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Best manual tranmission, compact car

I’ve driven a Prius for nine years after driving manual transmission cars almost exclusively for the previous 50 years. A CVT is inherent in the Prius hybrid design, but I miss the feel of a good manual transmission. (The steering is also very numb.) For a point of reference, my car previous to the Prius was a 1995 Ford Contour SE (V6) with manual transmission. It really was a very nice driving car.

It’s hard to find a new car with a manual these days. Even on the few models that still have a manual available, most dealers don’t have one available for a test drive. Which new models have manual transmissions that are a joy to use?

I prefer something about the size of the Prius, and I like hatchbacks. Perhaps a Ford Focus. Everyone raves about the Mazda3, but I am mildly put off by the styling. The long hood looks a little out of place on a modern FWD car, although it would probably be more reliable than the Focus. In the past, I’ve always liked Honda manual transmissions, but the Civic EX is only available with an automatic. The Civic LX has drum brakes in the rear, and by the time you add alloy wheels, it costs almost as much as the EX. I’ve also though about the 2015 Honda Fit. The Honda Accord and Mazda6 are getting a little too big for my tastes.

The Fit’s 6-speed manual trans is reported to be excellent.

I had a 2014 Ford Focus hatchback 5spd. I spent a lot of time shopping for it. It had great handling and a great feel to the shifter. After driving it on the freeway for a while, I realized it really needed a 6th gear (the ST is 6 spd and turbo). I had the car for 7 months and it wasn’t built well/at least mine. So I got rid of it while my loss was minimal. I drove the previous Mazda 3 and it was fun, you can find a used one. The Civic is a bit underpowered and handling is not as good, unless you go for the SI trim.
There are a lot of happy Fit owners, I just think the car is too small and knowing Honda’s get noisy, I can’t imagine how noisy this car is going to be going at 80 MPH in the wind on not so well maintained freeways.

I would take a Chevy Cruze, both the 1.4T and Diesel models out for a test drive. They come with 6-speed overdrive transmissions…I drove a 1.4T automatic and was pretty impressed…

I’d probably go with the Civic. I’ve never had a problem with rear drum brakes, and I find that in most new cars, even the base models have more than enough gadgets to keep me happy.

Civics are often noisy cars, as is the Fit. If you don’t mind road noise , I’d look for a Fit to test drive. I’d also see if I could find a Fiat 500 with a manual to test drive.

I bought an HHR 5-speed manual 2 months ago because I missed shifting gears. Now…not so much. I drive my wife’s car around town more and more because it’s an automatic.

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“I’ve never had a problem with rear drum brakes”

I think in this day and age, there’s no excuse for rear drum brakes on a new car

Even pickup trucks and many SUVs have rear disc brakes nowadays

Mind you, I’m NOT talking about large commercial vehicles . . . that’s a discussion for another time

I believe even the current Corolla now has rear disc brakes

A VW Golf TDI would give you the handling of the GTI and the mileage of the Prius. If you are limited to the Japanese offerings, check out the Imprezza. That’s another one with a against hatch. IMO, you can’t go back to a sedan after you own a hatch. BTW, while I’m generally lagging slushbox automatic, I’ve driven the Prius and its 2 motors CVT are way more responsive. I would like the car more had it came with a firmer brake pedal and no power steering. If they are serious about fuel efficiency, then don’t waste power helping the driver turn the wheel.

Although I prefer rear disc brakes, I don’t consider rear drums a deal breaker. Rear brakes of both types last quite long because most of the braking is done in the front. Both types work well enough to be used on the back wheels. It really amounts to a matter of preference.

My current car (2005 Prius) has rear drum brakes, and they have never been a problem. I think they’re less of an issue with a FWD car, which puts even more of the braking burden on the front wheels. In my opinion, one should not be driving on public roads in such a way that would give rear disc brakes an advantage over drums. Having said this, I still find rear disc brakes “cool”.

As a former and current Fit driver I have to tell you that the 2011 model was noisier then the 2013. Actually I am pleasantly surprised how much quieter the newer model is. And not just quieter but really quiet. Listening music on the highway in the old one i had to have the volume set to 7, now the same music on the same audio setup in the newer one is pleasant at volume 3-4. Driving with the stick is fun, in third gear I smoked an aggressive V8 Tundra driver and left him in the rearview mirror.

The Scion tC is about the size of a Prius and can be bought with a manual. And you get the Toyota reliability you’re used to.

Usually, the rear disc brakes are easier to service, depending on the parking brake set-up…

There are a few V6 FWD automobiles that, in the hands of a professional driver, can do a front wheel-stand, putting 100% of the braking effort on the front brakes…So the type of rear brake is of little importance…

@Caddyman I mentioned in another thread that I have a friend who went to the Bondurant driving school some years ago. They taught him that the fastest way to stop a car is to lock up the wheels with the brakes (implies no ABS) and crank the steering wheel all the way to one lock. They were using a BMW. I don’t think he has ever had occasion to try that on public roads.

@252525 (Is your nickname “75”?) Thank you for the comparison between the older and newer Fits. I test drove the Accord, Civic, and Fit a couple of years ago. The Fit was my favorite. It was a lot more fun than the other two. The car writers talk about the wind noise in the Fit. Actually, my 2005 Prius has quite a bit of wind noise.

Consumer Reports talked about the 2015 Fit on episode 43 their Talking Cars show( One of the guys said it’s a noisy car. Another guy said that if we lived in a perfectly rational world, everyone would drive a Fit. In the same episode they talk about how much they love the Porsche Macan. Of course, one can buy three Fits for the cost of the Macan, not to mention insurance, maintenance, etc., etc. Also, I actually prefer cloth seats to leather.

Have you considered the Scion FRS/Subaru BRZ?


I think in this day and age, there’s no excuse for rear drum brakes on a new car

Yes there is an excuse, cost of the vehicle.
Cars must have parking brakes and it’s easy to incorporate the parking brake function in a rear drum brake.
With rear disk brakes, a separate parking brake usually has to be used. Some cars have a rear disk that includes a drum for the parking brake shoes.


You give a good explanation, but what you’re doing is explaining WHY the manufacturer chose to be a cheap ass

On some Hyundai cars, I believe they went from independent rear suspension to semi-independent rear suspension. They can explain it in terms of cost, but it was a cheap ass thing to do.

I feel that Hyundai watered down the product

There’s a reason . . . but not a good one, in my opinion . . . to use rear drums on cars nowadays

@keith I have read that the FRS/BRZ is a great car to drive, but I need a little more practicality. There are occasions when I want to transport more than one passenger, and I often make use of the cargo area in my Prius. I’m a little afraid to test drive a FRS/BRZ because my emotions may take over control of my checkbook. :slight_smile: It’s easy for me to see why rich people own several cars.

@db4690 I think this is related to one of my pet peeves – car manufacturers spending lots of money on styling changes instead of improving their product. Although the basic design had lots of problems, I think that Heinrich Nordhoff had the right idea with the post-WWII VW Beetle. Rather than change the styling, he constantly improved the car’s underpinnings.

However, I do understand that many (most?) car buyers are more heavily influenced by the looks of the car than they are by things like independent rear suspension and rear disc brakes. I had a personal experience with this when I sold my 1982 Audi Coupe in 1995/96. The cloth seat upholstery was wearing on the on the driver’s seat. I’m the sort of person who would like to see this, but car salesmen told me I should cover it with seat covers. After a year of trying to sell the car, I finally bought some sheepskin covers from Costco. Sold the car within a couple of weeks.