Decline of the manual gearbox

The number of new cars available with a manual gearbox has more than halved in the past six years.

Data uncovered by automotive marketplace CarGurus shows that there are just 89 new models with manual gearboxes available in 2024, down 55% from the 10-year high in 2016 where customers could choose from 197 models.

According to the analysis, the prevalence of models with a manual gearbox remained consistent between 2014 and 2018, varying by no more than 4%. From 189 models available in 2014 to the peak in 2016, there was a slight drop to 194 models in 2018. 

However, the decline in models with a manual transmission became consistent after this period. Since 2023, there has been an 18% decrease in new models available with a manual gearbox, down from 109 to 89. CarGurus predicts that at the current rate of decline, manual transmission could be extinct by 2029, except for some niche models.

Manufacturers shunning manual gearbox

Manufacturers that no longer offer any new models with a manual gearbox include Volvo, Mercedes, Jaguar, and Lexus.

Four of the UK’s current 30 most popular brands, including Jeep, Land Rover, MINI, and Honda, now offer just one manual gearbox option in their range. Volkswagen offers the newest models with a manual gearbox option, with 10 to choose from, while Ford and Hyundai each offer six options within their respective ranges.

Along with the decline in new models with manual gearboxes, there has been a significant increase in the number of UK drivers taking automatic-only driving tests, according to Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) data. During the 2012/2013 period, there were 87,844 automatic-only driving tests. In the 2022/2023 period, this increased by 269% to 324,064.

“Between the increasing consumer demand for cars with an automatic gearbox and the rapid expansion of new EV models coming to market, we could be approaching the end of the road for the manual gearbox,” commented Chris Knapman, Editorial Director at CarGurus UK.

“Historically, manual gearboxes have found favour for their lower cost compared to automatics, as well as their more responsive nature and improved fuel economy. However, updates in technology mean that many modern automatics are at least as efficient as a manual alternative, and much more responsive than the systems fitted in years gone by.

“It is likely that manual gearboxes will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of enthusiast drivers for the greater interaction they offer. And of course, manual gearbox cars will continue to be in strong supply on the used market in years to come.”

The best cars with a manual gearbox

Nine of the best cars with a manual gearbox, as rated by CarGurus:

City Car: Kia Picanto
CarGurus says: “The Picanto’s cabin is roomy enough for four adults, it has ample boot space, the interior feels more premium than expected, and the driving experience is both cheerful and comfortable. Purchase prices and running costs are both very low, and it is all backed up by a seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty from new.”

Small hatchback: Seat Ibiza
CarGurus says: “While the Ibiza is not a class-leader in any one area, it is among the class-leaders in every single category, including practicality, cost, and driving performance. And that, in turn, makes it a better all-rounder than pretty much anything else in the supermini class.

Small SUV: Ford Puma
CarGurus says: “The Puma’s steering is sharp and direct, and examples fitted with a manual gearbox have a satisfyingly smooth and slick shift action. The pedals also respond very swiftly, so all the controls feel engaging and satisfying. On the practicality front, there is more space inside than in a supermini, and the boot is also large and very cleverly designed for extra versatility.”

Medium family hatchback: Honda Civic Type R
CarGurus says: “The Type R’s six-speed manual gearbox delivers that oh-so-rare combination of oily slickness, deft precision and mechanical interaction that makes it an utter joy to operate. The Type R also has searing acceleration, staggering grip and traction, strong brakes, and a firm-but-fair ride to throw into the mix.”

Medium Family SUV: Skoda Karoq
CarGurus says: “Despite having a relatively modest footprint, the amount of interior space the Skoda manages to deliver is truly astonishing. The way that space is used is really clever with many versions featuring rear seats that can be individually slid, reclined, folded, or even removed completely, making the car incredibly versatile. Both the entry-level 1.0-litre engine, and the more powerful 1.5-litre option, can be had with a slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox.”

Large Family Car: Skoda Octavia Estate
CarGurus says: “The Octavia is pretty much the biggest car remaining on the brand new car market if drivers do insist on a manual gearbox. CarGurus recommends the SE Technology trim for the best balance of kit and cost. To get the six-speed manual ‘box, drivers will need to specify either the 148bhp 1.5-litre TSI petrol engine or the 114bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel.”

Large Family SUV: Dacia Jogger
CarGurus says: “The Jogger has seven seats as standard. Some bits of interior trim are a bit iffy, the car is rather noisy as it moves along the road, and Euro NCAP hasn’t been entirely complimentary about the Jogger from a safety point of view. But if drivers go in with their eyes open there’s a lot to like, and the manual gearbox helps to keep the purchase price down.”

Sports Car: Mazda MX-5
CarGurus says: “The MX-5’s stellar driving experience is helped in no small part by its microscopic weight, its front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, its sharp steering, and its terrific six-speed manual gearbox. If consumers are new to MX-5s, then there might be a bit more body roll than expected, but drivers will get used to it and it is not unsettling or disruptive.”

Pick-up truck: Ford Ranger
CarGurus says: “Underneath, the Ford Ranger shares all the same mechanicals as the latest Volkswagen Amarok, and that is because both vehicles are the result of a joint development project between Ford and Volkswagen. This means that both vehicles are similarly impressive for build quality, practicality, ergonomics, ride comfort, handling sharpness, off-roading ability, refinement and safety. Specify the Ranger with the 168bhp 2.0-litre EcoBlue diesel engine, and it also happens to come with a six-speed manual transmission.”

Related Posts