In the absurd, crossover-heavy, increasingly-electrified car landscape of 2023, a small yet mighty voice comes rumbling through the storm. Against all possible odds, the manual gearbox is making a sales comeback. Who had this on their 2023 bingo card?
JD Power statistics shared by the Wall Street Journal claim that market share of new vehicles with manual gearboxes rose by a third in 2022 from 2021, and has risen roughly another 41.7 percent in the first few months of 2023. Granted, at 1.7 percent take rate, the manual gearbox is a very small fish in a very big pond, but look at it this way: Only 43 models sold in 2022 were even available with manual gearboxes, the majority of which had a perfectly competent automatic option. We’re talking a fraction of the sales of 43 new vehicle models making up 1.2 percent of all vehicles sold last year. That’s a pretty big deal.
It’s not just new cars that are seeing a manual boost. Hop over to your used car classified site of preference, punch in an enthusiast car available with two or three pedals, and you’ll likely see that manual models command a premium. One of the most outrageous examples of this comes courtesy of a Hagerty valuation report claiming that manual Lamborghini Murcielago examples carry a 35 percent premium over two-pedal models. For context, that single-clutch automated manual E-gear gearbox carried a $10,000 premium over the gated manual on new 2007 cars according to Car And Driver.
However, it’s not just the exotics of the world seeing a manual tax on their heads. Manual examples of the BMW 3-Series are more coveted than their automatic counterparts; manual Mazda MX-5s are more desirable to spec racers and weekend warriors than slushbox roadsters are; manual W204 Mercedes-Benz C300s often carry a premium over automatic cars despite having genuinely awful shifter feel. The manual tax is seemingly everywhere, but who is driving it? When in doubt, blame the kids.
Yes, the Wall Street Journal claims that it’s not collectors or Luddites propping up the manual gearbox, it’s Generation Z. Admittedly, it has some strong statistics to back this up. Acura claims that more than half of manual Integra buyers are between the ages of 18 and 43, so Gen Z is playing some role there. What’s more, Mazda claims that roughly a quarter of manual Miata buyers last year were between the ages of 18 and 35, or roughly eight years of the Gen Z demographic and a decade’s worth of Millennials. Mini commissioned a survey of 1,000 people and found that, “Impressively, two thirds (67%) of younger respondents aged 18-34 were most eager to learn to drive a manual transmission car.” While I could see the data set being skewed as respondents could be more likely to be enthusiasts, that’s compelling stuff.
As a fellow youth raised on Superbad, Odd Future, and Skate 3, anecdotal experience indicates that there’s truth behind the numbers. Far and away, the most popular question asked about my 2004 Infiniti G35 while I was in college was if it was a six-speed. Fellow students with even a modicum of automotive interest were stoked when I said yes. An unnatural two-thirds of my rented student house driveway featured three-pedal cars, and my one housemate who didn’t have a manual bought a brand new manual Elantra GT after graduation.
However, I reckon it’s more than just youthful exuberance spurring a manual gearbox resurgence. People of all ages can appreciate that manual gearboxes are just fun. Most everything is better when it requires mechanical involvement. You don’t see James Bond fumbling for a capacitive-touch button to fire an ejector seat, do you? No, it’s a purposeful switch, one that’s likely satisfying to use even if it doesn’t result in a baddie being voluntold into the space program. It’s the same thing with watches: I have an ancient mechanical watch that’s a bit rubbish to tell time on due to the somewhat tacky pearl face, but take it off, flip it over, and all the tiny gears and springs working away behind a sapphire back are enough to spark joy once I wind the watch up. Manual gearboxes are involving, theatrical, and unabashedly mechanical. You are the transmission control unit, ergo the gearbox will never feel dull or slow so long as you keep your skills sharp. Toe on brake pedal, dip clutch, stab throttle with heel, downshift, release clutch pedal and effervescent rush of endorphins. Even though the latest automatic gearbox are objectively fantastic, paddle shifters will never feel this good.
In a world where electrification is seemingly just around the corner, your last chance to buy a brand new car with a manual gearbox could be right here, right now. Sure, people 100 years from now will eventually look at us three-pedal rowing club members the same way most of us look at steam car enthusiasts, but we’ll all be dead by then so sod whatever opinions your great-great-grandchildren will have. Whether new or used, life is short, get the manual. I know I did.
(Photo credits: Toyota, Bring A Trailer, Mini, Thomas Hundal)
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If the auto makers decided to build an EV with a manual trans I would be on board for electrification. The real stink here is that not only would the manual add unnecessary complication but due to the gearing, the EV motor size and output could be reduced to give a variable of the same effect. Although, a smaller motor size would require less magnetomotive force, which may increase efficiency in some places. I know Elon tried this with the first Tesla Roadster but had trouble with the torque and the clutch. As a whole though, it would probably be slower and less efficient but more engaging to drive. I hope an automaker out there (Mazda you seem to still care about the enthusiast market) eventually will see that the auto enthusiast market is getting left behind during the electrification process and decide to build a dedicated row-your-own EV.
The original gearbox in the Roadster was a 2 speed automatic. It wasn’t a manual.
I used to rationalize having a manual Cobalt in my early 20’s during the recession years as it was more fuel efficient than the auto version (which was true). Now I’m in my mid 30’s with a manual ND2 Miata and the best rationale I can possibly offer is that “it’s just more fun” (also true).
That said, the Miata has kind of ruined other manuals for me and was part of the reason I ended up selling my manual Mazda6; it just didn’t do it for me anymore after driving the Miata. I had always thought that when I ended up replacing my old (automatic) B3000 pickup with a newer Tacoma that a manual was a must, but honestly having one decent manual in my life makes having an automatic appliance more acceptable, even if the manual option is available.
See, and “it’s just more fun” should be the only take you need, it just really makes it worth it. Also, yeah, having a solid manual car in your fleet allows you to branch out and have a squishy auto appliance, but even then there can be joy found in those, in certain ways. Such as, comfort is wonderful during the 7am coffee run, lol.
*grabs calculator and stabs at keys*
“1.7% of the market increasing at a rate of 41.7% per annum… um, that means that by 2033 more than 50% of US cars will have manual gearboxes!! Autopia, at last!!!”
I definitely had the attitude of “get it while I still can” when I bought my manual M3 a couple of months ago. If the manual really does disappear, I can’t imagine ever selling this car.
It’s really too bad Nissan doesn’t have a decent manual in the US to swap out for their terrible CVTs.
Sadly, automakers have turned manuals into a premium option. I grew up with them because they were cheap and efficient. I stuck with them because they were fun. Ford won’t even offer the manual on the 2024 EcoBoost Mustang. It might not matter anyway though because my knees aren’t what they used to be…
Automakers have turned manuals into a premium option because they cost the automaker more than an automatic. We are at a point on the economy of scale curve that the piece price for a manual is more than for an automatic.
Sales for some of the higher volume automatics are pretty staggering, like the 10 speed that Ford and GM use in a lot of vehicles. It doesn’t help that Ford uses a Getrag and a Tremec in the Mustang. It wasn’t that long ago though that I purchased a new 2012 Ford Focus S (base) with a manual for about $15k.
I drive a Fiesta so in my case, there was not a perfectly competent automatic option.
I am fully Gen X, I have 4 vehicles with manual Trans 5 if you count motorcycles. I Always look for the manual before purchase, actually that was the entire reason I bought the Challenger. at any rate, it is not just Gen Z, those guys are just afraid to be called millennial and are trying to prove they are better than that generation. I fully imagine My 10 year old will learn to drive stick as long as I can still drive my Gasoline cars in 6 years.
Oh great, cue the ‘Millenials are Killing the Automatic Transmission!’ articles from ‘news’ outlets.
In all seriousness, I think this can be at least partially attributed to just how much society has shifted in the past few years. In 2019, a huge, huge amount of people with the money to actually purchase a new car had a commute, sometimes a terrible one. Now, a lot of median earners are working from home – a car is an occasional use thing, not a daily chore. Thus, ‘comfort over all else’ isn’t the overarching theme, and the financials are a little more fluid – some compromises can be made. You can tolerate the stiffer suspension, the bigger/louder engine, the *gasp* transmission you have to shift, because remember how much you liked that one you had in college? I see a lot of this as both reality not getting in the way of nostalgia for once, and tipping the scales just enough for people to be willing to commit.
There is an enthusiast ‘downside’ to this as well: Do we really need something super fuel efficient? No – boom, huge SUVs are flying off the lots. Are we going to lose a lot to depreciation from putting a ton of miles on it? No – boom, cars get more expensive/base trims die away/etc. We only take road trips – boom, everything is huge. But, that’s how it goes. It’s been really interesting to see how the car market has shifted, and nice that it seems to be opening up a little more for enthusiasts.
I think shifting of automatics IS faster than manuals these days, but for carving traffic in real life give me a manual, it responds to me. A faster 0 to 60 time means nothing if it wonders whether to down shift when the foot hits the floor and whether you, the driver, should be doing that. Time ticks by, valuable time.
The preemptive shift is useful.
I just started looking a real estate in Beverly Hills.
With 7 manual cars in my fleet, I’m sitting on a frickin’ goldmine.
I still have to manuals, and I prefer a manual, but my left knee does *not* any more, so my manuals are relegated to occasional use, and the daily has a dual clutch auto. Not as engaging, but not as aching, either.
Ugh: “two manuals” not “to” – the edit feature can’t arrive soon enough!
Man, I’d be among those numbers if jeep hadn’t bumped their custom order timeframe from 6+/- weeks, to the same number of months. I had the money to make the deposit for a no options rubicon 2 door with a stick, but with a family vacation looming in June, I could wait that long. Ended up putting a deposit on exactly what I would have ordered (right color even!) But a year old with 15k on it, a little bummed it wasn’t ordered exactly as I wanted (just for the experience) but not bummed about the 7k I saved. The dealer sounded like they were having a hell of a time selling it just because it was a manual, to the point where the salesman who called me back made sure to point it out.
Back in 2014 a friend custom ordered a manual 4 door Rubicon with cloth heated seats and no infotainment in Army green. When the Jeep came in it had mistakenly ordered in black. The dealer tried to strong arm him into it complaining they’d never be able to sell such an odd spec. He insisted and they ordered it again in Army green. A day after this unfolded the dealership called him back and said that they had three customers fighting over that incorrectly ordered black Jeep as apparently they really loved the spec. The dealers typically only ordered automatic highly optioned models.
For those of you claiming manuals are more reliable, durable, etc, you can drop that argument. You don’t need it to make the case that manuals are worth having.
Manuals are only more reliable if you’re comparing to DCTs, dry clutch automatics, or exotic sportscar automatics. A modern hydraulic automatic needs servicing less frequently than a manual needs a new clutch. And while it is uncommon, synchronizers still go bad too often in manuals.
And manuals are not more efficient. Modern automatics have finally beaten the driver. But it’s close enough that neither should be considered an advantage.
A manual transmission is well worth having in the right vehicles. But there’s no need to pretend it has advantages that it simply does not have.
Now that my daily is a hybrid, it will always be an automatic. My track toy car will always be a manual. But for me, the original GT category, the “Grand Tourer” for long road trips with luggage, is no longer a manual by default because today’s automatics really are that good.
The manual is no longer the choice for reliability or efficiency. It’s there for enjoyment, and that’s a far better reason to own one anyway.
I.E.* I’m shopping for a Porsche…
If I buy a Boxster or Cayman, it’s going to be a manual.
If I get a Panamera or Cayenne, I wouldn’t even want a manual.
But if I get a 911, it might be either, depending on what I intend to use it for.
Carrera or Targa? Very likely automatic.
GTS, Turbo or RS3? Almost guaranteed to be a manual.
Macan? Just forget they build that one. I’m not shopping for a Macan.
*I’m not really in the market for a Porsche, but their model lineup is really convenient as an example.
Or CVT, which is in way too many cars.
One of the silly advantages about owning multiples of the same car is that you can do comparison tests with them.
I have two Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDIs. Both have the same body, features, engine, tire diameter, and software version. The only difference between them is one has a six-speed DCT and the other has a six-speed manual. Oh, and the manual has 230k miles while the auto has 355k. They both get the same mpg. The DCT is also quicker at shifting than I am. Even shifting MotorWeek style the DCT does the job faster.
But that’s fine! I don’t buy manuals because of fuel economy, I buy them for the fun of it. I buy them because I want the control. I buy them because sometimes the automatic version sucks (looking at you, early-2000s VW).
Shifting MotorWeek style? Not familiar with that one.
Right? Did I miss John Davis shifting w/o the clutch NASCAR-style with his golf jacket zipped up to the neck or something?
Tell ’em all what the maintenance costs were for 355k miles with the DCT : )
The argument regarding reliability is referring to CVTs.
Unlike a conventional auto or manual, CVTs have a lifespan, and are pretty much guaranteed to fail eventually. Some, like Nissan, fail within the first 4 or 5 years, and repair cost renders the vehicle not worth fixing.
CVTs are really one of the biggest reasons for the manual transmission apocalypse. It’s basically a belt and 2 pulleys, so it’s dramatically cheaper to build than any other type of transmission.
Agree completely, CVTs are not worth owning. The whole operation is based on continuous friction with an allowance for slippage. It turns major parts of the transmission internals into wear items. I won’t even consider a car with one.
I exclude eCVTs from this rule because they operate on a completely different principal.
I agree. I have a 99 Oldsmobile Eighty Eight, I’ve put 110k miles on it and other than occasional fluid change, it has worked absolutely perfectly. The manuals I’ve owned have had all sorts of expensive or annoying maintenance issues. Clutches, hydraulics, shifter detents, and seals. That said, I wouldn’t give them up, manuals are just too much fun to drive.
I’m not sure the hate on CVTs, I’ve always found them quirky fun. Particularly the ones that didn’t fake shift, the rubber band effect is awesome to play with.
Manual transmissions age far better than automated units. Even the best automatics from the 90s and 00s are complete trash now. Add the driver engagement factor and manuals will always be more desirable on the used market.
Riffing on Thomas’ excellent assessment, I think there’s possibly also a pandemic-related effect as well, in the best possible way – an appreciation that freedom isn’t simply a possession, but an activity in which to engage. And doesn’t driving manual transmission vehicles satisfy both?
The pandemic put a real crimp in our accustomed freedom in a lot of ways, big and small. As we start to move past it, we’re appreciating both getting our normal (whatever that is) back, sure, but maybe the losses we’ve suffered over the past few years have also given us a heightened sense of how great it feels to engage in all our potential activities, as befits free people. And sometimes, it takes a shock to get us out of our accustomed patterns (like letting cars shift for us) and see a bigger, better world.
There’s no good reason an EV can’t have a manual transmission. A manual transmission is an excellent way to improve performance for a motor/controller combo that is low power.
This is why I chose to retain the transmission in my Triumph GT6 conversion. I have all of 120 horsepower, and set my controller to limit my torque to roughly 120 lb-ft, the same torque as the car made stock and slightly more power than the car makes stock. Because that torque is available at 0 rpm, the car wants to go sideways, even if I start in 4th gear. I’m certain my 0-60 mph time will shave many seconds off of the stock inline-6 when I finally test it. 0-40 mph starting in 2nd gear is about 2.5 seconds, which is greatly faster than stock.
With a manual, an 90 kW EV can be made to perform like a 120 kW ICE, at least from roughly 0-60 mph. At higher RPMs when the EV is out of its torque band and as air drag starts to increase, then the difference in power finally makes itself known. Cut the drag down, which is doable because the EV requires greatly less cooling, and there is potential to keep higher-end performance the same, if not improve upon it vs stock.
That said, when power levels increase to what is typical these days, a manual transmission in an EV does become of greatly limited utility, and possibly a hindrance to overall performance. But a 2 speed or 3 speed in certain circumstances would be ideal for an EV, so why not make it a manual?
As a bonus, I never have to worry about stalling a manual transmission equipped EV.
“There’s no good reason an EV can’t have a manual transmission.”
Aside from the unnecessary added weight, complexity and cost…
Best way to keep people from asking to borrow your car is to have a manual.
Also the best security system available.
I think there’s something more happening here. This generation of ICE-manual cars will likely the be the last set of easily-available manual cars to be sold. So this may be driven by folks thinking “I’ve always wanted to drive a manual, so if not now, when?”
That’s an interesting take – I wonder if the same thing is going on re V8 engines (vis a vis yesterday’s Mustang discussion)?
I think the impending demise is definitely increasing sales of big V8s, and not just a little. At my workplace, I personally know many people who bought them within the last year because “if not now, when?”
The list includes least 3 Challengers, a Mustang Mach 1, a Mustang GT, 2 Durango R/Ts, a Durango SRT and a Jeep Wrangler 392. Plus a BMW M550i and an Mercedes AMG C63. That’s not including any trucks, or people buying late-model used!
Holy shit, I knew it was a lot, but I just now realized how many people around me buy new cars frequently! That explains a so much of the poverty-pleading I hear among well compensated friend and coworkers…
Jeeze you have some cool coworkers. Mine would think pretty much this entire site was making fun of them and their conveyances.
Is that because pretty much this entire site is making fun of them and their conveyances? 😉
I don’t even tell the “oh but I like cars” ones about this place. Just liking cars and autopia are multiple zip codes apart I think.
It’s one reason I bought a GR86—how many more simple RWD manual, mostly analog cars will there be? Probably the last of them.
I’m just waiting on a Manual Golf R allocation to trade in my Mk7 GTI manual. Because it’s probably going to be the last new, stick shift car I get.
I have a Mk7 R, and I say I’m going to drive it into the ground, but I also think I probably ought to get a Mk8 (8.5 with buttons?) for exactly the same reason.
Also, manuals are more reliable and easier to fix. That’s worth a bonus when you shop used. I will NEVER buy a used automatic, except maybe if it’s electrified because then I would not have the choice.
I am a manual fan for life, own 4 manual vehicles and one auto. That said, I am it sure I agree with manuals being more reliable. I’ve never had an transmission issue with my automatic Oldsmobile over the 110k miles I’ve put on it. Every manual transmission vehicle I’ve owned has needed it’s fair share of work including clutches, hydraulics, and shifter detents.
I will say it is far easier to drive a manual in a vehicle with a poor running engine, autos just don’t give you the control you need.
“the majority of which had a perfectly competent automatic option”
Competent is an interesting word to use.
For me it boils down to several points
Are automatics cheaper than manuals? No
Are automatics more reliable than manuals? No
Are automatics more durable than manuals? No
Are Automatics longer lasting than manuals? No
Are automatics simpler than manuals? No
Are automatics cheaper to fix and replace than manuals? No
IMHO I think ALL performance ICE cars should come with a manual, and for regular cars they should come with either a manual or a planetary e-CVT which is much more durable, reliable, simple, longer lasting, fuel efficient, faster, easier to repair and replace, cheaper to repair and replace, etc. than automatic transmissions.
Performance electric cars are already much faster than performance ICE cars and the EPA is cracking down on drivetrain mods so to me at least it seems like the only reason to buy a new performance ICE car is for the experience, because you already lost the race, so just have fun while driving it. All these CUVs will be hybrids soon, then BEVs, all the cars that are lifeless appliances will lose their automatics for e-CVTs anywho.
If I’m going to be burning dino wine to get around in my automobile I’m only going to do so if I can row my own gears, if not I’ll just buy or build a BEV
Very correct take. There’s no meaningful difference between the current generation of slushbox and CVTs, so why not go with the option that is better in every way? Auto boxes don’t even have a reason to exist, as far as I can tell.
I gotta reiterate the bit about the *planetary e-CVT* which is more durable, more reliable, and longer lasting than belt or chain style CVTs. The planetary e-CVT is what is used in most of Toyota’s hybrids including the Prius and the Prius has replace the Crown Vic as America’s Taxi, so that alone goes to show how durable they are.
Regular belt and chain style CVTs while more efficient, cheaper, and simpler than automatics don’t have the durability or serviceability of many older automatics.
Personally I wouldn’t pick anything but a manual but that’s just me. I want to do my part to further the existence of manual transmissions in new cars until there are no more ICE cars.
For automakers automatics are cheaper than manuals and they return better fuel economy (which means you burn fewer expensive GHG credits). Combine that with a huge preference by the general public for automatics and that is why manuals are disappearing.
– Superior reliability
– Superior efficiency (given same # of gears)
– Superior resale value (if enthusiast/fun/cool car)
– Superior fun/engagement
– Superior control (fast/smooth/slow, clutch kicks etc)
Automatics are awful unless it’s a van/truck/suv or land yacht/highway couch. One could make the argument that given identical # of gears, an automatic could POTENTIALLY be faster than a manual due to .005 shift speeds, but…. that’s a stretch.
I had it on my bingo card…because the save the manuals crowd is the single most vocal and persistent part of the entire online car community and rumors of their demise have been greatly, greatly exaggerated.
Ugh this was meant to be a general comment, not a reply.
And yet it still kinda works here. 🙂
I’m willing to accept that performance-tuned autos are faster than a human, but it’s not going to make a difference for 95% of drivers in 95% of situations, so pragmatically, it seems fairly irrelevant as a consideration in my book.
BUT I’m sure some of that 5% wants them just b/c of the Hayabusa principle, that some things exist for no reason other than some people feel an independent need to possess the ultimate of something.
This isn’t because of shift speed though, because of the continuous nature of the modern CVT the car can always be searching for the best mix of ratios for economy or power delivery. Because of this, the modern CVT get’s more aggressive gearing which it can use, while still delivering decent fuel economy (it’s kind of a testing fake out). If you put the same gear ratios in their manual counterparts (for the models that have one still), the manual would be just as fast if not faster depending on the driver. But fuel economy would suffer.
I’ll make that argument! I have a pair of VW Jetta SportWagen TDIs. One is a six-speed DCT, the other is a six-speed manual. Both get the same fuel economy, but the automatic has a slight edge on speed. I can shift fast, but I’m not beating the 8 ms shift time of the DCT. THAT SAID, for most people most of the time, it’s not going to matter. 🙂
I’m with you on all other counts. The manual totally transforms the wagon into a fun car. Nowadays, only the wife is driving the DCT Jetta. lol
I do not think manual-swapping the Benz is in the cards right now. Our timetable is really tight and I’m not even sure we care that much, it’s a beater rally car, after all.
If you think that trans is going to last while beating on it, I have some bad news
ALso on Dodge at least the MDS is delete with a manual trans.
I like a manual in a truck. My dad has a ’99 F250 5 speed and it is great for towing. First is a granny gear that you skip if you are unladen and on flat ground.
A manual land yacht would also be acceptable (to me) for a highway cruise. You’d be in top gear 99.9% of the time anyway.
I’ve always had manuals and even the dreaded traffic jam doesn’t really bother me. Of course, I live in a very rural area and avoid the city (Toronto being the closest) like the plague.
Economics is probably a factor in the manual’s comeback too- Besides the lower cost new, failure of an automatic transmission usually sends a car to scrap long before the engine gives up.
Been saying that for years when the weenies bring up that their fleshlights are (slightly) more efficient or get the “job” done faster than the real thing. As someone who used to drive up to 50k/year, a transmission that needs no service for well over 200k (when it only needs a clutch), can’t be touched by most autos that would need an expensive replacement before then. Plus, I get to enjoy the time I’m stuck in the car—yes, even in Boston traffic. It’s not the clutch that makes traffic suck.
Anecdote seems to bear this out. If I see the same car I have, chances are it’s the same fairly rare (as a percentage of total sales) trim level and transmission. Or a trim that could have been optioned with a manual.
If the vinyl record can outlast the CD, the manual can outlast the automatic.
A future with niche manual ICE and mainstream single speed electrics is fine with me, as long as there’s variation in the niche.
I like that vision of the future. But then, I have two manual vehicles, and several hundred vinyl records.
Vinyl is a good analogy. Worse in every way that any sane person cares about, but more engaging for those who get it.
The wife and I have a fairly large vinyl collection and I also went out of my way to learn how to drive stick. This…tracks