By Andrew Ganz
Thursday, Apr 19th, 2012 @ 1:00 pm
 
It doesn't take an analyst with an MBA to figure out that manual transmissions are on their way out in North America. Once the default transmission choice for everyone, they have been relegated to enthusiasts and frugal buyers for the last few decades.

With the advent of advanced transmissions that net better fuel economy than most any shift-it-yourself unit, the manual transmission is falling by the wayside faster than cottontail rabbits in the spring.

New additions to the "manual transmission dead list" include the Ford Escape, Subaru Legacy 2.5GT (which is dying altogether for 2012), Hyundai Santa Fe and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Two more nails in the coffin: BMW, long known for its snickity-snick precise gearboxes has made them a no-cost option on what few models offer them (selecting a stick shift used to save buyers a grand or more) and Saab, the brand that had the highest take rate for manual gearboxes in mainstream models, bit the dust late last year.

On the bright side for traditionalists, the compact non-premium sedan market seems to have emerged as a most unexpected host to manual transmission growth. Chevrolet and Ford have both increased stick shift availability in their Cruze and Focus models, while Mazda has introduced a slick new six-speed gearbox for its Mazda3 Skyactiv (and even its CX-5 compact crossover).

What follows is a list of 10 vehicles you might not realize are available with manual transmissions. Certainly, there are still more stick shift cars on the market, but each of these represents something unique for the industry, the segment or simply the vehicle line. Our comments apply only to the United States market; our neighbors north and south (plus east and west) get a wider lineup of manually-shifted models.


10 cars didn't know had manual transmissions
Hyundai Tucson. The compact crossover segment isn't exactly prime stick shift territory, but Hyundai obliges with its price-leader Tucson GL. No options are available on the front-wheel-drive-only Tucson stick shift, which is the only Tucson offered in North America with a base 165-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. Other Tucsons come with a more powerful and significantly more frugal 2.4-liter and six-speed automatic.


Jeep Patriot/Compass. We lumped these two car-based Jeep crossovers together since, functionally, they are identical - all the way down to their more impressive-than-you-might-expect interiors. Opting for the standard six-speed manual allows you a number of options including all-wheel-drive, not to mention up to 29 mpg, but you can't get the off road-oriented Freedom Drive II package, which adds a few mountain goat-like goodies.

Kia Sportage. The Hyundai Tucson's more Teutonically-styled kissing cousin suffers from the same base model-only configuration setup for stick shift lovers, but it does at least come with an extra gear (six compared to the Tucson's five), which helps it earn more reasonable 21/29 mpg (the Tucson is rated at 20/27 mpg). Another random fact: The Sportage stick shift is offered in just three exterior colors, while the Tucson is available in a relatively wide array of six shades.

Lexus IS 250. Under the guidance of Toyota chief and family heir Akio Toyoda, Lexus is trying hard to become a purveyor of performance machines, but its history with manual transmissions is brief at best. Still, certain regional buyers (some of Toyota's distributors don't order them) can buy an IS 250 sedan or convertible with a six-speed manual. We've never actually seen one in person, but we'll admit to being rather intrigued. Sadly, the IS 250's manual transmission nets 2 mpg lower than its automatic counterpart in both city and highway driving, according to the EPA.

Mercedes-Benz SLK250. The three-pointed star has had an on-again, off-again affair with clutch pedals for much of its modern history, but the entry-level configuration of its surprisingly slick SLK offers a six-speed stick. It's a shame that the brand's honking AMG-massaged models have long been exclusively available with automatics, we digress.

Porsche Cayenne. Porsche builds sports cars and sports cars come with manual transmissions. Wrong. Porsche builds far more crossovers and sedans than it does coupes and convertibles, and its fastest-shifting transmission is its Doppelkupplung dual-clutch automatic gearbox. That said, the best (or worst?) of all worlds is still available in the V6-powered Cayenne, a model that probably has a so-equipped negative take rate.

Ram Heavy Duty. Turbodiesel trucks really do benefit from the extra engine control afforded by a manual gearbox, even though modern automatic transmissions do a pretty good job of holding gears on command. For old school haulers, however, Ram's Heavy Duty range offers a solid 650 lb-ft. of torque accessible through six forward, manually-shifted gears. Unfortunately, the high output 800 lb-ft. of torque version of the Cummins turbodiesel is automatic-only.

Volkswagen CC. Befitting a European automaker, Volkswagen's lineup is full of available stick shifts. But the CC highlights a trio of models that you might be surprised to find with manuals. The four door coupe-styled CC comes with a six-speed manual mated to a 2.0-liter turbocharged gas engine for the roughly $31,000 base Sport trim configuration, which likely makes it the most expensive non-premium sedan to lack an automatic gearbox.

Volkswagen Passat.
Fuel misers love the hypermiling ability built into manuals, so a six-speed gearbox seems like a natural - but still rather unexpected - fit with Volkswagen's diesel-powered Passat TDI. The last, short-lived Passat TDI was saddled only to an automatic, but the latest model, a built-in-Tennessee special conceived primarily for North America, offers no automatic in either of the lowest-specification TDI and 2.5-liter gas five-cylinder-powered models.


Volkswagen Golf R. You could be forgiven for thinking that VW's highest-performance model would also include its ultra fast-shifting DSG dual-clutch gearbox as standard equipment, but that's not the case with the reborn Golf R. Its most recent Golf R32 predecessor was DSG-only, but the new, ultra-hot Golf R is exclusively available with a manual. Score one for traditionalists.