Despite the best efforts of car enthusiasts, the days of the manual transmission are numbered. Blame it on electrification, future autonomous technologies, or the fact that kids these days just don’t care about driving anymore. Whatever helps you cope with this inevitability, the demise of the shift stick isn’t an “if,” it’s a “when.”
That’s not to say the manual’s death will be quick; Many companies continue to offer three-pedal setups. But who will be the last high flyer, the last bastion of the DIY gear? Will it be a sports car or a contender from the left? Set your speculative cap as we explore a few possible scenarios.
Variant 1: Porsche
Hardly any car manufacturer is as committed to the shifter as Porsche. The German automaker offers and continues to offer six- and seven-speed transmissions in several models of its 718 and 911 car lines, despite competitors dropping their manual options.
Customers appreciate this commitment. When Porsche decided to offer a six-speed manual transmission in the 911 GT3 of the previous 991 generation, the adoption rate for this transmission was almost 80 percent. Because of this legitimate interest, Porsche has decided to keep the manual alive for the 992 GT3 right from the start. Sure, the manual GT3 is a lot slower on the all-important 0-to-60mph dash than a model outfitted with the company’s PDK dual-clutch automatic, but it’s not nearly as fun either.
“Manual transmission car numbers are declining across the industry, but a significant number of Porsche customers are choosing to have a manual transmission on models we offer it on,” Kjell Gruner, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, told Ars. “One in three 911 customers will choose a manual transmission when it’s an option, and the numbers are even higher for the 718. For these riders, there’s nothing quite like the physical sensation of a perfect three-two downshift in a corner. It just feels good.”
Option 2: Cheap and cheerful
Porsche is certainly more dedicated to its enthusiastic customer base than most companies, but it’s not the only automaker trumpeting the glory of manual driving. From hot hatches to sedans to coupes and roadsters, a range of less expensive cars could be a final source of salvation for manual shifters.
The Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR86 twins are prime examples. According to Subaru, 71 percent of current BRZ customers choose the coupe’s six-speed manual transmission. “Overall, for most of BRZ’s life, the intake rate has been around 70 percent,” a Subaru spokesman told Ars.
Then there’s the all-time fun icon, the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Japanese automaker has long said the Miata will always be a centerpiece of its lineup, and come on, can you imagine a world where a Miata doesn’t offer a stick? Now in the fourth generation of the roadster, manual models account for about half of all Miata sales.
Other small performance cars offer additional possibilities. The Honda Civic Si sedan and Type R hatchback are only offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, and that gearbox comes with an automatic rev-match feature to make shifting a little easier for you too.
Option 3: The anachronism
Sports cars may seem like an obvious choice, but perhaps the answer lies in an entirely different vehicle segment. Manual transmissions are still very popular with those in the off-roading community, and a range of pickups and SUVs continue to offer options for buyers who prefer to choose their own adventure.
When Ford introduced the new Bronco in 2021, the vehicle debuted with an all-new seven-speed manual transmission from Getrag. However, this isn’t a seven-speed like a Porsche 911; Ford’s transmission is effectively a six-speed with a dedicated creeper. Shifting the Bronco into that seventh “gear” gives this transmission an incredible 95:1 creep ratio that’s great for extremely slow and demanding off-road driving. However, while the Bronco is offered with two different turbocharged powertrains, the seven-speed manual is offered exclusively with the smaller 2.3-liter I4 option.
Jeep’s rugged SUV, the Wrangler continues to be available with a six-speed manual transmission paired with its naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 engine. (You can also get this combo in the Gladiator pickup.) Considering that a shift stick has always been offered throughout the life of the Wrangler, we don’t imagine it going away.
Finally, there’s a lesser-known option: the Toyota Tacoma. This mid-size pickup will soon be completely redesigned, and if the current truck’s six-speed manual transmission is carried over, there’s a good chance it will stay that way for a long time. After all, Toyota only redesigns its trucks about once a millennium. So if there’s a stick stuck in the Tacoma 2024, it’s likely to stay there for a while.
Option 4: The wild card
Then again, Toyota’s options might not be limited to the Tacoma. Reports suggest Toyota could be working on a manual transmission that will work with electric cars — clutch, shifter and all. The catch is that this would be a simulated experience, so not an actual gear change stick in the traditional sense, but it’s close enough that we let it pass.
According to Edmunds, Toyota recently filed patent applications (PDF) for this EV/manual setup. Toyota even plans to offer real tactility with this system and give the driver the feeling that the clutch is in gear. This manual mode would exist alongside a fully automatic, shift-free setting for riders who don’t want to row themselves – or who don’t want to row themselves all the time.
Another unconventional – and wild – solution comes from Swedish hypercar maker Koenigsegg. In 2022, Koenigsegg introduced the CC850, which featured a double-acting transmission that could be either manual or automatic. However, unlike Toyota, this one actually has mechanical clutches and a petrol-powered engine.
There’s a lot of complex engineering going on here, but it all boils down to the CC850 using three clutch sets, each with three gears, for a total of nine forward gears, activated with the clutches in various configurations. CNET has an excellent breakdown of how this transmission actually works, with insight from the company’s CEO and namesake, Christian von Koenigsegg.
Beyond that, your guess is as good as ours. Perhaps the ultimate savior of the manual transmission is a company we wouldn’t expect, or a solution that’s about to come out of left field. In any case, the march of progress continues. We’ll hold on to our shifters while we can.