This week, we learned that Mercedes will soon cull its remaining manuals. This really isn’t cause for concern - only a handful of models lower down the pecking order are available with anything other than an automatic, and a Merc isn’t really something you aspire to own with a manual anyway.
There are some manual gearboxes, though, that we want to stick around for as long as possible. The pool is smaller than ever (the recent departure of the manual Renault Megane RS hasn’t helped), but thankfully, there is a handful of belting manuals available in 2020 with some of the sweetest shifts in motoring history. Here are our picks:
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.
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.
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.
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.