Lotus Emira V6, 2022, 23 miles, £83,000
Given its status as the final combustion-engined Lotus, the Emira must also be the last manual sports car to leave the gates of Hethel. A traditional self-shifter, at least - who knows if Lotus might embark on the bizarre EV ‘manual’ thing seen in prototype form from some other makers. For now, this is it, and it'll surely be black armbands on across Norfolk when time is called on the six-speed. And it won’t be very far from now. The involvement of a manual is so key to a great sports car experience; it’s telling that the overwhelming majority of V6 Emiras currently for sale on PH have a clutch pedal, with just four autos around. The six-speed may not have the most exotic origins, but in the Emira is probably its best installation yet. This one has covered just 23 miles having been registered last year, and is just £1,500 more than a four-cylinder auto will cost…
Honda Civic Type R, 2023, 97 miles, £51,490
The demise of the hot hatch is a sad reality we must all face in 2023. They just don’t exist in the numbers that they did even five years ago, and that’s a real pity. The best hot hatches really are good at everything, from tip runs to track days. And a great manual gearbox is in keeping with the hot hatch spirit - they encourage you to get involved with the drive like only a DIY transmission can. Not so long ago we looked on manual-only hot hatches as the norm, and they’ve become the exception overnight. To their credit, this could have been a Hyundai i20 N or Toyota GR Yaris, flying the flag in the supermini segment. However, for the very best shift in a front-wheel drive performance car - in any car, period - the Civic Type R can’t be improved upon. £50,000 for a Honda hatchback is a lot, but it's an unforgettable experience.
Porsche 718 Cayman GTS 4.0, 2022, 1,287 miles, £72,995
Yes, the ratios are still too long. And yes, most people still buy PDK. But the 718 faces a similar fate to the Lotus Emira: soon there won’t be one with an engine at all. And therefore we must fly the flag for as long as possible because it’s another brilliant manual gearbox - as Porsche makes a habit of. Paired with the 4.0-litre engine, moreover, the mid-engined masterpiece is a joy to operate at any speed. Maybe get the auto if you’re commuting into a city centre regularly; otherwise, the six-speed is the one to have. There’s weight to the action of the clutch and the gearstick but not too much, the auto blip is flawless (but can be disabled if you prefer) and coordinating arm and leg at almost 8,000rpm really is to be savoured. This 1,200-mile car is like new, and looks fantastic in Speed Yellow. Time to see what all the fuss is about.
Morgan Super 3, 2023, 50 miles, £55,950
The Morgan is here partly to represent all the lightweight British sports car makers like Caterham and Ariel that are still doing admirable work keeping manuals in flyweight funsters we all love so much. There might be an electric Caterham in the works, and Ariel is doing its awesome HiperCar thing, but for the moment the majority of Sevens, Atoms and Pluses of the world make do with manuals. And they’re all the better for it, demanding your best and rewarding in kind. We’ve plumped for the Super 3 here purely because nothing better makes you feel like a racer from a bygone era, thrumming along lanes, hurling the steering wheel at bends and snicking shifts through with a delightful Mazda five-speed. All while returning 40mpg. Perhaps there’s something to be said for not much weight (and a 1.5-litre Fiesta engine) after all. This one saves thousands off list - and how good does orange look?
Toyota GR86, 2023, 1,300 miles, £34,990
That a batch of additional GR86s is coming to the UK (and will be with customers before the end of the year) meant it had to be included. Fundamentally the six-speed manual is the same as found in the GT86; as with the whole car, however, it’s been optimised and improved for the 2.4-litre update. Toyota’s press material said that both gearboxes were revised ‘to provide smoother powerful acceleration across the full rev spectrum’. It means it’s better all the time: less prone to baulk when cold, easier to flash through at 7,500rpm, and even more satisfying when nailing the perfect downshift. The gearbox is just another superb component of a wonderful sports, the kind - sorry to say it again - we won’t be seeing any more of. Right now, £35k buys one - hopefully, they’ll come down as that fresh allocation arrives. But even right now, a GR86 will feel like money very well spent.
Mazda MX-5 2.0, 2023, mileage n/a, £27,750
As sure as night follows day, so an MX-5 must follow mention of Toyota’s flat-four sports car. As well it should, being almost as good to drive, far easier to get hold of, and boasts the unrepeatable joy of drop-top motoring. In fact, its six-speed manual is probably even sweeter than Toyota’s, perfectly weighted, unerringly accurate, and blessed with a throw that feels about an inch long. It’s so nice to use, and the car practically demands your participation: the 2.0-litre needs revs to give its best, the ratios aren’t crazy long, and the pedals make heel and toe a cinch. All these years later and nothing quite demonstrates what joy there is to derive from a naturally aspirated engine and a manual gearbox. This 2023 Soul Red car seems well equipped and is less than half what a delivery mileage Morgan would cost - no wonder the world still loves them.
1 / 6