2016-Mazda-MX5-Miata-club-white-face-shot-jacob-brown-behind-the-wheel ・ Photo by Mazda USA
While DIY shifting is no longer the absolute fastest or most fuel-efficient way to manage automotive power, small cars with manual transmissions can still deliver some distinctive benefits, especially for drivers on a budget. That’s because manuals are generally less expensive than automatics, and it’s worth remembering that most mainstream entries actually don’t offer the kind of performance-oriented automatics available in premium sports cars. As a result, the manual cog-swappers also continue to furnish faster acceleration for most folks. With that in mind, here are 10 cars with three pedals and plenty of other advantages.
The 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage clearly shows the kind of pricing differences involved with small cars with manual transmissions. The Mirage is skipping the 2016 model year, but will return for 2017 with updates. For now, the 2015 version is still available and priced from $12,995 with its standard five-speed manual transmission; with an optional continuously variable transmission, that cost rises by $1,100—an increase of almost 8.5 percent for the sub-subcompact. On the other hand, owners will see higher EPA grades, with CVT-equipped models able to reach 37 mpg city/44 mpg highway/40 mpg combined and the manually-equipped Mirage peaking at 34/42/37. On the other other hand, the EPA’s five-year fuel-cost projection indicates a $500 advantage for the Mirage with a CVT, meaning it will take at least 10 years for owners of those cars to make back the difference as compared to the manual models.
Photo by Mitsubishi Motors North America
The baby of the Bowtie brand, the city-sized 2016 Chevrolet Spark is redesigned and ready to roll with an MSRP of $12,660. But that cost of entry doesn’t include an automatic transmission. To configure the Spark with its available CVT takes another $1,100, although there will be a definite improvement in fuel economy. True, Chevy hasn’t said exactly what the new numbers will be, but it has promised that the Spark’s CVT will achieve at least 40 mpg highway. Engineers further report that, regardless of transmission, the Spark receives a 16 percent boost in horsepower thanks to a new 1.4-liter EcoTec engine. Also new for the new model year will be Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, which builds on previously available high-tech features like a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and 4G LTE connectivity. It’s a nice carrot for customers among small cars with a stick.
Photo by Chevrolet Media
Both of Scion’s brand-new products are small cars with manual transmissions, but it’s easy to tell them apart: The iA subcompact is the company’s first sedan, and the 2016 Scion iM is a stylish and fun-to-drive compact hatch. As for pride of place here, it goes to the iM for being a bit smaller and a bit better equipped with standard features than the iA, if also some $1,600 more expensive. But the former’s MSRP of $19,255 doesn’t merely cover premium-style standard features like a six-speaker Pioneer audio system with 7-inch display screen, a rearview camera, Bluetooth technology, the brand’s first color TFT multi-information display, a dual-zone automatic climate system and even power-folding exterior mirrors. Drivers also will delight in a 137-horsepower, 1.8-liter engine that relies on continuously variable valve timing to keep more torque available for more driving scenarios. The iM’s CVT is a $740 option.
Photo by Scion
Small cars with manual transmissions may not be all that rare, but small cars with all-wheel drive are an entirely different matter—unless you’re visiting a Subaru dealership. That’s the only place to find the 2016 Subaru Impreza, which is indeed small (the hatchback is 174 inches in length), does start with a standard stick (serving up five forward gears), and does supply also-standard AWD (of the symmetrical variety). As for the Impreza itself, it starts with an MSRP of $18,295, providing customers with a $1,000 reduction versus the same car with a CVT. The EPA tradeoff, however, is fairly pronounced, since the manually transmissioned Impreza is rated at 25/34/28 and the CVT version raises those marks by 3 mpg in all measures. Both models also offer Subaru’s Starlink connected services as a new technology for 2016, enabling automatic crash notification, enhanced roadside assistance, stolen-vehicle recovery capability and more.
Photo by Subaru Media
Backed by “the most ambitious remake of Civic ever,” Honda’s upcoming compact contender will showcase a wealth of first-time features, from the brand’s first-ever turbocharged engine to smartphone integration for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Nor has safety technology been forgotten: The 2016 Honda Civic welcomes driver-assistance systems like collision-mitigation braking, road-departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control with low-speed following functionality, all as part of the Honda Sensing package. Naturally, designers also deployed sophisticated exterior illumination for this high-tech Honda, with standard LED taillights and daytime running lights along with available inline-style LED headlights. There will be literally more to love about the Civic, too, since the car grows in key dimensions. For example, the Civic sedan will have the largest cabins in the compact segment. But even with all those cutting-edge enhancements, the Civic still offers cars with manual transmissions for owners who prefer an old-school driving experience.
Photo by Honda
Unlike other small cars with manual transmissions, the 2016 FIAT 500 is more fuel-efficient when so equipped than when it gets configured with its automatic transmission. In fact, the difference is relatively dramatic: The EPA forecast for the 500 is 31 mpg city/40 mpg highway/34 mpg combined with its standard six-speed manual transmission, while the car tops out at 27 mpg city/34 mpg highway/30 mpg combined with an available six-speed automatic. It’s the last word that tells the tale, as this is a traditional automatic transmission, not a more thrifty CVT. Be that as it may, in a car like the 500 that puts an emphasis on driving dynamics, the manual is the way to go anyhow, and that’s particularly true for the performance-friendly turbo and Abarth editions. And speaking of the latest 500 editions, the retro-themed 1957 Edition comes with a standard manual as well.
The 2016 smart fortwo has finally been redesigned, and the next-gen model features a full slate of modernized content. Yet it’s an old school gearbox that might be the most exciting thing about the new fortwo for drivers, because they’ll finally be able to get their hands on a manual transmission for Mercedes’ miniscule city car. It’s a five-speed unit that comes paired to a turbocharged, 89-horsepower three-cylinder engine. That’s not a lot of output, but then again, it doesn’t take much to motivate the lightweight fortwo. Further, there will be a double-clutch automatic on the options list, where it will be joined by premium upgrades like JBL audio, heated seats, forward collision warning, and a new infotainment system with navigation and a 7-inch touchscreen display. Also, as small cars, with manual transmissions or without, can be a handful in windy conditions, the new fortwo features standard Crosswind Assist technology.
Photo by smart
Oddly enough given its eye-popping appearance, the 2016 Hyundai Veloster has a tendency to fly under ye olde radar for most shoppers. Hyundai hasn’t given up on its three-and-a-half-door hatchback yet, though, which is clear from the news for 2016: Not only has the brand redesigned the car for an even more aggressive appearance, and also introduced fresh technologies and performance enhancers, it’s also premiered a whole new hi-po model. The Rally Edition is based on the Veloster R-Spec—a notably athletic entry in its own right—but it also boasts revised suspension tuning, RAYS lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels, aero accents with a carbon-fiber look and a model-exclusive matte-blue paint job. Oh, and befitting its place on our list of small cars with manual transmissions, the Rally Edition also brings a sport shifter from B&M Racing—although a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic will be available for some models.
The Miata may not be the answer to every question, but it does fit the bill for “What’s the best convertible among the small cars with manual transmissions?” Certainly helping the cause, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata has been completely made over for the new model year, with the automaker drawing inspiration directly from the original. Thus, the 2016 version is significantly lighter than the outgoing model, for more agile reflexes and improved fuel economy, and it puts even more focus on the open-air driving experience. Consider the Miata’s Bose audio system. It was engineered specifically for the car right down to its UltraNearfield headrest speakers. The top itself also stays true to Miata traditions, with easy-open functionality that can be accomplished without leaving the driver’s seat. One key difference between generations: The car’s standard manual adds a gear, going from a five- to a six-speed unit.
Photo by Benjamin Hunting
Shoppers in the subcompact segment have numerous choices of small cars with manual transmissions, so you might wonder why we’re singling out the 2016 Ford Fiesta. Well, the reason is simple: It’s the singular powertrain provided by the Fiesta ST hot hatch. That setup leverages a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder EcoBoost engine to furnish drivers with 197 horsepower and 202 lb.-ft. of torque, with that output routed solely with a six-speed manual transmission. To put those numbers into context, they represent an additional 64 percent more horsepower and 80 percent more torque than supplied by the Fiesta’s standard engine. Moreover, there’s more new technology available for the whole Fiesta family for 2016. That’s courtesy of updated Sync 3 technology that adds improved voice-recognition capability, faster speeds, a simpler and more intuitive interface, and a 6.5-inch LCD touchscreen that recognizes typical smartphone-style gestures.
Photo by Ford