The Best Manual Cars To Buy In 2021

The Best Manual Cars To Buy In 2021

The overwhelming majority of cars sold in the US each year come with an automatic transmission. People, it seems, appreciate convenience, and what’s more convenient than having your vehicle shift gears for you?

Just 1.1 percent of cars bought in 2019 used a manual transmission. It’s not hard to understand why, even if manual cars have their own distinct advantages (we’ll get to those later).

Driving an automatic is easy. You put the gear in ‘D’ and you hit the gas. By contrast, manual transmissions have a steep learning curve, and require the driver to automatically switch gears based on the context.

This takes a lot of getting used to. Drivers need to have an instinctual awareness of what gear to use, and when.

Slower speeds require lower gears. The opposite is true when roaring down the highway at 70MPH. Drivers must also factor in the terrain into the gear they choose, with steep hills requiring lower gears.

Unlike automatics, manual cars require a degree of vigilance and coordination. If you switch into a gear that’s too high, your car’s engine will grumble. Too low, and it’ll stutter and stumble. Drivers must also know how to find the “bite” on the clutch when moving from a stopped position. This takes time and practice.

It sounds like a lot of work. There must be a pay-off, right?

The Magic of Manuals

There are plenty of reasons why people still prefer to drive manuals. Some of these are subjective. Others, less so.

One common argument in favor of the humble stick-shift transmission is that it offers a level of control that’s otherwise unavailable with a standard automatic car. You get to choose what gear to use, based on your own interpretation of your surroundings.

This often means a more fun driving experience. Manuals force you to think. You have to respond to changes in your environment. Drivers of manuals often describe feeling more “connected” to their car as a result.

And with a simpler transmission system, there’s less scope for malfunctions, meaning fewer (and cheaper) repairs. This also makes them slightly cheaper to buy new.

And with most Americans unfamiliar with stick-shift transmissions, you may find your car less attractive to would-be thieves. This argument is a bit fuzzier than the others. There isn’t much data on the types of cars stolen by transmission.

There’s some anecdotal evidence, however. We’ve read plenty of stories of thieves attempting to steal manual cars, but ultimately giving up because they didn’t know how to drive them.

Devotees of the stick-shift will often argue that manual cars provide better acceleration and fuel consumption when compared to those with an automatic transmission.

This used to be true, with older automatic gearboxes unable to keep pace with the keen eye of a human driver. However, recent advancements in transmission technology have rendered those advantages moot. You’ll only really benefit when opting for an older car.

The Best Used Manual Cars

The 2011 MINI Cooper (from $7,850)

 The 2011 MINI Cooper (from $7,850)

It makes sense that we’d start with the Mini Cooper. After all, it hails from England, where most vehicles come with a manual transmission. It’s also, incidentally, one of the most affordable cars on this list.

We’re not just talking about the list price (vehicles of this vintage can be found for around $8,000), but also when it comes to fuel economy. The Mini Cooper’s small frame, combined with its 2L four-cylinder engine means you can reasonably expect to get 29MPG in the city and 37MPG on the highway.

As you’d expect from its age, it doesn’t exactly offer the most high-tech features. There’s no flashy infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay, just a humble CD player and FM radio. Meanwhile, its cloth seats hardly scream “luxury.”

Still, those shortcomings are easily overlooked when taking into account the affordable purchase price, low cost of ownership, and ease of maneuvering within city environments.

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 The 2011 MINI Cooper (from $7,850)

It makes sense that we’d start with the Mini Cooper. After all, it hails from England, where most vehicles come with a manual transmission. It’s also, incidentally, one of the most affordable cars on this list.

We’re not just talking about the list price (vehicles of this vintage can be found for around $8,000), but also when it comes to fuel economy. The Mini Cooper’s small frame, combined with its 2L four-cylinder engine means you can reasonably expect to get 29MPG in the city and 37MPG on the highway.

As you’d expect from its age, it doesn’t exactly offer the most high-tech features. There’s no flashy infotainment system with support for Apple CarPlay, just a humble CD player and FM radio. Meanwhile, its cloth seats hardly scream “luxury.”

Still, those shortcomings are easily overlooked when taking into account the affordable purchase price, low cost of ownership, and ease of maneuvering within city environments.

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2015 Jeep Patriot Sport (from $11,450)

 2015 Jeep Patriot Sport (from $11,450)

As previously noted, manual transmissions afford the driver an incredible level of control. This makes them well-suited for rugged country environments where you’re likely to be traversing steep hills and muddy paths.

While the Jeep Patriot isn’t exactly a powerhouse, touting a 2L four-cylinder engine with just 158HP, it nonetheless is capable of handling undulating country roads.

This model also comes with a six-speed manual transmission (whereas most tend to come with just five gears), which helps reduce fuel consumption when tackling long stretches of high-speed driving. You can expect 22MPG in the city and 30MPG on the highway.

This low cost of ownership, combined with its affordable entry price (roughly $11,000) and cavernous interior, makes it a compelling choice for rural families.

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 2015 Jeep Patriot Sport (from $11,450)

As previously noted, manual transmissions afford the driver an incredible level of control. This makes them well-suited for rugged country environments where you’re likely to be traversing steep hills and muddy paths.

While the Jeep Patriot isn’t exactly a powerhouse, touting a 2L four-cylinder engine with just 158HP, it nonetheless is capable of handling undulating country roads.

This model also comes with a six-speed manual transmission (whereas most tend to come with just five gears), which helps reduce fuel consumption when tackling long stretches of high-speed driving. You can expect 22MPG in the city and 30MPG on the highway.

This low cost of ownership, combined with its affordable entry price (roughly $11,000) and cavernous interior, makes it a compelling choice for rural families.

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2013 Subaru Impreza (from $14,200)

2013 Subaru Impreza (from $14,200)

The Subaru Impreza takes many of the advantages of the Jeep Patriot, but packs them into the frame of a compact car.

In many respects, this is the perfect all-rounder. Small enough for city driving, but also powerful enough to tackle the great wilderness. As is the case with all Subaru cars, this uses an all-wheel drive powertrain.

Meanwhile, its six-speed manual transmission gives added control on country roads, while lending itself well to highway driving. You can expect to get 25MPG in the city and 33MPG on the open road.

And it’s affordable too. You can expect to pay roughly $14,000 for a model with a premium trim, which includes heated front seats, a proper sound and infotainment system, a sunroof, and various driving aids.

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2013 Subaru Impreza (from $14,200)

The Subaru Impreza takes many of the advantages of the Jeep Patriot, but packs them into the frame of a compact car.

In many respects, this is the perfect all-rounder. Small enough for city driving, but also powerful enough to tackle the great wilderness. As is the case with all Subaru cars, this uses an all-wheel drive powertrain.

Meanwhile, its six-speed manual transmission gives added control on country roads, while lending itself well to highway driving. You can expect to get 25MPG in the city and 33MPG on the open road.

And it’s affordable too. You can expect to pay roughly $14,000 for a model with a premium trim, which includes heated front seats, a proper sound and infotainment system, a sunroof, and various driving aids.

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2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt (from $43,500)

 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt (from $43,500)

No surprises here. It’s a Mustang. Even today, the overwhelming majority of muscle cars come with a manual transmission by default. Even today, with the advances in automatic transmission technology, that still makes sense.

People buy manual cars, in part, because they’re fun to drive. The Mustang is all about fun. It makes no apologies for sacrificing practicality for performance.

Its compact body provides room for four seats, but realistically, you’ll probably end up using the rear row for storage. Fuel efficiency isn’t great (expect 15MPG in the city and 24MPG on the highway), but that’s to be expected given the Mustang’s powerhouse of an engine.

Under the hood, you’ll find a 5L V8 engine that can hit 60MPH in under four seconds, and deliver top speeds of 163MPH. Yeah, it’s fast.

And it comes with a delightfully modern and sophisticated trim. You’ll appreciate conveniences like a rear-parking aid and cruise control. Meanwhile, its heated leather seats and high-end sound system add to the delight of driving. You’d expect as much, given it costs around $43,000.

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 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt (from $43,500)

No surprises here. It’s a Mustang. Even today, the overwhelming majority of muscle cars come with a manual transmission by default. Even today, with the advances in automatic transmission technology, that still makes sense.

People buy manual cars, in part, because they’re fun to drive. The Mustang is all about fun. It makes no apologies for sacrificing practicality for performance.

Its compact body provides room for four seats, but realistically, you’ll probably end up using the rear row for storage. Fuel efficiency isn’t great (expect 15MPG in the city and 24MPG on the highway), but that’s to be expected given the Mustang’s powerhouse of an engine.

Under the hood, you’ll find a 5L V8 engine that can hit 60MPH in under four seconds, and deliver top speeds of 163MPH. Yeah, it’s fast.

And it comes with a delightfully modern and sophisticated trim. You’ll appreciate conveniences like a rear-parking aid and cruise control. Meanwhile, its heated leather seats and high-end sound system add to the delight of driving. You’d expect as much, given it costs around $43,000.

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30-days warranty
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Shop Used 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club (from $29,500)

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club (from $29,500)

Make no mistake: This is a sports car. The convertible Miata MX-5 has just two seats, plenty of luxury touches, and decent on-road performance. You can expect to hit 60MPH in around 7 seconds.

Even if you have no plans to take part in a drag race, you’ll appreciate the inclusion of Brembo brakes, which provide unparalleled levels of deceleration when travelling at high speeds.

But this performance doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay around $29,000. But can you really put a price on ‘cool?’

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2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club (from $29,500)

Make no mistake: This is a sports car. The convertible Miata MX-5 has just two seats, plenty of luxury touches, and decent on-road performance. You can expect to hit 60MPH in around 7 seconds.

Even if you have no plans to take part in a drag race, you’ll appreciate the inclusion of Brembo brakes, which provide unparalleled levels of deceleration when travelling at high speeds.

But this performance doesn’t come cheap. Expect to pay around $29,000. But can you really put a price on ‘cool?’

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Shop Used 2017 Mazda MX-5

Buying a manual with all the convenience of an automatic

Manual cars have a deserved reputation for being hard to master. There’s a steep learning curve to climb, and it requires perseverance. But the payoff is more than worth it, we’d argue.

Whether you prefer to drive automatic or stick, Shift makes it easy to find your next ride. Our inventory of vehicles is fully searchable online, and you can even pay for your next ride from the comfort of your couch. There are no dealerships to visit. Our concierges will drop it off at your home, and can even take you for a test drive.

To find out more, click here.

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Author
Shift Editorial Team