Some say an automatic transmission will never offer quite the same level of interaction as a manual gearbox, but that all depends on the transmission in question. In short: not all transmissions are created equal. But with the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren turning their back on manual ‘boxes, you’re not exactly spoilt for choice. We’ve rounded-up the sports cars that are sticking with the stick-shift.
Porsche 911 R
The door to the world of Porsche 911 ownership opens with the 911 Carrera, which is available with a manual gearbox. But flick through to the more powerful models and you’ll find an absence of stick shifts, until, that is, your head is turned by the 911 R. The delightfully old-school 911 is ‘available’ for £136,901 – well over £5,000 more than the 911 GT3 RS. But you’re able to – quite literally – get your hands on a six-speed manual ‘box. Sadly, unless you’re already in the queue, your chances of securing a 911 R are next to zero. Our advice: keep an eye on the classifieds and be prepared to pay a premium.
The Dodge Viper: delivering no-nonsense, old-school, all-American thrills since 1992. Emerging from Detroit in a cloud of tyre smoke and with the soundtrack of an all-aluminium 8.4-litre V10 engine, today’s Viper is fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox. The Viper no longer sells in big numbers and the word on the street is that Fiat Chrysler will call time on the sports car in 2017, signalling the end for another manual gearbox stalwart.
We sense that the good people at Noble Automotive are fans of the manual gearbox. When describing the M600 on its website, the company says “Our personal preference is indeed a manual system, however we do understand that many supercar buyers prefer, for many reasons, a paddle shift system.” It’s a hunch, but we reckon the auto option will be more popular in foreign markets, while we Brits stick with the stick. As it were.
Looking for evidence that drivers actually prefer a slush ‘box to a stick shift? Figures released by the National Corvette Museum show that, of the 40,689 model-year 2016 Corvettes sold, a mere 9,249 were fitted with a manual gearbox. Which means Vette owners are voting with their redundant left foot, with three-quarters of drivers opting for the eight-speed paddle shift automatic.
If you fancy a manual gearbox in your new Jaguar F-Type, you’ll have to ‘make do’ with the V6 versions. Not that this should be too much of a hardship, because even the entry-level 3.0-litre V6 340 supercharged version offers a top speed of 161 mph and a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds. Yours for a touch under £52,000. Upgrade to the S and the 0-60 time drops to 5.3 seconds, while the top speed increases to 171 mph. You’ll need to find an extra £9,000, mind.
Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ
It’s probably quite telling that we’ve used the ‘old-school’ tag rather a lot in this gallery. But the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ are simply dripping in retro charm. Front-engined, rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual gearbox, superb driving position and perfect balance – everything you need for a B-road blast. You can opt for a six-speed automatic transmission, but you shouldn’t.
How do you celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of America’s favourite cars? Chevrolet has big plans for #CamaroFifty, but we’re more excited about the prospect of the all-new Camaro ZL1. With 650 hp and 650 lb ft of torque on tap, it’s the most powerful Camaro ever produced and it’s available with either a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission.
There are a number of Lotus Exige models to choose from, including the Sport 350, 360 Cup and the track-only V6 Cup R. All are available with a six-speed manual gearbox, although a sequential transmission is offered on the Cup R and Sport 350. In the case of the latter, the automatic shaves 0.1 seconds off the 0-62 mph time, but loses 8 mph at the top end – 162 mph automatic versus 170 mph manual.
Aston Martin V12 Vantage S
The automotive world did a merry dance of delight when Aston Martin announced it was adding a seven-speed manual gearbox option to the V12 Vantage S and yes, it is good news. Sadly, although the manual ‘box does deliver more engagement and interactivity, the dog-leg shift pattern takes a while to get used to. Furthermore, it’s not blessed with the most satisfying shift action. But are we pleased this car exists? Absolutely.
Porsche 718 Cayman
After the furore surrounding the move to a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, could you imagine the reaction if Porsche dropped the option of a manual gearbox in the 718 Cayman? Thankfully, the stick shift it here to stay, although the case for ticking the box marked ‘PDK’ is rather compelling. Not only is a PDK-equipped Cayman quicker to 62 mph, it’s also more efficient. That said, you will pay £2,000 more for the privilege.
Porsche 718 Boxster
It’s a similar story for the Porsche 718 Boxster. In standard form, a 718 Boxster will hit 62 mph in 5.1 seconds and deliver a claimed 38.2 mpg on a combined cycle. With a PDK transmission, these figures are 4.9 seconds and 40.9 respectively. The PDK also offers the benefit of launch control, which sees the 0-62 mph time drop to 4.7 seconds.
For 20 years, the Lotus Elise has been the default choice for those in search of pure driving thrills on a British B-road. Sadly, with prices starting from £29,900 for the Elise Sport, rising to £45,600 for the Cup 250 and £53,500 for the Race 250, the little Lotus is less ‘everyman’ than it used to be. Mind you, the Elise Sport does boast one of the best gearknobs since the Ford Puma and the Honda Civic Type R FD2.
If you’re after an affordable sports car with a six-speed manual gearbox, the Mazda MX-5 is your best option, at least until the Fiat 124 Spider arrives. The MX-5 is every bit as good as you may have read, with the best news being the entry-level 1.5-litre is arguably just as great, if not better than the 2.0-litre version.
It’s fair to say the BMW Z4 isn’t the sharpest tool in the sports car box, but the six-cylinder engines remain terrific units, especially with the roof down. Our pick would be the sDrive35i Roadster M Sport, although at a price just shy of £45,000, it isn’t exactly cheap. You can buy a pair of ‘his and hers’ MX-5s for that, and still drive home with some change.
If you’re going to do the whole Ford Mustang thing, you really ought to opt for the full-fat 5.0-litre V8. Oh, sure, the 2.3-litre EcoBoost is more efficient and will be cheaper to run, but to enjoy the authentic Mustang experience, vee-eight is where it’s at. Beyond that, it’s up to you – the automatic transmission is marginally more economical, but the six-speed manual allows you to take the ‘Stang by the scruff of the neck and give it a damn good thrashing.
Lotus has chosen to celebrate 50 years of life in Norfolk with the aptly-named Hethel Edition Evora 400. It’s based on the standard Evora 400, which means a 400 hp 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine capable of 0-62 mph in 4.2 seconds. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, although a six-speed automatic is available as an option.
All but the entry-level Challenger models are fitted with a six-speed Tremec manual gearbox as standard, right through to the SRT Hellcat. The flagship Dodge Challenger is powered by a 6.2-litre supercharged Hemi V8 engine and offers 707 hp and 650 lb ft of torque – all for a bargain price of $64,195 (£49,000). Other, even cheaper models are available.
It’s been a while since we put a pound in the ‘mention of old-school’ jar, but the Nissan 370Z takes us back to Datsun Z cars of old. A hairy-chested brute of a sports car powered by a 3.7-litre V8 engine and offering classic rear-wheel drive dynamics. Prices start from £27,860 for the basic Z, rising to £38,050 for the Nismo.
Opt for the road-going Lotus 3-Eleven and you’re treated to a six-speed manual gearbox, rather than the six-speed sequential transmission fitted to the race version. The 925 kg road version is powered by a supercharged 3.5-litre V6 engine developing 410 hp – enough for a top speed of 174 mph.
You want back-to-basics, seat-of-your-pants thrills – this is as good as it gets. The gearstick in a Caterham Seven is a short and stubby affair, perfectly positioned alongside the tiny steering wheel. Prices start from £15,995 for the bargain-basement Seven 160, through to £46,495 for the blistering CSR. Shifting through a six-speed gearbox has never been more exhilarating.
Mercedes-Benz SLC 200
It might not be a sports car in the purest sense, but the Mercedes-Benz SLC is a classic boulevard cruiser. The only model fitted with a manual gearbox is the entry-level SLC 200, with a stick shift not even an option on the other models.
Volkswagen Scirocco R
Although the Volkswagen Scirocco is more coupe than outright sports car, the flagship Scirocco R does at least offer a tempting alternative to the Golf R. The 2.0-litre TSI engine delivers 280 hp and is available from £32,865.
Sadly, the all-new Audi TT RS won’t offer the option of a manual gearbox, so you’re stuck with the common or garden TT. Might we suggest the 2.0-litre TFSI in S line trim?
Morgan 3 Wheeler
The Morgan 3 Wheeler weighs just 525kg, but manages to punch above its weight in more ways than one. The 2.0-litre V-twin engine is mated to a Mazda-sourced five-speed manual gearbox to offer a unique take on the drivers’ car formula. Brilliant.
Fiat/Abarth 124 Spider
It might be based on the Mazda MX-5, but the Fiat 124 Spider offers a different take on the affordable sports car recipe. To us, the Fiat is more soft-focus than the Mazda, although it looks great and is still fun to drive. The most authentic sports car is the Abarth version, which costs just shy of £30,000.
You’ll remember Chris Evans driving the Zenos E10 S during the last series of Top Gear – a lightweight, stripped-back sports car powered by a 2.0-litre EcoBoost engine. The E10 R is even more hardcore, with the 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine borrowed from the Ford Mustang and Focus RS. Yours for a little under £40,000.
British-built, track specials
Of course, you’ll still find a number of low-volume, track-focused manufacturers willing to fly the flag for the manual gearbox. Select from the likes of Ariel, Radical, Ginetta, Ultima and Westfield for maximum thrills.