BMW has gotten a great many things wrong over the past decade. It’s put out controversial designs (M3/M4), it’s botched potentially great cars by making them numb and vague (8 Series, Z4), and it blew its first chance at making a proper standalone M car by making it a bloated, painfully ugly SUV (XM). However, BMW still does a few things very well and one of them is that it still offers a manual transmission on some of its cars, something only a few brands can claim at the moment.
The Bavarians aren’t entirely alone, as other brands offer manuals as well. However, the number of brands still offering manual sports cars is dwindling drastically every year. Thankfully, we know the manual will live on at BMW for some time, as the next-gen M2 will get such a gearbox. However, that may be the end of the line for three-pedal transmissions at BMW. So we thought it might be interesting to round the five best manual cars in the industry, to see where and how BMW stacks up, now that it’s part of an elite final group.
5: BMW M4 Coupe
I’ll be honest, it seems odd putting a 473 horsepower, rear-wheel drive coupe with a manual transmission dead last on the list. However, the only thing keeping it on the list is the fact that it is such a car because the actual manual in the M4 isn’t very good. In fact, the manual in both the M3 and M4 has among the least enjoyable clutch pedal I’ve ever used and a very rubbery shifter. Also, the engine feels neutered with the manual, compared to the automatic-only Competition model. Still, it’s a rear-drive, front-engine, manual BMW coupe with a straight-six. Hard to beat that recipe.
4. Toyota GR86
Anyone that doesn’t think the Toyota GR86 belongs in this group simply hasn’t driven one yet. Plain and simple. If you like driving cars, the GR86 is one of the very best sports cars on sale, at any price. It’s hilarious, honest, old-fashioned fun in a world where every new car seems more and more complex. Its engine is great, it’s quicker than you think, it has superb steering, it looks good, and—most importantly—it has one of the best manual transmissions in the game. With tight, short, and precise shifts, it’s a joy to use and it makes every drive, even short ones, a thrill. All for under $30,000 to start. Killer package.
3. BMW M3 Sedan
The only reason I put the M3 sedan higher on the list than the Toyota is because it’s a sedan. The fact that you can still get a rear-wheel drive, BMW M3 with four doors and a manual transmission in 2022 is remarkable. The GR86 is awesome to drive… alone. However, it’s atrocious for putting children in the back. Whereas the M3’s back seat can swallow up two car seats with ease and comfortable seat a couple of kids. All while being quick, fun, and sporting a manual transmission. As neutered as the manual M3 feels, and as poor as the manual itself is, it’s still a great overall package that’s hard to beat.
2. Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing
However, if there’s one overall package that can beat the manual M3 sedan, it’s this—the Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing. What a wonderful, terrifying, hilarious monster the Blackwing is. It takes the M3’s recipe and amplifies it, with a 6.2-liter supercharged V8, making 668 horsepower, a six-speed manual, and rear-wheel drive. It’s also better looking than the M3, handles better, steers better, sounds far better, and has more room in the back seat. It’s more expensive, starting at $83,995 before destination, but that’s not that much more than the M3’s $72,000. I’ve driven both quite a bit and I know where I’d spend my money.
1. Porsche 911 GT3
There really can only be one answer here, right? It’s the Porsche 911 GT3. It’s by far the priciest car on this list, starting at $169,700, but who the hell cares. It’s a proper 911 GT3 with a 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat-six that revs to 9,000 rpm (nine thousand rpm!), that powers the rear wheels, and is available with proper six-speed stick. It’s the stuff of car-nerd dreams and the car most of us aspire to own one day. It’s also the best handling, best driving, and most exciting car on the list. So it needs to take the top spot.
Honorable Mentions: Upcoming BMW M2, Honda Civic Si, Ford Bronco
The upcoming BMW M2 is also going to come with a manual transmission option, along with its rear-drive layout, and 450 horsepower twin-turbo inline-six, so it deserves a shoutout. Also, the Honda Civic Si offers a ton of fun, with one of the best manuals on the planet, for under $30,000 as well, while also having four doors. The only reason I didn’t put it on the list is because I haven’t driven it yet. The Ford Bronco also deserves some love, as it’s a great looking throwback off-roader that’s available with a seven-speed manual and proper off-road gear. That’s pretty cool and deserves some love.