Coolest Manual-Equipped Cars Of 2021

Opinion / Comments

Get them while you still can.

We're all well aware by now that the manual transmission is living on borrowed time. It doesn't matter if demand suddenly begins to soar. The fact is manuals and fully electric vehicles do not mix. EVs don't require multi-speed transmissions because they produce consistent torque levels throughout the rev range. Instead, they mostly utilize single-speed transmissions. Once automakers like GM, Ford, and BMW go completely electric, the manual will perish alongside the internal combustion engine.

But we're not there yet. 2021 introduced some fantastic new vehicles available with a manual gearbox. Although some of these launched for the 2022 model year, they were around for a few months in 2021, making them eligible in our eyes. We're not talking about basic econoboxes here but rather fully-fledged enthusiast machines, many of which are in high demand. The following list also includes many familiar faces and we're thrilled they're all returning next year.

Front Angle View BMW

BMW M3/M4

The G80/G82 generation BMW M3 and M4 launched for the 2020 and 2021 model years, respectively. Both are coming back for 2022 relatively unchanged. Typically, M3/M4 customers go for the optional eight-speed automatic but the enthusiast, and those who simply prefer to row their own gears, can get a six-speed manual at no additional charge. With at least 473 horsepower available and standard rear-wheel-drive, the manual-equipped versions of BMW's iconic coupe and sedan remain two of the most thrilling luxury performance vehicles on the market today. It's way too soon to know whether the next-generation models will have a three-pedal option but sometimes you just gotta live in the present and enjoy.

Front Angle View BMW
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Hyundai Veloster N/Elantra N

A decade ago it would have shocked everyone Hyundai would be capable of building performance vehicles like these. The Veloster N hot hatchback and Elantra N sedan are two of the best overall values for enthusiasts, especially those on a budget. Both are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four with 275 horsepower, though torque differs for both; the Veloster has 260 lb-ft while the Elantra puts down 289 lb-ft of twist. Regardless of which one you prefer, both come standard with a six-speed manual. A fast-shifting 8-speed dual-clutch is optional, not to mention kind of pricey. If you're totally against having three pedals, Hyundai requests an additional $1,500 for only two. This one is really a no-brainer.

2019-2022 Hyundai Veloster N Frontal Aspect Hyundai
2022 Hyundai Elantra N Rear Perspective Driving CarBuzz

Mustang/Camaro/Challenger

It makes sense to group America's muscle car triumphant together here. All three can be equipped with a six-speed manual from the base trims to the higher ranges. The Challenger SRT Hellcat is a prime example. Unfortunately, the Mustang Shelby GT500 can't accommodate a manual because its supercharged V8 is too much to handle. The 650-hp Camaro ZL1, however, comes standard with a six-speed DIY shifter. The Mustang Mach 1 does as well. We know Ford is currently putting the finishing touches on the seventh-generation S650 Mustang and, hopefully, a manual option will return. The Camaro, on the other hand, hasn't been selling well but it's expected to stick around until 2024 or so. That's also the year a fully electric Dodge muscle car will arrive, but that'll come at the expense at the return of today's Challenger.

2021-2022 Mustang Mach 1 Frontal Aspect Ford
2019-2022 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Front View Dodge
2019-2022 Chevrolet Camaro Coupe Frontal Aspect Chevrolet

Honda Civic Si

Honda has done it again. The previous-generation Civic Si was (and still is) a brilliant budget performance sedan and its successor is even better. Powered by a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 200 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque, the Civic Si doesn't even offer an automatic or dual-clutch option; it remains manual-only. If you don't know how to drive stick, either learn or shop elsewhere. With a price tag beginning at less than $30k, buyers are not only getting a fun-to-drive performance car, but also a highly capable daily driver and family hauler. It's truly the best of all three worlds packed together.

2022 Honda Civic Si Front Angle View CarBuzz
2022 Honda Civic Si Dashboard CarBuzz

Mazda MX-5 Miata

It would have been impossible not to include the iconic Miata on this list. Along with the insanely cool Miata RF, the standard transmission is a six-speed. Frankly, we can't understand why anyone would opt for the more expensive and far less enjoyable six-speed slushbox. It kind of ruins the Miata's classic roadster formula: front-engined, rear-wheel-drive, and lightweight fun. Just one engine is offered, the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-four with 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque on hand. The Miata has been and will continue to be the quintessential affordable roadster. Don't mistake its cutesy looks for the endless amounts of fun drivers have. Just make sure you get the manual. The smile on your face will be even bigger. Mazda knows this, which is why for 2022, even fewer trims have access to the auto.

2016-2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata Front View Driving Mazda
2017-2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Rearward Vision CarBuzz

Mini Cooper

The classic Mini Cooper hardtop and convertible rightfully earn spots on this list. Both come powered by a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder with 134 horsepower on tap. Cooper S variants get a more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 189 hp. Regardless of engine choice, a six-speed manual comes standard. A seven-speed dual-clutch is available for an additional cost and, honestly, it's a great transmission. Still, a manual in a car like this makes sense. Unlike the Miata, the Mini is front-wheel-drive-only, which can be a deal-breaker for some. We don't think that should stand in your way. For a starting price of about $23,000, you can get a Mini Cooper Hardtop with a stick and a somewhat usable rear seat - something the Miata lacks.

Front Angle View CarBuzz
Dashboard CarBuzz

Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman

Yes, they're both far more expensive (even in base trim) than a Mazda Miata. But they're also Porsches. You gotta pay to play sometimes. The 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman carry starting price tags of $60k and $62k, respectively, and come with one of the best six-speed manuals in the industry today. Moving up the trim ranks, the most extreme versions currently available, the Spyder and GT4, can also be paired with manuals instead of the seven-speed PDK. Of course, you'll be paying at least $100k. But there's no shame opting for the base trims. Those are powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged flat-four rated at 300 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Rear-wheel drive is standard. Unlike the Miata, the 718's engine is located midship, offering a near-ideal weight balance. Bear in mind the next-generation 718 is expected to go fully electric. The manual will die with the flat-four, too.

2020-2022 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS Front Angle View Porsche
2019-2022 Porsche 718 Cayman Front Angle View Porsche

Subaru WRX

The Subaru WRX is all-new for model year 2022 and will be on sale shortly. Final pricing hasn't been announced but we don't expect it'll deviate too much from the outgoing generation's $28k entry point. Even if the price tag is higher, trust us, it's worth opting for the new model. Like before, a six-speed manual is standard and a CVT remains optional. Go for the manual. Under the hood lies a new turbocharged 2.4-liter four-cylinder boxer engine rated at 271 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. As always, power is routed to all four wheels. During our recent time behind the wheel, we found the manual to be light and easy to shift while the pedal layout is ideal for rev-matching. The new WRX is certainly a bit more hardcore than, say, the Civic Si. You can thank its rally-inspired past for that.

Driving Front Angle Subaru
Central Console Subaru
Gear Shifter Subaru

Toyota GR86/Subaru BRZ

Redesigned for 2022, the Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ twins are back and are better than ever. Not only are the twins now powered by the engine they needed from the get-go - a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter with 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque instead of an underpowered 2.0-liter - but a six-speed manual continues to come standard. Sure, you can get the available six-speed automatic with paddle shifters but you'll be missing out on much of the fun. The "Toyabaru's" rear-wheel-drive setup solidifies their purist sports coupe status. They can still be viewed as the poor man's 718 and that's okay. Beginning at about $28k, the second-generation coupes improve an already winning formula and don't break the bank. That's a win-win in our book.

2022 Toyota GR86 Driving Front Angle Toyota
Rear Angle View Subaru

Volkswagen GT/Golf R/Jetta GLI

VW refuses to let a certain legend die. The GTI continues to be on sale in the US, along with the even more powerful, and AWD, Golf R, despite the fact the base Golf hatch has been discontinued. Americans want crossovers but demand still exists for hot hatches. Prefer a sedan? No problem. Look no further than the Jetta GLI. All three come standard with a six-speed manual or an optional seven-speed dual-clutch. For how much longer is uncertain. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is found under the hood as well, though output levels vary. The GTI has 241 horsepower, the GLI makes 228 hp, while the Golf R doles out 315 ponies. The latter also doesn't come cheap, starting off at nearly $44k. But the GTI and GLI can both be had - with manuals - for about $30k. German engineering and a manual? $30k is a bargain.

2022 Volkswagen Golf GTI Driving Front Angle Volkswagen
Front Angle View Volkswagen
Driving Front Angle Volkswagen

Ford Bronco/Jeep Wrangler & Gladiator

The Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler are already duking it out on paper and we can't wait to see a proper head-to-head off-road battle. A pickup truck version of the Bronco doesn't exist and we don't think it will. The Gladiator will still remain in a class somewhat by itself. Despite being rivals, the Ford and Jeeps share several things in common, among them a manual option. Best of all, you don't need to opt for the higher trims to get it. But the Bronco comes with a seven-speed manual (Woo-hoo! A crawler gear!) while the Jeeps have a traditional six-speed. It's becoming less common to see proper off-roaders offer manuals, but all three are aimed at enthusiasts. Ford and Jeep know what these people want and they're here to deliver.

2021-2022 Ford Bronco Forward View Ford
2018-2022 Jeep Wrangler Front View Driving Jeep
2020-2022 Jeep Gladiator Side View CarBuzz

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2019-2022 Porsche 718 Cayman Front Angle View
2018-2022 Jeep Wrangler Front View Driving
2019-2022 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Front View
2020-2022 Jeep Gladiator Side View
2021-2022 Mustang Mach 1 Frontal Aspect
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