In an upcoming issue MOTOR will celebrate the resurgence of the manual transmission after being threatened since the advent of dual-clutchers.
For some driving enthusiasts the three-pedal configuration is a must, and manufacturers are now realising the DIY shifter is an important niche. Aston is offering a seven-speed manual with its latest Vantage, Peugeot only offers manual in 208 and 308 GTi, and likewise Ford with Fiesta ST and Focus ST/RS, and Porsche with Boxster Spyder and Cayman GT4. Volkswagen recently returned the species to Polo GTI.
We could go on. Instead let’s gather some of our favourite driver’s manuals from over the years.
1. Honda Civic Type RThis 2007-era egg-shaped hot-hatchback demonstrated two things that Honda does best: revs and manuals. In the former case that meant an 8000rpm redline (albeit without much torque below it) and for the latter a buttery, lovely shifter with an alloy-topped gearknob. We could have included Accord Euro, CR-Z and even a base Civic on this list, too, such is this brand’s sustained manual-engineering excellence.
2. Audi R8 4.2 FSINot only is the naturally aspirated 4.2-litre V8 the all-but-forgotten sweetheart now that the monstrous new model is V10-only, but we’re also sad that the alloy-gated double-H-pattern manual has been lost. In 2007 the manual Ingolstadt coupe – complete with reverse gear down beside second – cost from $259,900 or around double today’s used price (incidentally, resale has held up better than a 911). Now the new auto-only V10 starts from $354,900. What happened to this being the attainable everyman’s supercar?
3. Porsche Boxster Spyder and Cayman GT4We haven’t yet driven the six-speed manual 911 R, so we’ll just have to settle for its siblings, the compact roadster and coupe flagships that are also pleasingly manual only. If there is a more mechanical, connected, gritty shifter action around, we haven’t experienced it. Never mind the moonshot gear ratios that means you won’t need third until beyond 100km/h, because the 3.8-litre Spyder and GT4 at least have the torque to pull it off (unlike the smaller but soon-defunct 2.7- and 3.4-litre sixes).
4. Renault Sport Clio III 200The best Renault Sport Clio is the second-generation 182 Cup, but there is no denying its third-gen 200 Cup replacement has it beat for manual shift tactility. You can measure the throw between gears in millimetres, such is its tightness. There is tactility in spades, though Renault Sport cheated by using the same superb 2.0-litre atmo four in the gen-three despite it being 200-plus kilos heavier than gen-two. Instead of reducing weight, it shortened the ratio spread dramatically – perfect for trackwork but it drove you mad around town.
5. Mazda MX-5Two words, on repeat: snickety snick. The precise, clicky gearchange of the latest ND-generation MX-5 follows true to form following the previous three generations of exquisite manuals. Even better compared with Civic, Clio and even R8, is the way the driving position sinks so low relative to the centre console, meaning the manual gearlever falls so naturally to hand that it becomes an extension of your left limb.