Top Gear’s Top 9: the best manual gearshifts you can buy right now
The stick-shift is an endangered species here in the UK. These are the final remaining greats
Honda Civic Type R
Although they may look like chalk and cheese, the new FL5 Civic Type R doesn’t actually change the recipe too much from the dramatically-styled FK8. So, you still get that lovely tear-drop shaped metal gear lever that feels sweet in the palm of your hand. Well, most of the time – it’s bloody freezing on a winter’s morning, but we’d put up with frostbitten metacarpals for this shift.Advertisement - Page continues below
Mazda (like Ford used to) puts thought, love and plenty of budget into its manual gearboxes. As a result, even the CX-30 crossover and the Mazda 3 hatch offer shifts that would shame a French hot hatch. The peachiest is saved for the MX-5, though. It needs working to get the best from those modestly muscled naturally aspirated engines, but with a shift this crisp, it’s hardly a chore.
We’re cheating a little here, since Ariel often borrows drivetrain oily bits from Honda, which explains why the old Atom lightweight and its grubby Nomad cousin are just so damn good at shifting gears. But there’s no doubt Ariel continues the fine tradition of lightweight British sports cars by having a great DIY gearbox. Speaking of which…Advertisement - Page continues below
… the ultra-short throw shift in a Seven is so stumpy it’s over almost before it’s begun, but don’t be lulled into thinking there’s little to savour about this addictively snickety gearbox. It’s the full racecar experience this – exquisitely precise, yet properly physical, and joyous when you get the throttle blip just so. Quite alarming if you miss the gear, though. Maybe practice in a friendly 170 before having a crack in the loony 620, which even offers an optional sequential gearbox for the ultimate in ‘get lost, paddleshifters’ fury.
The Mk5 Toyota Supra only exists because Toyota was able to share development costs with BMW, and the Germans never intended to fit the resulting Z4 with a manual ‘box. So, when Toyota decided that a three-pedal Supra was necessary it had to redesign the whole centre console.
Still, we’re glad they did, because the ZF six-speed gets a perfectly-weighted and ultra-slick shift. Good effort, Toyota.
Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0
So, you can no longer buy a new Cayman GT4 in the UK. That’s because Porsche is focussing all of its posh-Cayman production on the PDK-only GT4 RS. You can still get a GTS 4.0 though, complete with that naturally aspirated flat-six and a standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox. Yes, the gearing is too long, but the shift is still wonderful as you’d expect from Porsche.
If you’d have piped up a few years ago and predicted that Ford would kill off the Fiesta (and as a result the brilliant Fiesta ST) but that Hyundai would fill the gap in the market with a brilliant i20N, you probably would have been laughed out of the room.
If you would have followed that up by saying Hyundai’s larger hot hatch would be a better all-round proposition than the Focus ST, we dread to think what would have happened to you. And yet, the i30N is just magic. Plus it has the option of an excellent six-speed manual that gets super sharp automatic rev-matching tech.Advertisement - Page continues below
We could have included engineering marvels like the Gordon Murray Automotive T.50 or the Koenigsegg CC850 here, but we’re still yet to drive either of those cars, and we’re talking about manuals mere mortals will be able to get their hands on.
So, what you really need is a Kia Picanto. Seriously, its notchy shift isn’t bad at all, and with just 99bhp from a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder you’ll be rowing through the five speeds all day. Much more fun than having to weave a piece of unobtanium around potholes the size of large tower blocks.
Our experience of the Emira so far has told us that the shift in the V6 manual isn’t quite as sweet as that of the old Exige. Still, that was in a car that was still a bit of a prototype and the action was a little stiff, so it might soften up slightly over time. Plus, you can still see some of the linkage through that mesh in the centre console. Lovely stuff.Advertisement - Page continues below