Consumers searching for the best manual transmission cars are generally driven by two motivating factors: fuel economy or acceleration. Cars with limited power (four-cylinder engines) usually benefit most with manual transmissions. Driving preference comes into play with manual transmissions and V6- or V8-powered engines. There’s also the money factor. Manuals typically are less expensive, cheaper to repair, and need less maintenance than automatic transmissions.
For fuel economy, we’re using 2010 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy estimates. For best acceleration numbers, we’re using manufacturer sites. With this in mind, here are our top picks for Best Manual Transmission cars.
- Volkswagen Jetta (diesel) – The compact TDI sedan and SportWagen (and Golf) with manual transmission lead in EPA fuel economy numbers with an estimated 30 mpg city/41 mpg highway. Jetta TDI is powered by a 140-hp 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. A dual-clutch automatic transmission (DSG) gets an estimated 30/42 mpg. Edmunds says the TDI “is so clean that it’s 50-state compliant” and “makes an excellent alternative to hybrids.” Cons are small backseat compared to competitors. Popular Mechanics remarks “the new, more powerful TDI gives it more oomph, allowing us to power through traffic and accelerate from stoplights with authority and a little bravado.” Consumer Guide gives Jetta a Best Buy, saying “the manual transmission is delightful to use, with smooth shift and clutch action.”
- Chevrolet Corvette (Z06, ZR1) – Zero to 60 mph times of 3.7 seconds for Z06 and 3.4 seconds for ZR1 are not only impressive, they’re scorching. Edmunds says “launch control is now standard on all manual-transmission models, a feature that will come in handy for taking out the guesswork out of eking out the best acceleration times.” Z06 features a 505-hp 7.0-liter V8, while ZR1 gets an “otherworldly” 638 hp from its supercharged 6.2-liter V8. Disappointing interior quality, say Edmunds editors, is the only serious drawback. Consumer Guide rates Corvette a Best Buy, saying “Z06 and ZR1 versions…are among the fastest cars in the world.” EPA city/highway fuel economy for Z06 is 15/24 mpg and for ZR1, 14/20 mpg.
- Chevrolet Camaro SS – After Camaro ceased production in 2002, enthusiasts pined for its return. In 2010, it finally arrived in the form of a fifth-generation Camaro, available in base and Camaro SS. With a 6.2-liter V8 that’s a direct variant from , the all-new 2010 Camaro SS makes 426 hp in manual transmission. EPA city/highway fuel economy estimates for the 6-speed manual transmission V8 are 16/24 mpg, which Edmunds calls “very impressive fuel consumption figures, particularly given how powerful these engines are.” Zero to 60 mph is clocked at 4.6 seconds, according to eGM CarTech. Editors at Car and Driver advise “stick with the stick, if at all possible.”
Other Best Manual Transmission Cars to consider for high fuel economy include the minicompact MINI Cooper (28 mpg city/37 mpg highway), and the midsize Hyundai Elantra Blue (26 mpg city/35 mpg highway). For acceleration, consider Dodge Viper SRT10, Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Nissan GT-R, and Porsche 911 Carrera S.
See a list of all manual transmission cars