Technology has made life easier for billions of people all around the world, including those who spend a lot of time behind the wheel. Unfortunately, while motorists have gained the perks of satellite radios, infotainment systems, and mobile WiFi hotspots, they've lost the thrill of driving a car with a manual transmission.
For many, the days of "going for a drive" for the pure sake of fun behind the wheel have been replaced with a soulless, no-frills journey from point A to point B. Thankfully, shoppers looking to experience the joy of working through a car's gearbox still have some manual transmission options at the dealership. This is evident based on the top 2021 manual transmission vehicles, which are divided into several relevant categories. We've also highlighted several important factors to take into account when deciding which of these vehicles is the best fit for your unique needs:
- Starting price. Stick shift cars run the full gamut for cost ranging from affordable to luxurious. Starting price is a key consideration, in part, because costs can vary so much even when selecting a specific model. In general, stick shifts tend to fall under base model options, making them a great option if you're on the hunt for an affordable vehicle.
- Engine, horsepower, and torque. If you want to make the most of your stick shift vehicle, you'll need an engine that provides plenty of power. Common options include engines with four or six cylinders. Some are also turbo-charged.
- Drivetrain. Stick shift vehicles fulfill two main goals: improving fuel economy and improving performance. People who are focused on better efficiency will prefer front-wheel drive, while all-wheel drive should appeal to anybody in need of a performance boost.
- Fuel economy. While automatic vehicles have improved significantly, manual transmission remains an excellent option for maximizing fuel economy. That being said, efficiency isn't guaranteed — especially for performance-oriented stick shift cars.
The Everyday Driver: 2021 Toyota Corolla
Starting Price: $23,175
Engine: 2.0L Inline 4-cylinder
Torque: 151-ft lbs
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel Economy: 29 City/36 Highway/32 Combined
Small, dependable, and fuel-efficient, the 2021 Toyota Corolla won't be turning any heads in the grocery store parking lot or while picking the kids up from school. Still, there's nothing wrong with wanting maximum control of your automobile while cruising in the carpool lane on the way to work.
While it may not be the ideal car for stop-and-go traffic jams (then again, what manual is?), it's a perky vehicle with a light clutch pedal. Motorists will spend plenty of time working through the gears, especially 3rd and 4th. Darting around corners and traversing rugged city streets won't feel as smooth as in a Lexus or other luxury car, but the multi-link rear suspension still provides a smooth ride.
The 2.0L Inline 4-cylinder on this car's engine delivers 169 horsepower and 151-ft lbs torque. The engine is adeptly paired with the manual transmission to provide better conversion of the horsepower and torque, thereby making better use of figures that might otherwise seem modest. The manual transmission can also overcome some of the performance limitations prompted by this vehicle's front-wheel drive. Meanwhile, stick shift delivers an efficiency boost to reach 36 MPG on the highway.
The Sports Car Substitute: 2021 Subaru WRX
Starting Price: $28,420
Engine: 2.0 L Intercooled Turbo H-4
Torque: 258-ft lbs
Transmission: 6-speed manual with overdrive
Fuel Economy: 20 City/27 Highway/23 Combined
If you're not able to pony up the dough for a Mustang but still want to feel like you're behind the wheel of a sports car, models such as the 2021 Subaru WRX offer a taste of speed and performance at a fraction of the price. Just $28,420 will get you on the road in a stick shift vehicle you love.
Racy suspension makes this vehicle fun to drive on hills and bumpy roads. Acceleration can be a bit uneven at times, but the electric-assist steering makes up for any minor flaws by providing an undeniable sense of driving confidence.
The pairing of six-speed manual transmission and a 2.0 L Intercooled Turbo H-4 engine gives this car serious oomph, as reflected in its 268 horsepower and 258-ft lbs torque. The all-wheel-drive system works with the boosted performance of stick shift to deliver legendary performance in the snow. The efficiency of manual allows this vehicle to retain its sports car feel without harming fuel economy too much; it can reach 27 MPG on the highway.
The American Muscle: 2021 Ford Mustang
Starting Price: $28,350
Engine: 2.3 L Inline 4-cylinder
Torque: 350-ft lbs
Transmission: 6-speed manual with overdrive
Fuel Economy: 21 City/29 Highway/24 Combined
More than a few fights have broken out over the last few decades between car fanatics debating the pros and cons of legendary models such as the 2021 Chevy Camaro, the 2021 Dodge Challenge, and, of course, the, 2021 Ford Mustang. This iconic car provides a controlled experience behind the wheel with its rear-wheel drive system. The new independent rear suspension allows for a more responsive ride while limiting body roll.
Despite its impressive performance and muscular design, it starts at just $28,350 — a price that many performance-oriented stick shift enthusiasts will find reasonable.
Drivers looking for an upgrade will fall in love with the Mustang Mach 1, which is extremely track-capable. This powerful vehicle produces an impressive 480 horsepower with its 5.0-liter engine. Still, the base 2.3 L Inline 4-cylinder should keep many drivers happy with its 310 horsepower and 350-ft lbs torque, which enables the manual transmission to function impressively in overdrive. Stick shift means that there's no need to compromise on fuel economy, with this vehicle reaching 29 MPG on the highway.
Living in Luxury: 2021 BMW M3
Starting Price: $69,900
Engine: 3.0 L twin turbo inline 6-cylinder
Torque: 406-ft lbs
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Fuel Economy: 16 City/23 Highway/19 Combined
Featuring a straight six-cylinder engine capable of producing 473 horsepower and 406-ft lbs torque, the 2021 BMW M3 dwarfs everything else in its class. It can reach a top speed of 181 and go from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds. While the M3 Competition delivers even more power, the responsiveness of the vehicle's manual version makes it a better fit for drivers who want an enjoyable stick shift experience.
A giant grille visually sets the M3 apart while also providing serious cooling capabilities. Not everybody's a fan of the aggressive nature of the grille, but this bold styling is sure to attract attention with a lip spoiler, flared wheel arches, and extended side sills. The starting price of $69,900 keeps this in the echelon of luxury stick shifts, however, and drivers who typically choose manual for its efficiency may be disappointed to discover a combined fuel economy of just 19 MPG.
Sporty for a Stick Shift: 2021 Porsche 911 Carrera S
Starting Price: $115,100
Engine: 3.0 L twin turbo boxer 6-cylinder
Torque: 390-ft lbs
Transmission: 7-speed manual
Fuel Economy: 18 City/25 Highway/21 Combined
With 443 horsepower, 390-ft lbs, and a top speed of 191 MPH, the 2021 Porsche Carrera S looks like a classic European sports car with the performance to match. The handling on this vehicle feels downright telepathic, with responsiveness exceeding all competitors in almost any situation or setting. The available seven-speed manual system provides a practically instantaneous link between the 3.0 L twin turbo boxer 6-cylinder and the driver. With optional all-wheel drive, this exceptional responsiveness transcends weather.
Beyond handling, the 2021 Porsche Carrera S is notable for its iconic design, which incorporates key elements such as Coke bottle headlights. Despite this classic look, there's a lot of modern appeal both inside and out. Drivers looking to up the ante will enjoy turning heads in the 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition. Fuel economy in the base model is not exceptional for a stick shift, but some will find reasonable at 25 MPG on the highway.
Manual transmission may not be the favored option for some drivers, but that doesn't mean that it's worth overlooking altogether. In 2021, stick shift still offers a variety of advantages, including excellent fuel economy and sheer fun behind the wheel. All this comes with a hefty price tag of $115,100, which shouldn't discourage anyone who demands true excellence in a stick shift vehicle.
There are still a wide variety of cars available with a manual — in every price range and every category. Don't miss your opportunity to hit the road in one of the best manual transmission vehicles of 2021.