, it's offered both as a 10-speed automatic and a 6-speed manual. And this is definitely the car you want to drive in manual. In a fully automatic mode, the GT may save a bit on fuel, but that's only because it keeps the engine rpm as low as possible.
This makes for a boring and predictable ride. Even more so when you press the gas pedal. Doing this may result in the transmission getting confused as to which gear to choose, so you end up missing out on much-needed acceleration. The manual avoids these problems, and the one in mustang is state-of-the-art. Updated for the 2019 version, it features better synchronizers, and a twin-disc clutch, which provide smooth and crisp transitions between gear and a lightning-fast response.
This brand has been successfully pushing itself into the serious sports car sphere with cars delivering extremely competitive and impressive performance, such as the CTS-V. The ATS-V is its little brother – a compact sports car that comes as a two-door coupe or a four-door sports sedan. Today, Cadillac can confidently call itself a driver’s car. The ATS-V offers the thrilling 464-horsepower V6 that plugs in an automatic or manual transmission. But, the choice here is clear. Going for the manual transmission will allow the driver to fully connect with the car, as it offers one of the best transmissions on the market, featuring a rev-matching feature similar to that on the 370Z as well as GM’s “no lift shift” technology that enables lightning-fast gear shifting without lifting your foot off the gas.
For the last seven generations of models, the Golf has been a staple inexpensive hatchback for gearheads worldwide. And through this time, it has always been a pure manual transmission drivers’ car. While the GTI offers an attractive entry-level hot hatch, the new Golf R takes it a step further. It features either a six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic. Opting for the latter will set you back an additional $1,400. And why bother in such a small and agile hot hatch that has been developed around a manual transmission for generations? With a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 288 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the manual Golf R is a guaranteed blast on the road.
After the incredibly agile Elise, and thrilling Exige, Lotus took it a step further by developing the Evora. This one, featuring a 3.5-liter supercharged V6 producing 410 horsepower, is a true supercar. And if you think 410 horsepower is not all that impressive for a supercar, keep in mind the 2005 Elise was on its way to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, while developing just 190 horsepower. The Evora Sport 410 GP even knocks the weight down by 200 lbs from the previous version, and adds aerodynamic features that ensure a sporty ride. The engine can be connected to an automatic or a manual transmission. But there is no debate which version to chose. The manual transmission has always been a strong point in a Lotus car, and this one is as fun as they get, featuring a low inertia flywheel that ensures quick and precise shifts. If you're still skeptical, keep in mind that the manual transmission will take you to a top speed of 190 mph, while the automatic will halt at a mere 177.
The MX-5, also popularly referred to as the Miata, is the perfect example of a sports car that doesn't require a lot of power to be a lot of fun. Mazda made the new version even lighter and more powerful, and the manual version provides the best ratio as it weighs a bit less than the automatic version. This will make for a noticeable improvement in the performance and responsiveness of the car on the road. But, that's not the reason most MX-5 owners go for the manual version. It's simply better. This car's transmission is one of the best out there, period. It benefits from a low-inertia dual-mass flywheel that makes shifts quick, smooth, and crisp.
The Corvette is a muscle car with a long history of exceeding performance expectations. This year, their flagship model, the ZR1, has jumped on the bandwagon by offering both an 8-speed automatic and manual transmission options. However, the first ZR1 to offer automatic transmission simply doesn't provide the same thrill and sharpness as a manual does. The numbers seem to agree, as by putting the previous models on the dyno will reveal that the one with manual transmission actually seems to churns out a bit more horsepower. The new model is a beast however, it's the most powerful Corvette yet, featuring a massive 6.2L V8 producing 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque.
Similarly to the Wrangler, the Tacoma TRD Pro (and any other off-road king for that matter) simply does not benefit from an automatic transmission as much as it does from a manual. After all, both these cars decorate our list of the 10 best off-road vehicles, and overcoming steep and dangerous terrain requires a personal touch of the driver. Toyota knows this, which is why they have stopped including manual transmissions in the base model cars, BUT purposely added them in the TRD Sport, Off-Road, and Pro models. Good job! Moreover, the manual transmissions in Tacomas are not only good, they're exceedingly good. The gear shifts are satisfyingly crisp and the car's 278-horsepower V6 gives it enough power to easily start the car uphill and allows for a breezy uphill acceleration from rolling starts even in second gear.