As of 2020, only 13% of vehicles made are offered with manual transmissions. In 2011, 37% of new vehicle models in the United States were offered with both automatics and manuals, but now the numbers are down so low that only 2.4% of the vehicles sold today are run by a manual transmission.
With more people driving, most want their driving experience to be easy and convenient. The majority of manuals today are found in sports cars, whose drivers still like to feel at one with the road, and small commuter cars to make them less expensive and more fuel-efficient.
Very few SUVs or pickups have a manual option anymore, with notable exceptions in the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Jeep Wrangler, and new Ford Bronco.
The Ford Focus was in production from 1999 until 2018, with over three generations available in the United States. As a used car, the Focus is available as a hatchback, wagon, sedan, or coupe – and all body styles were available with a manual transmission at some point. Most Focus models came standard with four-cylinder engines.
You can find used 2012 Focus with prices ranging from $5,000 to $7,600, depending on mileage, location, and options. The Focus SVT was available from 2002 to 2003 and came exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Though these models are rare, an SVT Focus in excellent condition should come in well below $10,000. These are hidden gems that were favorably reviewed compared to other contemporary hot hatches, like the Golf GTI and Mini Cooper S. Ford's subcompact offering, the Fiesta, was also available with a manual transmission and should be easy to find under $10k as well.
Another compact car, the Impreza, has been in production since 1992. During its lifetime, the Impreza has been available in body styles such as a coupe, sedan, wagon, and hatchback.
All Imprezas have offered in both automatic and manual transmissions, paired with all-wheel-drive (AWD) as standard equipment, a feature rare among compact cars.
Interestingly, as most modern cars have moved to six-speed manual transmissions (some even have seven), recent Impreza models are still utilizing a five-speed manual transmission.
The Impreza holds its value well, so you will have to look for model years between 2008 and 2011 to find one under $10,000 with reasonable miles. The sporty Impreza WRX maintains resale value even better, and it may be difficult to find in decent condition under the $10,000 mark past the 2008 model year.
Produced as a sedan and a hatchback, the Mazda 3 has been available since 2003. All four generations of the Mazda3 have offered manual transmissions paired with four-cylinder engines and front-wheel-drive (FWD).
Like the Impreza, the Mazda 3 has a healthy resale value, and you will likely have to look for model years from 2012 to find them priced for less than $10,000. The high-performance Mazdaspeed version was also sold with a stick shift and can now be found below $10,000.
The Acura TSX was Acura's entry-level premium sedan offering between 2003 and 2014. The TSX was primarily offered in a four-door sedan variant but also offered a limited production of station wagons.
All generations of the TSX offered manual transmissions, and while the engine sizes varied from a four-cylinder to a V6, the manual transmission was only available in the four-cylinder sedan's powertrain.
Even though the TSX is no longer in production, it is not difficult to find models for under $10,000. The sweet spot for TSX's seems to be between 2004 and 2008. Even though the TSX is no Integra Type R, the TSX delivers exciting driving dynamics and would make for a fun, practical, and inexpensive daily driver.
Volkswagen Golf TDI
The Volkswagen Golf is a compact car offering great fuel economy and nimble handling, lending itself well to buyers who enjoy a small and agile responding vehicle. The Golf is powered by a 70-horsepower five-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. The manual transmission becomes available as standard in the TDI variant of the Golf which is powered by a 140-horsepower four-cylinder turbodiesel engine.
The TDI provides more power and control but will also be harder to find for under the $10,000 mark. Model years 2014 and below fall within the pricing requirements mentioned above and provide a fun and spirited driving experience.
Buyers not interested in a hot hatch could look at the Jetta GLI, the TDI's sedan sibling, which offers nearly identical specs but in a sedan body style.
Honda Civic SI
Not only is the Honda Civic one of the most popular small cars ever, but it also has a deserved reputation of being one of the most well-rounded. Available over the years as a sedan, coupe, and hatchback, the Honda Civic is easy to find as a used car.
The Civic SI has been around since 1989 and is slightly harder to find than the Civic but can most certainly be found at less than $10,000 in the 2012 model year. The SI model is offered exclusively with Honda's manual transmission which is known to be one of the smoothest-shifting in the industry. The Honda Civic SI is equipped with a four-cylinder engine and an FWD drivetrain.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a sporty little convertible that has been in production since 1989 and is currently in its fourth generation. The small Mazda is only a two-seater, so it is often referred to as a roadster or sports car. The Miata offers only a four-cylinder engine, with the majority being made with the standard manual transmission.
Currently, it is relatively easy to find a Miata produced between 2000 and 2011 for less than $10,000, even with the original 1990s models rising in value.
Though Toyota's Scion brand is no more, the FR-S lives on in the used market (and as the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ). The FR-S delivers heaps of driving excitement, not through an abundance of power but through precise handling and near-perfect balance.
Upon its release, Scion touted the fact that that the FR-S had a lower center of gravity than the Porsche Boxster.
The FR-S is like a Miata in its driving experience, but more practical, with a backseat for occasional passengers or extra cargo. With the FR-S being released in 2013 it is difficult to find an FR-S below the 10k mark but with high mileage, it is possible in the 2013 model year.
Like the Honda Accord, the Toyota Corolla has been around for a long time, since 1966 to be exact, and is well-known for being a dependable vehicle.
Brand new, the Toyota Corolla has a price range between $20,075 and $28,360, making it easy to find used models under $10,000. You might be able to find some as new as 2014, but in general, you will be looking for model years older than 2012. These year range model years were generally introduced with a four-cylinder engine, with available manual transmissions, but were outfitted with automatic transmissions as standard so you may have to search a bit before finding one in a manual.
The Honda Fit is another compact car that was relatively inexpensive new, with an MSRP topping out around $23,000 in the 2020 model year when Honda discontinued the Fit. If you look at model years between 2009 and 2015, it should not be too hard to find a Honda Fit for under $10,000.
The Fit is a hatchback powered by a four-cylinder engine and is offered in both manual and automatic transmissions. The Fit is a surprisingly fun and agile car to drive on a daily basis.
The Nissan Versa is one of the least expensive new cars available, which means models that are just a couple of years old slip under the $10,000 price limit. Buyers can find manual transmission-equipped Versas as new as 2016 for under $10k.
The Versa is basic automotive transport, not a luxury vehicle, but if low mileage and newer model year are most intriguing to you, the Versa is a compelling option in the sub-$10k manual transmission market.
The Chevrolet Sonic was in production from 2011 to 2020 as both a hatchback and sedan. The Sonic comes with a four-cylinder engine, with an optional turbo version and is available with either a manual or automatic transmission.
While 2020 versions can sticker for more than $20,000 even on the used market, it is not too hard to find one under $10,000 from about the 2016 model year and older.
BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series was introduced in 1977 and quickly became a popular choice for those looking for a small luxury sports coupe or sedan with near-legendary handling compared to other vehicles in its class such as the Mercedes-Benz C-class.
Both four and six-cylinder engines have been available over the years, with turbocharged versions becoming increasingly prevalent. Manual transmissions have been used by BMW since the 3 series' inception in 1982. Versions from 2014 with higher mileage are starting to fall below the $10,000 mark with older model years more obtainable in the 10k range.
Believe it or not, you can find certain generations of this quintessential American sports car in the Corvette for under the $10,000 mark. You will mainly want to look at the C4 generation, which was made between 1984 and 1996.
These classic rear-wheel-drive cars are likely to have over 100,000 miles on them, and many were automatics, but there are still some with manual transmissions. If you're not worried about fuel economy, then it's hard to resist a V8 sports car under $10,000.
The early Porsche Boxsters may be beginning to look dated compared to the most recent versions, but they represent a lot of value for less than $10,000. The older Porsche Boxsters may not be turbocharged, but models from 1997 through 2000 offer Porsche's classic six-cylinder format and many feature manual transmissions, with more prestige and class than a Mazda Miata.
The only downside of the Porsche Boxster is that to get under the $10,000 mark, you are going to have to purchase one with a lot of miles. Be sure to do your homework and ensure you get a Boxster that will not need maintenance anytime soon as Porsche maintenance bills may outweigh your $10,000 investment.
Another high-performance car, the 2004 S4, can be found for under $10,000 if you are willing to do some deep searching and are not discouraged by high-mile examples.
The Audi S4 comes with a 4.2-liter V8 producing 340 horsepower and is equipped with a standard all-wheel-drive system. The Audi S4 is available in both automatic and manual transmissions. An aspect to keep in mind, however, is that the Audi S4 is expensive to maintain, and reliability for the S-class Audi's are famously hit or miss.
If you are looking for iconic sports cars, then you can not pass up the Chevrolet Camaro. Thanks to the car's hiatus after the fourth generation, it is pretty easy to find a Camaro for under $10,000. The fourth-generation Camaro was made between 1992 and 2002, and in this generation, Camaros were offered in both V6 and V8 engine formats. Also available in the fourth generation was the optional manual transmission.
If you want the most power for your dollar, look for a 1998 or newer with an all-aluminum LS1 V8 engine that produces over 300 horsepower. The fourth-generation Camaro is a screaming deal for buyers looking for an RWD, American V8 muscle car.
Similar to the Camaro, Ford's pony car has always been available with an optional manual transmission. In the $10,000 price range, you will likely be looking for a fifth-generation Mustang, which was sold from 2005 to 2014.
The Mustang's base engine for the fifth generation was a V6, and cars equipped with this small engine are widely available in good condition under $10,000. Buyers who are wanting a Mustang GT with a V8 engine will be seeking older models from the previous generation.
Any further back than the fifth generation, like the Fox Body Mustang of the 1980s prices, will begin creeping up for Mustangs in good condition. With the Dodge Challenger hanging out above the $10k mark, the Mustang and Camaro are your best options for modern, manual muscle cars.
Infiniti G35 Coupe
The Infiniti G35 Coupe was produced between 2003 and 2008. The coupe variant was sporty and quick, with a six-cylinder engine and an available manual transmission.
The Infiniti G35 shares a platform with the famous Nissan 350Z sports coupe but included more interior space and luxury features than the 350Z. It is fairly easy to find a G35 for under $10,000 in price all the way up to the 2008 model year.
Hyundai's funky three-door hatchback is both practical and fun to drive. Base models are decently equipped and widely available under the $10,000 budget. Turbo models are starting to dip below the $10,000 mark, and offer adequate, if not overwhelming, power. The Veloster features Hyundai's six-speed manual transmission standard.
The backward opening half-door behind the driver's door makes the Veloster friendlier to backseat passengers than many two-door hatchbacks, and the Veloster's styling stands out from the crowd. Buyers will likely find a great offering within budget at the 2012 to 2015 model year with around 100,000 miles.
If you're looking for a reliable all-around vehicle with decent gas mileage, a roomy interior, all-wheel-drive, and manual transmission, then a used Subaru Outback might be a perfect fit for your needs. With space for five passengers and great cargo capacity, the Subaru Outback has the space of a crossover and a reputation for durability. Outbacks hold their value well, especially in snowy parts of the country which makes them difficult to find for under $10,000.
As a buyer, you will generally be looking at Outbacks older than 2014 especially if you are looking for a manual option as Subaru discontinued offering the manual for the Outback in 2015. Outbacks in the $10,000 price range offering a manual transmission will almost certainly have an odometer over 100,000.
It is becoming much harder to find SUVs and trucks with manual transmissions, but the Xterra offered manual transmissions during its model year production from 2000 to 2015.
While the last few years of the Xterra are still hovering over $10,000 in many cases, if you look around 2011 and older, you should be able to find an Xterra at a reasonable price. The Nissan Xterra also offers the benefit of off-road ability and durability at the targeted $10,000 price.
The Soul is a subcompact SUV produced since 2010, spanning two generations. Both generations have offered manual transmissions, and anything older than 2015 is generally priced under or around $10,000.
Versions with manual gearboxes are uncommon, though, and most lack the upscale amenities of models with automatic transmissions. But in general, the Soul is a quirky, versatile vehicle that is relatively economical and inexpensive to run.
FIAT 500 Abarth
The smallest car on the list still delivers on driving excitement. The FIAT 500 Abarth offers excellent handling, a peppy engine, and an exhaust sound well above its class.
A fairly loaded FIAT 500 Abarth in the 2016 model year and lower with alloy wheels, leather seats, and low miles should ring up just under the $10,000 mark. FIAT does not have the best reputation for reliability, so be sure to ask for maintenance records.
Pros and Cons of Manuals
The main downside of a manual transmission is the learning curve. With an automatic, you simply put the transmission into drive and go. A manual usually has five or six forward gears to select as driving conditions dictate, and the driver has to use a clutch each time they shift.
Newer automatics also have more than six gears or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that maximizes fuel economy, which was traditionally a benefit only offered by the manual transmission. Buying manual transmission now means sacrificing a few MPGs due to the technological advancement in automatic transmissions.
The main benefit of a manual transmission include that they have fewer moving parts than an automatic transmission, thus typically lasting longer with fewer replacements needed. The clutch is the main piece of a manual transmission that typically needs replacement, but models that have been well maintained and not driven too aggressively can go about 100,000 miles before clutch repair.
An additional advantage to driving a manual transmission is that it forces you to pay closer attention to your driving due to having to constantly shift and engage the clutch pedal. In an era of smartphones, Bluetooth, and other distractions, this can be invaluable to some drivers, including teens or first-time drivers. Manuals also provide the driver more direct control of the vehicle for those who desire control over their vehicle while operating it.