This week we learnt the Toyota GR Supra will finally be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox. It launched all the way back in 2019, but three-pedal enthusiasts were left out in the cold, with no option but to retrain their shifting arm and let the eight-speed automatic do its thing.
Toyota teased the manual version in a glorious blog post showing a clutch pedal. But, until we get to sample it ourselves we won’t know just how crisp each shift will feel in our quivering palm. Or how Toyota’s effort stacks up against some of the sweetest manual gearboxes in history, which we’ve listed here for your enjoyment…and so you can tell us we’re wrong in the comments.
Honda Civic Type R
The manual shift in the FK8 Honda Civic Type R was already head and shoulders above anything else in the current hot hatch landscape, but for the facelifted car, it’s better than ever. Each short throw slots in with even more precision and mechanical satisfaction than before, and that’s no accident.
The old spherical knob has gone, replaced with a new teardrop design. It’s still made from naked aluminium (meaning it gets brutally cold in winter and burning hot in summer, but never mind), but it now hides a counterweight to improve the way the lever moves around the gate. We can only hope it’s just as good in its replacement, which is already proving it’s even faster.
With a naturally-aspirated engine that isn’t done until 7500rpm and a beautifully slick six-speed manual gearbox, the current Mazda MX-5 is a rare sports car treat in the modern motoring world. The best part is, every other modern manual Mazda shifts damn near as nicely - democratising ultimate gear-selecting satisfaction is one of the many reasons we love the Japanese company.
Yes, it’s old and yes, the seemingly endless succession of special editions is confusing, but no matter - the Lotus Exige has what might just be the best manual shift on this list. And thus, the best manual shift of any car you can buy today.
It’s not just about the short and precise throw, though - the Exige’s party piece is the exposed linkage, meaning you can hear the satisfying mechanical clunks as it’s actuated. If you want to spend less money, there’s a similar arrangement in the Elise, but there’s something truly special about this exposed shifter when it’s teamed up with the Exige’s supercharged V6.
It may be the only five-speed on this list (some models have an optional six-speed ‘box), but there’s nothing quite like rowing through the gears with the Caterham Seven‘s stubby little lever. The throw involves precious little movement, and each change requires a reasonable amount of effort.
With the pedals incredibly closer together on the narrow-bodied versions, this is probably the easiest car for rev matching, too. That small cockpit means you might find yourself grabbing the passenger’s leg instead of the shifter from time to time, though. Awks.
Porsche 718 Cayman/Boxster GTS
Getting hold of a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 or Spyder is easier said than done, but happily, its sublime engine and gearbox combination can be had in the 718 GTS siblings. The six-speed ‘box gives a short throw and a decent amount of heft for each shift, while the pedals are ideally placed for heel-and-toe downshifts.
The one downside? Although there’s little to criticise about the shift itself, the ratios are painfully long, so you don’t get to enjoy swapping cogs all that often.
Ford Fiesta ST
Manual gearboxes are a great leveller - you don’t need to spend a six-figure sum to enjoy one. In fact, one of the best is found in the humble Fiesta ST hot hatch. Based on a supermini, it’s all about simplicity and light weight, so its 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine only makes 197bhp.
That means the gearbox doesn’t need to be cast out of an ingot of iron, it can be dainty and small, and the same goes for the clutch and flywheel. From behind the wheel this equates to a clutch pedal you can plunge inwards easily, and a gear lever you can whip around the gate to keep the turbo in its sweet spot.
Toyota GR Yaris
If you just missed out on the generation of Subaru Impreza STIs and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo models fighting it out in head-to-head tests, Toyota has come to a somewhat surprising rescue. Based on its rallying know-how, the Japanese brand has created a dream-spec homologation model.
Not only is the three-door GR Yaris equipped with four-wheel drive, it isn’t even offered with an automatic gearbox. This is a car for purists, so only three pedals and a stick would do. Put the car into Sport mode (for a 30:70 rearward torque bias), select first gear and feel its 257bhp spit gravel into the mud flaps as you imagine leading Wales Rally GB.
You might have been expecting to see the Aston Martin Vantage on this list, and while the shift from its optional seven-speed manual is enormously satisfying when you get it right, it doesn’t slide in with ease. It’s a clunky feeling ‘box that makes you work for it, which is both a good and a bad thing. Still, since it provides the only way of shifting cogs with Mercedes-AMG’s 4.0-litre V8 yourself, it deserves a mention.
As does the Ford Mustang, which is the only other manual V8 you can buy in the UK today. The shift quality is better than the Aston’s, but it’s not anywhere near as nice as any of our chosen five, while the long-travel, spaced-out pedals make heel and toe downshifts rather difficult.