Is this the beginning of the end for the manual transmission in North America?
Some of us just enjoy rowing our own gears. Others may call the manual transmission legacy technology, or even more accurately, a millennial anti-theft device. The reality is that automatic transmissions have surpassed the manual in not only sales, but in sophistication, and even fuel efficiency and (at times) reliability. Particularly in North America, the manual transmission is a rarity, and those who can really operate one are even rarer. When it comes to manufacturers, FCA Jeep and Ram deserve our respect for holding on the longest with the most models. They offer four of the vehicles on this list.
I get a chuckle when someone makes the argument for a manual transmission off-road—it is not even close. An automatic provides significantly better control, the ability for fluid modulation through left-foot braking, and the natural damping effect of the torque converter. If a manual was better for technical terrain, then why does every competitive rock crawling team use an automatic? No, we don’t drive a manual because it is better; we want a manual because it brings us some analog joy in a disconnected, digital world. And there are a few benefits to the overlander, principally the ability to bump-start most manual transmission models. There are also scenarios where the increased directness and downhill control is an advantage with the lower crawl ratio.
Despite this, manual transmission offerings are dying at a rapid rate. RAM was the last full-size holdout, manufacturing the final full-size truck with a 6-speed and diesel engine, ending with the 2018 model year. We have compiled a list of the last of the manual transmission AWD/4WD overland vehicles for North America. And don’t expect to see many of these on the dealer lot as most need to be special ordered. If you have your heart set on a new 4WD with a manual, now is the time to act.
2018 Dodge Ram 6-Speed | $45,280
Cummins 6.7 liter Diesel with a 6-Speed Manual. Available as a Tradesman with a factory bed, or as a cab/chassis just asking for a tray bed. 2018 build page on ramtrucks.com
2020 Gladiator Sport S 6-Speed | $38,240
Imagine being able to buy a manual transmission, solid-axle compact truck with front and rear lockers… jeep.com
2019 Jeep Wrangler 6-Speed | $33,040
This is the only SUV with a manual transmission available in the United States. jeep.com
Nissan Frontier Crew Cab 6-Speed | $32,880
The least expensive manual transmission 4WD with a real transfer case. nissanusa.com
2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD 6-Speed | $35,135
The stalwart overlander, and the last manual transmission 4WD Toyota. toyota.com
There are two cross-over CUVs that still offer a manual transmission and AWD. Mitsubishi offers the Outlander Sport with a 5-speed, but not with AWD.
2019 Jeep Compass 6-Speed | $22,840
The Jeep Compass represents an excellent value for both AWD and a manual transmission. While not suitable for technical terrain, dirt roads and trails would be a blast. Jeep.com
2019 Subaru Crosstrek 6-Speed | $22,870
Great fuel economy and surprisingly capable. subaru.com
Why the manual transmission is dying:
1. People don’t buy them. Even the fanboys that decry the loss of the manual almost never buy them. Less than 2% of vehicles sold in the USA in 2018 were manuals.
2. It is expensive for manufacturers to keep offering the option. Efficiency comes with fewer driveline options, particularly ones that require different length driveshafts, and changes the floorboard and footwell.
3. Automatics do a better job in most scenarios, now even including fuel economy.
4. In high performance sports cars, manufacturers switched to dual clutch gearboxes with paddle shifters because the vehicles perform better.
Just like a bad country line dance…